If you've never reviewed or submitted to the workshop, here's where you want to start. Reading this will save you a boatload of time.
Most of this is the hard work of Courtney, which I’ve left alone and simply separated from the other introductory post. Thanks, Courtney! The only thing I’ve added is the first two sections for readers and writers new to critique.
What I'm saying is you're about to have a much better life, and you owe it to Courtney.
1. One cool feature here is you can read other critiques of a story. See how other people do it, see how they handle it. I recommend reading several critiques before starting in yourself. Go back into the distant past, find an old story with lots of reviews, and take a look. You can learn a lot from reviews of other stories.
2. A good way to phrase changes is to start with “Consider.” “Consider how the story might change shape if you…” “Consider how the reality of your story might be better maintained if you omit…” It’s less demanding, less saying “The way you did it is wrong.”
3. If you’re new, try and talk about critiques in terms of opportunities. Where are the opportunities in the story that are missed, not exploited enough, or perhaps hidden beneath the surface of the story? Talking about a story in terms of its opportunities can be a great way to talk about someone’s piece.
1. Sit with it. Let it rest for a bit before you decide to make a change or not. Give yourself a little time to think about it. Go for a walk.
2. Rather than defending or explaining, listen to what someone says about your piece. They might be on the completely wrong track, but take that as a guide to what you might do to improve your story. How can you keep readers on the right track? What confusion caused someone to go the wrong way? People here are careful readers, and if they don't get it, a casual reader doesn't have a prayer. And you won't get the opportunity to explain things to a casual reader. It’s your job to write something readers will understand, and the space in which you do that is inside the story.
3. Remember, everyone is here to help you. They are trying to make your story as good as it can be. It’s very hard to take critique at first, and being a good listener and being willing to change will get you far.
Bobby Detrick’s “How to Review” thread brought out a lot of great tips, condensed by Courtney:
1. Hone in on weak spots. Writers are blinded by their craft and can rarely see for themselves what needs the most work. Bill Tucker does a great job of creating reviews based entirely on this premise.
2. jacks_username brought up a good point when he said that he doesn’t read other reviews before he posts his. It can sway your opinion or even make you second guess your opinions. Let your reviews stand on their own; it’s not important to match what everyone else said. We’re a community, not a cult. You don’t have to agree with everyone.
3. averydoll brings up rewriting and correcting grammar, which is something I constantly do. Don’t do it without explaining it. Don’t be hypercritical and say “I hate this sentence,” but if you think it falls flat/needs to be reworded/completely sucks, explain it and give the writer a concrete reason. Even though I know all of my grammar notes are correct, I always try to google it and give the writer a link to which they can refer when reading my notes so they know I’m not blowing smoke out of my ass.
4. Another great thing about submitting is that you can easily ask specific questions in your Author’s Agenda. When you’re reviewing, always check the Agenda and make sure you keep those questions in mind. Don’t forget to answer them. It’s vital to the writer that they know the answer or they wouldn’t have mentioned it.
5. One more tip from Bill Tucker: don’t be afraid to review something that’s been reviewed constantly. (Unless the writer has specifically stated that they don’t want any more reviews.) Sometimes, one comment can completely change the direction of a story for the better.
6. You need to find out how you can best serve the writer when you’re critiquing, and you don’t have to emulate any of the people mentioned here, but a lot of people agree that their best reviews have been from Howie, R. Moon, and Bill Tucker. Matt Attack does a good job, too. Look for their reviews in the Workshop sometime and see what we mean – you’ll get a good idea of what we want in our reviews if you see what they’re doing.
LBLs, or Line-By-Lines, are exactly that: a Word document with notes on lines throughout the story. Most of us do them by clicking the “review” tab and then highlighting what we want to annotate and clicking “new comment,” but you can also do it by adding comments after lines or words in a different color and font than the original text. They’re then saved with the notes and attached in the review. Don’t be afraid to do these— they can be the most helpful part of a review. Of course, they aren’t necessary. You can include all of your in-text notes in your review, or you can forgo them entirely. It’s entirely up to you and how you think you’ll best serve the writer.
The hardest thing I had to learn, which I only learned about two weeks ago, was how to use my reviews to revise my stories. I mentioned in the earlier mentioned “how to review” thread that I keep a notebook with me when I read reviews and make notes on common complaints, common compliments, and any significantly helpful notes. Then, I open each LBL and glance through it, sometimes editing the story as I go, but I more commonly take the most helpful LBL and revise my story with it open so I can focus on what they said. You can’t rely on one reviewer to rewrite your story, but don’t be afraid to ask questions of your reviewers. You can do this either by replying to their reviews or by PMing them directly. Another person in the thread mentioned that they do the notebook trick too; of course, it’s a personal preference. You could glimpse through the reviews and then never look at them again. It seems like a waste of your money, though.
There’s a lot of blather in the forums about what we want to read. Don’t be afraid to post a romantic erotica story if that’s what you want to write. No matter the genre, someone will review it for you. That’s the way the point system works. There are a few things you should know about us, though, that will sway how you submit.
1. Howie has a great rule of thumb for the type of submissions and how many reviews they get. “From what I've seen, 1000 words can get you 10+ reviews, 2,500 gets around 6-9, 4,000 gets 4-6, and 5,000+ gets 2-4.”
2. You can always submit longer pieces in multiple submissions if you’re afraid of not getting reviews as fast as you’d like.
3. Try to put the word count somewhere in your synopsis, title, or agenda. A lot of us won’t even open your submission if we don’t know the word count. If I know I only have half an hour to review, I’m going to go for one short submission so I don’t have to remember what I’ve already read and stated in my LBL when I get interrupted during my review.
4. You will get reviews if your story is longer. There won’t be as many, but they will be more thorough. It’s a matter of personal preference.
5. Don’t let your emotions get in the way. This piece may be your baby, your magnum opus and the one thing you love in the world, but not everyone is going to like it. Check your emotions at the door and work on growing as a writer.
A common mistake is to upload what you consider your best work for your first submission. This isn’t a contest; we aren’t reading your work and saying, “oh, shit, this dude’s fantastic.” We want to review and critique. You’re going to have to write at least five “Very Helpful” reviews to earn the points to submit again. Do you want to waste your free submission on something you don’t think needs work?
Related Links: Workshop Whoring Thread
If you haven’t, introduce yourself in the forum’s “introduction” category so you can meet all of us personally. You get personal attention and encouragement. There are a lot of us willing to help you improve as a writer or just talk to you as a person. There are threads for promoting your Twitter, your blog, your new book, whatever it is you have. Get involved. The easiest way to become attached to the site is to invest yourself in it; we’ll help you with any questions about writing, coax you out of writer’s block, and there’s a ton of socializing you can do here. There are threads dedicated to home improvement and pets. There are other threads dedicated to famous writers, to great links, to stupid stories. Don’t be afraid to jump in. Like I said, we only bite if you express an interest.
Related Links: Discussion Category: "Introductions"
No offense to anybody, this is addressed to his of her.
This is a tip for reviewers: If you download a submission and you don't understand the first one, or two, initial pages of it, PLEASE, do not rate it. We are here to enjoy the pleasure of reading, to learn how to better our own craft, and to try to help our fellow writers. The person who rates with a very low grade an unread text, only reveals his incapacity to read, his shortage of patience, and his lack of common sense, because his only achievement will be to cause detriment to the rating average of the writer who wrote the text he did not finish reading, which is an oxymoron.
I just completed an autobiography about my experience as the Chief of Training for the City of Charleston (SC) after the tragic loss of 9 firefighters in a furniture store fire in 2007 and my time in a neighboring department after I left Charleston. I did not use the real names of the people that treated me badly, put me in bad positions, etc. In many cases I used the term "Administration" when describing my interaction with one or many officers even if the interaction was with a single person.The information in the book is based on experiences, notes, meetings, and other factual information. I did use the actual loactions and incidents. My concern is being sued. I dont have a ton of money for a lawyer. Did I do the right thing? Should I be overly concerned?
That's a great question. I think you'll get better answers if you post it as its own thread as opposed to a comment here. Navigate to the main community page, then click the "Add Discussion" button near the top right of the page.
So are their separate places for nonfiction and fiction or do you just jump in and post something? Any direction for this newbie is appreciated.
There are not different places for nonfiction.
Memoir, autobiography and other forms of nonfiction tend to get less critiques than fiction, which is unfortunate, because these forms often feature some of the best writing on the Workshop.
I'm reading your piece now and really digging it.
Hope to have a review up on the board this weekend.
Thanks for that. Lots of helpful tips and useful advice for a newbie to the site like me