Frequently Asked Questions

We know it can seem daunting joining a new community.  And submitting your work to virtual strangers can also be scary.  But it's oh so necessary.  And the feedback and critique you'll get will prove invaluable.  Trust us on this.  But in case you're a little confused, finding your way around, allow this FAQ to be a helpful guide.  And as always, if you have questions not covered here, please Contact Us.

How do I get started in the Writer's Workshop?

First  you click into the Writer's Workshop from this link or from the designated tab in our main navigation above.   You'll be prompted to log in or upgrade to full Membership, if you haven't .  Then you'll be taken to your Writer's Desk, a dynamic dashboard page just for you that will soon be populated with links to your stories and reviews. You'll already have 15 submission points if you're a new member; that's enough to submit one story.  You may go ahead and do that if you have one ready to go.   For help making the best impression on readers, check out our Manuscript Format Tips.  Getting the basics right goes a long way toward improving the reader's experience.  Next,  look at some of the latest submissions and begin reading and writing reviews.  In this way, you'll earn additional credit for your own submissions and you'll build trust with others in a network of important feedback.  You'll be rated on the quality of your reviews, so be honest, but be helpful.

How do I write a Helpful Review?

The main thing is to recognize this environment as a workshop.  You'll be reviewing unpublished, unfinished work.  Even a story that looks or feels complete and has beginning, middle, and end may still be an early draft and a long way from finished.  Furthermore, the primary audience for your review is the author herself--or himself--someone who wants a few cheers for the parts that are good, encouragement to keep on going, and a few helpful tips for what could make the work even stronger.  Chances are, the person whose work you're reviewing didn't submit the story for flaming, derision, or discouragement.  There's also a good chance that this same person will review your work, when you put it out there.  Don't be phony, but be polite.  Balance negative commentary with positives and write your review with the intent of Helpfulness.  That intention will show through. Also, do your best to address anything listed in your fellow author's written agenda. For more on this and related topics, check out our Review Tips.

How does workshop reviewing differ from other reviews I write?

It's fine if you write reviews of published books, stories, or films for a newspaper or website.  Maybe you're practiced at that sort of reviewing and pride yourself as a savvy and engaging critic.  When something is bad, perhaps you're a little snarky or even scathing, at times.  In the appropriate context, that kind of reviewing has its place.  But in a workshop setting, the dynamics are different.  You don't need to leave your critical intelligence at the door, by any means, but you do need to temper your words and write with an awareness of audience. You're no longer communicating to the potential paying audience of finished, professional work. You're communicating to the creator of a work-in-progress.  Sharp and unrelenting criticism that shows off your own intelligence can cause a sensitive aspiring author to shut down. You don't want to attack in a way that makes the next draft even harder for the author to approach. So, find something positive to say. However troubled an early draft may be, you can find at least a couple of elements you really like.  Be sure to mention them.  And try casting your statements of the more troubled aspects or problem spots into a neutral language that doesn't insult. There is a way to say almost anything that brings the message across without knocking the author down or poisoning their next attempt.          

How do I submit my work?

Once you're signed in as a full Member, and you've gotten the hang of it by writing a few reviews, submitting your own work is only a click away.  You'll select the Submit a Story link; it appears in the top-right portion of your Desk, near your points total.  Enter your title, choose your story's structural form and genre, and browse for the file where your story is saved.  It's best to have it saved as a .doc or .rtf file for this purpose, but several other file types will work as well.  Make sure to fill in your Synopsis and Author's Agenda spaces so that readers get a quick sense of both the kind of story they're approaching and the kind of feedback you're looking for.  Then click 'Save.'  Your story should go live within seconds.

What's with the points feature?

When you first visit your Desk you'll see 15 points, a gift for getting started and enough points to make one submission.  After that, you'll earn points by writing reviews for others.  Please be aware that reviews are judged on quality, so take your time with each.  You won't earn points automatically when you submit a review.  Rather, the author of the story will receive an alert message and given a little time, they'll read and respond to your review.  They'll also rate it.  A rating of 'Helpful' earns 2 points for you.  A rating of 'Very Helpful' earns 3 points.  But a rating of 'Not Helpful' earns zero points.  Don't worry, in our experience, authors in workshop don't award high ratings for facile praise or empty flattery and they don't withhold ratings points over tough, but honest, sincere, and well-intended criticism.  Well over 97% of the time, virtuous effort actually gets rewarded here.  The major rule is don't skim a story just to crank out a hasty review.  If your review demonstrates that you've read the story closely, maybe twice, and done your very best to offer helpful and incisive critique, then your overall points earnings will reflect that effort.  Likewise, the time people spend with your stories and the value of reviews you receive in return will also generally increase as a matter of reciprocity. 

What do I do about Ratings of "Not Helpful"?

If the reviews you write get rated as 'Not Helpful' by your peers, it's going to slow the accumulation of your spending points to make submissions.   Turn up the quality of your game a bit.  Take more time with each review.  Growing bitter or angry will only work against you.  Instead, stay positive and get a strategy in place for more effective reviewing .   It may help to print the stories for review and begin with margin notes on paper.  Then go back to the computer with a  stronger starting point for your commentary.  Make sure to state the positive as well as the negative, and do both diplomatically, in respectful language, and with a real view for the development of the work.  Take time to address the strength of individual components, like character and dialogue, as well as your overall appraisal of the work.   A well-crafted 3,000 word story deserves a well-crafted review of at least 150 words, bare minimum.  A 300- to 500-word review would not be out of order.  What is inadequate?   A 70-word quick hit that doesn't show much focus and looks like you just wanted a reviewing credit.  Also, avoid a spaghetti-mess or brain salad of unedited ramblings, of any length, comprised mostly of things to get off your chest that are unrelated or only tangentially related to the story.  Go to your blog for that.  But relax.  Unless you're deliberately malicious in your reviews, or you're doing quick cut-and-paste crap just to make way for your own submissions, then it's highly unlikely that your ratings of "Not Helpful" will become weighted enough to draw an administrative warning.  We do suspend and even ban users who persistently abuse the system or damage the spirit of the workshop, but not without a warning.  One or two ratings of 'Not Helpful' from possibly over-sensitve writers will not sink your battleship.  Just turn up your game and keep going.

What do I do about Unhelpful Reviews?

Even a reveiwer with the best of intentions will not always be able to deliver a review that is helpful to you.  And a review that stings a little, right at first, might prove helpful to you if you wait and read it at a later time, when you're less attached to that first draft.  Even if it never proves helpful, that review may represent an honest attempt to help you out.  As the author, you must select which feedback you will use to make your work stronger, and which of it you can safely ignore.  Your right to veto any advice you receive--hopefully, after careful consideration and not rashly--persists well beyond the peer review function of a workshop and remains with you even when you're working with professional editors.  Be confident in that right and be open to feedback.  The willingness to see your work through another person's eyes is vital to your growth.  If you can't see much benefit in a particular review, but it looks like an honest attempt, you might consider leaving that review unrated for the time being, along with a brief note that still says 'Thanks.'  Maybe the reviewer is new to all this business and needs a little boost of confidence and time to get his or her sea legs.  A kind word from you might get that person reviewing more confidently, more carefully, and more effectively.  If a not-so-helpful review seems careless, hasty, or thoughtless, and not simply the work of an inexperienced but well-intended reviewer, then you're certainly welcome to use the 'Not Helpful' rating as a way to guide that reviewer onto a better path.  A preponderance of 'Not Helpful' ratings for one user will draw administrative action.  Beyond that, any abuse, hate-speech, spam, or blatant cut-and-paste crappola in reviews should be reported as abuse for immediate action.

What is an Author's Agenda?

In the 'Submit a Story' field, you'll find spaces for both a synopsis and an author's statement or agenda.  A synopsis is just a brief and enticing overview of your story that doesn't give too much a way, but may draw a reader's interest or curiosity .  In contrast, an Author's Agenda is a Workshop-specific tool.  It is simply a brief guide to the kind of feedback you would like to receive.  For example, if you're concerned with how well you've developed your lead character, you can ask for feedback on that issue.  If you would like to know if any moments in the story make the reader laugh, you could ask for readers to jot notes at any emotional moments and let you know where they are.  If you've done your best to incorporate specific lessons from craft essays we have on-site, then you could mention that effort in your agenda and ask for feedback on how well you've achieved those specific aims.  It's best if an Autnor's Agenda sounds like a polite request and doesn't sound too demanding.  It would be a mistake to make a long checklist for every reader to follow and then punish with ratings of 'Not Helpful' if readers don't address every single item on your list.  Please be appreciative that you're getting read, at all.  Constrain your agenda to 3 to 5 items and grant your reviewers a little leeway and freedom to deviate from that agenda and express their own thoughts.  But don't be mousy about the agenda part, either.  Don't leave it out or invite people to 'do their worst.'  Ask nicely for exactly what you want to know about from the reader's experience, because doing so will help quite a few of them to give you a better quality review.  Then, stay open and be gentle about it if not all readers follow your agenda perfectly, because some will feel more adept at reviewing with the leeway to adopt their own framework for addressing your story.

Should I copyright my work?  How safe is this?

We don't dispense legal advice and it never hurts to pursue your own due diligence in such matters.  You can visit the U.S. Copyright Office online and register the copyright on a single creative work for about 35 dollars, the last time we checked.  Under current U.S. copyright law, your work is legally copyrighted to you as fast as you've set it down in a fixed form and put your name on it; however, the small fee and paperwork invovled in registering your copyright might provide added peace of mind and also added leverage in any sort of infringement claim.   if you're motivated to pursue maximum protection of your creative properties, then registration is certainly something to consider.   Screenwriters often register an original script with the Writers Guild of America.  However, it isn't the norm to pursue copyright registration on a short story or even a novel prior to publication.  A reputable publisher will register copyright in your name after the deal is made for a book, and has far too much to lose in reputation alone to even consider any kind of theft.  That's why copyright notices all over your unpublished fiction make you look like an amateur or a paranoid in the eyes of a seasoned editor or agent.  Beyond the novel, short stories and poems generally aren't lucrative enough to motivate theft.  They do terrible in a pawn shop.  The joy in this game lies in having your work out there, accessible to readers and with your name on it.  That victory is pretty hollow if it's based on stolen work.   Not to mention the lifetime of smearing backlash that will come when such a theft is found out.  It's just too much risk and too little to gain.  This is not to say that theft of creative properties never happens, just that it is much more rare than many beginning writers imagine.  It is also worth noting that an idea cannot be copyrighted.  If the idea is a full-fledged design for a tangible and innovative product, an invention, then it might be protectable under patent law, but intangible ideas like those that drive stories cannot be legally protected except by writing them down, recording them to audio or video technologies, or otherwise setting your creative work into a fixed form.  The idea cannot be copyright protected, only the precise execution of that idea can be.  A story that's just in your head isn't real yet until you put it down in a fixed form.  Quick ideas for stories, or 'loglines,' in movie lingo, all that 'high concept' stuff, it's crappola until you do something with it.  The safety lies in articulating your story, then getting it out into the world.  As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it's safer in the world than locked up in your head.  But still, do your own due diligence and pursue whatever degree or form of protection you deem appropriate.  We consider our community a safe place for your work and we believe that most of your fellows are too concerned with their own self-expression to be particularly moved to rip something from yours--but life offers very few guarantees amid many opportunities.  Consider this decision your own ultimate responsibility.

Does putting your work in an online workshop count as "published?"

In our estimation:  No.  Workshop drafts are understood to be unfinished work and the content of those drafts is not accessible to the general visitor.  But in the broadest sense, 'published' just means made public.  By definition, the poster you placed of your missing cat on twelve different phone polls or bulletin boards around your town is something that you've published.  Therefore, we cannot say with absolute assurance that the non-published status we claim for our workshop submissions is uncontestable.  However, we feel that restricting the view of workshop submissions to staff and paying members constitutes a reasonable degree of protection for your work's future publishability; cetainly within our own Anthology projects, and probably elsewhere.  An editor running a casual Google search on a story you have under consdieration--just to see if you've self-published it online--would find it on your blog, or any number of other wide open or general access platforms, like an online journal or magazine. But not within the protective confines of our workshop, not without becoming a member.  While we cannot say with absolute assurance that a fussy editor for some other publication will not disqualfiy your story from consideration if he or she somehow finds out that you've workshopped it online, we can say with confidence that we offer a very reasonable degree of privacy and protection, and that sharing your story here is more like sharing it with a rather large creative writing class, in person, rather than sharing it with the world at large.  When you write something good enough to get placed in our Anthology, that's when you'll have a story that we would call 'published.'