The benefits of online critique groups: an introduction to Scribophile

I don’t normally offer writing tips as I’m only just starting to grasp how to write myself. And let’s face it there are a godzillion other blogs out there that offer advice, but I thought I’d provide my opinion on critique sites, in particular Scribophile.

A few years ago when I was still very new to writing, I completed a memoir as practice and sent it to a manuscript assessment service along with the hefty $500 fee, after a writing teacher told me it was a great way to learn and get feedback. It was, without a doubt, the biggest waste of money imaginable. I received a bundle of photocopies of useless articles mostly written by the person who owned the assessment agency and a 20+ page report. However, there were only two comments in the report of any use and there were no edits and no suggested changes. The SFWA has an article on the issues with some manuscript assessment services and even though the service I used was recommended by my state writers’ centre, this service did many of the things SFWA advises against.

http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/editors/

Then I discovered the benefits of online critiquing and haven’t looked back. Over the past couple of years, I’ve joined up to at least 5 online critique sites, but mostly use Scribophile nowadays. I posted my memoir for feedback on Scribophile  for critique and within a year not only did I have a far superior manuscript, but my writing had improved in leaps and bounds. I’ve found that the benefits of critiquing on a site like Scribophile compared to the “old fashioned” assessment services include:

  • you get more than one person’s opinion and feedback
  • you can get feedback on poetry, short stories, non-fiction, articles and novels
  • the feedback is usually more detailed and often more honest
  • there is an opportunity for ongoing discussions between the author and those providing feedback to clarify comments, and
  • critiques are free.

What sets Scribophile apart from the others is the karma system, which encourages you to provide detailed and thoughtful feedback so you can get enough karma to post your work. I’ve found that reading and commenting on others’ work has helped me edit and review my own work. Once you’ve earned enough karma points you are guaranteed at least three (but usually more) long critiques. I’ve been to a few other sites that tend to be based on appeasing author’s egos and have received critiques as detailed as “I love this piece”. Comments like that are useless when you are trying to improve. And there is always room for improvement. Scribophile definitely isn’t a site if you want your ego stroked. I’ve found everyone there is genuinely trying to improve their writing and provide constructive and more importantly honest feedback to help improve your writing. Scribophile also has a relatively open format. You chose what you critique and how you critique, whereas some other sites might force you to critique a genre you have no interest in, which does neither you or the author justice.

This might seem a strange reason to like a site, but the profile pictures and layout makes Scribophile feel like a real community. It isn’t just words on a page like some other critique sites. Each author can have their own profile page, include links to their publications and blogs, have private discussions with other members, and discuss (or debate) writing (and non-writing) related topics on forums.

I think my appreciation could be best summed up by saying that if I ever manage to publish that elusive novel, Scribophile would be included in the acknowledgements page along with the dozens of writing teachers I’ve had over the past couple of years. In fact, it would probably be placed above all else, except maybe for my husband. I mean except for my husband – definitely. And of course my organ donor. Now all I have to do is stop spending so much time in the internet wasteland of Scirbophile’s forums and actually finish that first novel.