Using feedback sites to enhance your writing skills (and free editing)
A lot of writers are taking to feedback sites with the promise of being picked up by a major publishing company – let’s take YouWriteOn (YWO) for example.
Every few months YWO holds the Next Big Author competition where the top stories for that month (voted by peers) get a review from Random House or Orion. This is a great deal as reviews from publishing houses aren’t easy to come by! That’s the good side…
The down side… To get the publishing house review you must get voted into the top ten by other writers who are also looking for a publishing house review. Most of them are great – they give excellent feedback and score you honestly. However, there are always the odd ones who think clawing their way to the top means they don’t want you to beat them, so they mark you down. You need to have pretty thick skin to get your writing up on a site like this and put your work out there for criticism. Oddly (hmmm…I wonder why) the ones who spoil it for others usually don’t make it to the top and the ‘Thank You’ forum can get very fiery at times when people don’t get marked the way they think they should. Like most of these types of websites, the users are mainly random and faceless so you really don’t know who you’re dealing with and they can be pretty harsh at times.
As far as the top ten goes, I’ve found most of the stories have to be ‘likeable’. By this I mean they can’t have gratuitous violence, porn or a plethora of swear words (though some of these do make it through if it’s a brilliant story). Readers on the site want to be safely entertained and left wanting more.
I did a test on the site when I first joined and put one of my short stories in that had already been published by Harper Collins. I was interested to know how the YWO public would take to it because it’s a savage story (Corrugated Dreaming). The reviews I received were extreme – from straight top scores to straight bottom scores (and even some hate mail!). It made the top ten for a couple of days, but hovered around the 10-20 mark for about a month until I removed it. Now I knew what I was in for.
The other good thing about this site is the opportunity to review other writer’s work. This taught me a lot about what I may have been doing wrong in my own work. When someone makes exactly the same mistakes as you do, it’s so much easier to see it with a critical eye.
As I now self-publish (the reason for this will be explained in my next blog) I decided to put my two latest novels’ (Soul’s Child and The Eleventh Question) on the site. There is a 7,000 word limit which gives you barely enough space to get into the story and get the reader hooked. When you self-publish it’s important to have a great proof-reader and they can be costly (between $600 – $1600 depending on the size of the novel). With a site like YWO the other writers are VERY keen to pick up every little mistake you make and this can come in very handy. Both my stories landed in the top ten and both received reviews by a publisher which was an added bonus.
Sites like this don’t normally lead to multi-million dollar publishing contracts – but they can be very useful indeed for the thick-skinned among us.