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June 19, 2012 / diannegray

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.

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11 Comments

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  1. Freed Writing / Jul 7 2012 9:52 pm

    Hi Diane, thanks for the follow.

    I used the HarperCollins authonomy site and received an editors desk review for a book there. There are some good read and review crit groups there, but the flyby reviews can be questionable and often are aimed at reciprocal behaviour. The minimum upload there is 10k and there’s no maximum.

    I’ve not tried YWO. I was interested to read about it and your experiences there. It’s also interesting how you’ve gone SP. I’ve friends who have turned down publishers as well for reasons much the same as yours.

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    • diannegray / Jul 10 2012 9:08 am

      Well done for getting an editor’s desk review. I’ve had a look at the site and apparently at the end of every month the five top ranked books are delivered to the desks of an editorial board. How did you go with this? I’d be interested to know what they said. A lot of the YWO books that get to that stage are given reviews that the writers don’t often like – but a review is a review and even if it’s harsh, it helps to improve the work. I think it’s difficult to judge a book with just the first 10,000 words (I’ve read some that I’ve really had to stick with, but end up being fantastic) so I think that may be the main complaint of these sites.
      Also, it you go to YWO I’d be interested to see what you think

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  2. Freed Writing / Jul 11 2012 10:12 pm

    Hi. Yes, that’s pretty much it. Every month the five books with the most amount of backings from other users their, depending somewhat in the user rating which can have varying weight, are given to HC professional editors, apparently. There was some suspicion at one time that very junior staff were doing the reviews, and ‘tea lady’ reviews became a bit of an in joke there. But lately the reviews have been more thorough and constructive. Some writers made a fuss about the fact that the site promised professional reviews but seemed not to always deliver, and since then they seem to have upped their game. It can still be hit and miss. The Lit-Fic reviews are sometimes give the impression of boredom and a cigarette burning away in the reviewers hand as he forces him or herself to report back, but clear genre books get more thorough evaluations from what I’ve seen, with comparatives and potential for commercial publication assessed.

    No one who ever made the top 5 has been published by HC. They’ve asked for fulls on some. They do also scan the ranks as well and ask for fuels sometimes for books that haven’t made the top 5. I know some reputable agencies also scan the ranks there, like Eve White and Curtis Browne. People have been picked up through being on the site, but it’s not easy obviously. It is, like YWO I guess, a gigantic slush pile, and a way HC found to close their letterbox.

    There used to be some good crit groups, and there are still some active. Fly by reviews are quite often disingenuous and aimed at reciprocation.

    Overall it’s an interesting community, but lots people seem to tire of it after a certain point.

    My review was useful in some ways, but not so thorough as I’d have liked. It did highlight an issue I’d seen elsewhere so conformed that for me. The reviewers are only obliged to read ten thousand words, but my reviewer did read all I’d submitted, around 30k, and said my writing was generally strong and stylised, and found the religious dialogues I had in it enjoyable. What was ironic, to me, was that the main area of concern they highlighted was a structural change I’d made based on a repeated feedback on it at the site. :/.

    I’ve no experience of other writing sites, and nothing to put out onto one right now. But I’d probably stick with authonomy given my familiarity with it. I know writers at authonomy who’ve not been able to climb the ranks their have been at the very top of YWO.

    Overall it was a useful experience for me. For some it is very useful, and leads them to careers. For some it’s rather disillusioning. Like anything I guess.

    If you ever join that site, let me know. I’ll say hi there. 🙂

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    • diannegray / Jul 12 2012 8:29 am

      Wow – thank you for such a detailed reply. Authonomy sounds quite similar to YWO and I have heard a lot of people switch between the two. I heard rumours that people have been picked up by YWO, but they are very few and far between. I found some of the professional reviews fairly similar (if provided by the same reviewer) almost as if it were a cut and paste with the names changed and that was a bit of an eye-opener. I don’t have anything to put up at the moment, but when I do I’ll try it out and let you know so we can connect on there.

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  3. Freed Writing / Jul 12 2012 4:19 pm

    Ehm. I can tell when to use ‘there’ and not ‘their’, and also when to use an apostrophe in it’s, and not its. Autocorrect is made to embarrass writers :s :-). Oh well. 🙂

    I’m going to add a link to this to sonething I’ve just blogged btw.

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    • diannegray / Jul 12 2012 9:13 pm

      Oh – great blog! And thank you for the link (I’m flattered!)

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  4. moderndayruth / Oct 9 2012 7:33 pm

    I learn so much from you… I never even knew of such sites – we don’t have them i these parts/in our languages… I got to online posting because situation with publishing in Balkans is awful, and book after book that i published i felt as if i was giving birth to children and leaving them immediately at the orphanage’s door – no launches organized by publisher, lousy to non-existent distribution… that’s how i ended up in blogosphere AND i still feel like Alice in the cyber-wonderland!!! It’s a great feeling though! 😉

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    • diannegray / Oct 9 2012 9:58 pm

      Fantastic, Lena. Writing a story is like giving birth (I love this analogy!)

      When I left my last comment on your page I lost my internet connection and only just got it back!

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      • moderndayruth / Oct 9 2012 10:06 pm

        Thank you for replying, dear Dianne! Oyyy, i feel profound existential ennui when i lose internet connection, lol, i think we are hooked on blogosphere for good! 😉

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      • diannegray / Oct 9 2012 10:14 pm

        …and it keeps coming and going – argh!

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      • moderndayruth / Oct 9 2012 10:39 pm

        😦 hope it doesn’t last long!

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