critters.org Manuscript Notifications

For confidential exchange of story critiques
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critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Fri Jan 29, 2016 7:21 am

On the back of Stewart's astonishingly generous and selfless offer, and a couple of conversations I've had online recently, I thought this might be useful: a thread where people can mention a story they have in the critters.org queue, to try and make sure they get feedback. I figure we here want to help each other as much as we can as well, moreso than just random strangers on the internet wotf001

Why? Partly because I don't have time to match Stewart's offer, even though it's something I'd like to replicate--but the reason I don't have time is because I have to keep up with critters, so doing it this way means I can kill two birds with one stone wotf007

This should be a thread that exists independently of me, though; yes, I'll try and crit the manuscripts that are mentioned here, but I might be on holiday/ill/too busy at work/transcended to a higher plane of existence.

On a more general level, though, I want to put this up here because it might encourage people to sign up for critters, and doing that was honestly the best thing for my writing for one reason: it forced me to give critiques. The access to beta readers is nice, sure, it's often a great sanity check, but I've not learnt much about writing from what others have said about stories I've already written. I've learnt far more from reading other people's stories and trying to dissect precisely why something didn't grab me, why it felt slow even at only 4000 words, why I didn't care... and the best times are when I read something astonishing on there and not only try to detail why it did work, but force myself to come up with something that could improve it. That always forces me to push myself.

So: if you have a story in the queue (either spotted as upcoming on the queue page, or if you notice it when the Wednesday email goes out), post the title in here and those critters amongst us can try and give it a look in the week wotf009
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Fri Jan 29, 2016 7:22 am

(Adapted from another post of mine elsewhere on here.)

So, what does critters do?

  • Every Wednesday, 20 or so manuscripts are posted for critiquing. They'll be a mix of fantasy, sci fi and horror. Don't worry, they're labelled, so you can choose your poison.
  • Over the next week, submit a critique on at least one of those. The more the better, because then you learn more, but ideally you need to do at least one, because...
  • ...for each crit you submit, you get a credit (half a credit if you critique something less than 2,000 words). The number of credits you have, divided by the number of weeks you've been a member, is your ratio. So, for example, 20 crits done in 16 weeks would be 20 / 16 = 1.25. Which is important, because...
  • ...you need your ratio over 0.75 to be able to submit your own pieces for critique :) which forces you to stay involved, but also means there's a decent number of people about to crit your story, and that they're active writers giving you advice, not armchair warriors.

How do I use critters?

There's a couple of ways, but I'll tell you mine, because I'm egocentric like that.

When you sign up, critters will, by default, email you a handful of stories randomly selected from that week's list. You don't have to critique these stories. In fact, I turned the email off by entering a 0 on the email preferences page.

Instead, I go to the manuscripts page and open a handful of stories that look interesting--that is, short stories (I'm not interested in novel chapters or Requests for Dedicated Readers (RFDRs) at the moment, because I'm not writing novels) in SF or F (I don't know horror). If I see a familiar name I'll try and crit that, but if not, I'll see what story grabs me in a couple of paragraphs and go with that one.

I keep a notepad file open on another monitor to make notes as I go (more on that in a moment). When you've finished writing a critique, you can submit it on the web page as a text file or by copying and pasting the text, or--even easier--email it to critters@critique.org with the manuscript number in the subject line e.g. #12345. So long as you email it from your registered address, it works it all out. I often append the title to the subject, so it makes more sense if I get replies to the email--so long as the number is in there after a hash, you can put anything else you need in.

What about getting my stories critiqued?

As mentioned above, you need to have a participation ratio of 0.75 or higher for your story to go live i.e. post a critique at least three weeks out of four. This motivation to make you critique others is the single best thing about critters.org, so don't begrudge it--it's instilling good habits in you!

You submit your manuscript through the form on this page. It's pretty self explanatory. Try to keep special characters (accented letters, angled speech marks etc.) out because they look all kinds of funny. If you're after feedback on a specific point, put it in the Creator notes to reviewers box. Notes there show up at the end of a manuscript, so you can be as spoilerific and verbose as you please here. There's another box for urgent notes that appears at the start--keep that short and sweet, trigger warnings etc.

It takes about 2-4 weeks from submitting a story into the queue for it to go up for crits. Once it's up, you'll get somewhere from half a dozen crits for a longer piece (I got 9 on my longest story, 8,000 words) to over twenty for shorter pieces (my highest count was 27 on a 1,000 word story). You'll not agree with all of them, but then I don't think you ever should--you need confidence in yourself as a writer to know when you disagree with someone, when you know what you want to do and they're trying to take you in a direction you don't want to go. The majority of them will usually be on the money, though, and most of the time they confirm what you suspected subconsciously anyway ;) you'll get thoughts on character, plot and setting, not just proof reading.

Most critters will reply to critiques to say thank you--either a short note of gratitude or a longer, specific reply addressing certain points. I sometimes end up in a conversation thinking through different ideas and possibilities for improving stories, both on my manuscripts and other people's. It's a fine way to meet even more writer friends.
Last edited by MattDovey on Fri Jan 29, 2016 7:40 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Fri Jan 29, 2016 7:22 am

So--how should you critique?

There are hundreds of discussions of this about online, and everyone will have their own preference on how to give and how to receive. These are my thoughts, for what that's worth, and it's only one approach, but I like to think I'm half-decent at doing this now.

Most importantly, be polite, and try to be kind. If you get someone's back up with an agressive or dismissive tone, they'll ignore you. People are more receptive to kindly phrased emails. I always try and find something positive to say, and I always try and open with it something I liked, and end on a positive note.

My first line, for example, might be "I thought this was a fast-paced, well-imagined plot in a setting that was weird in a good way." before leading into the "However..."

My closing line, in wrapping up, might be "All in all, there's some work to be done to polish this up and even out the tone, but there's a really solid foundation here, and your prose style is excellent; I think that, once your protagonist is more sympathetic, and your conflict is introduced earlier, you'll have a great story here".

It just makes the world turn a little smoother when you're nice, y'know?

You don't actually know anything. No-one does. Writing is an art, not a science. So "you must" is never technically true as a statement, and comes across as rude (see above). There's also more than one way to skin a cat, so saying "you should fix this problem by doing this" is also wrong--"you could" is much better. And, practically speaking, forcing yourself to think of two or three approaches to fixing a problem will help you anyway.

You don't have to know how to fix a problem. It's ok to just say "the opening didn't grab me, and I don't know why". That's still useful to hear! It might give the writer a nudge to examine something more closely and spot the cause of the problem for themselves. Reader reactions are an entirely valid and useful form of feedback.

You need to think at a higher level. Critiquing is not proof-reading (though I can't help myself doing the latter as well). Think about things like: was there conflict from the start? Did you know what the protagonist wanted? Was there enough conflict to keep the tension up? Were decisions in keeping with a character, and did you understand their motivation? Did the ending satisfy you? Did you like, or were you invested in, the protagonist? Was the antagonist interesting?

I often make notes on prose as well--if someone isn't varying their sentence structure, or they're head-hopping in POV--but the stuff that you'll learn from is the sort of things I've listed above.

My critique structure

My critiques are a discussion of the story as a whole first, written in the same sort of tone as I'm using here, then a list of red-pen edits, which are both proof-reading corrections (e.g. typos, incorrect words, etc.) and as-I-read reactions. I quote a small passage of the original manuscript so the author knows what I'm on about, and then post my correction/thought below.

So I might correct something like:
>"Then have some of thos!"
*this

or I might offer a thought like
>I looked over at Gary, and he nodded in agreement.
Who's Gary? He's not been introduced before. I thought your MC was alone in the room.

I write these red-pen edits as I go through first time, and then go back and write the full body of the email above. I figure that having immediate reactions is useful, because most readers will only read once, after all, but then a more considered opinion is more useful for fixing a story (e.g. "When I first read, I thought Gary was his friend, and it was only near the end I realised he's his brother. It'd help to introduce that earlier...")



You'll settle into your own style of critiquing in time, and what works for me may not work for you; but hopefully this gives anyone unsure about what to do a nudge in the right direction, and gets you started.

Good luck! wotf009
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Fri Jan 29, 2016 8:07 am

And after all that... I don't actually have anything coming up in the queue right now wotf019 but once I've got something revised & polished enough to send in, I'll make sure to post here, even if I'm only going to be talking to myself.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Fri Jan 29, 2016 11:40 am

Thanks for this Matt.
critters looks very interesting. I've signed up and gotten my intro email with username and password, but I must be particularly thick today, because I cannot for the life of me find where to login on their site. The best I can do is get to the Find out your UserName and Password" page.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby dbeavers » Fri Jan 29, 2016 4:41 pm

Thanks for connecting the dots Matt. I've been on Critters for 6 months and find it to be a great resource. My entry for this quarter is, ahem, 'different'. I was thinking of writing it off as an exercise, but thought what the hec and ran it through Critters. To my surprise it actually connected with about half the readers. Worth a shot for WOTF.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby dbeavers » Fri Jan 29, 2016 4:50 pm

amoskalik wrote:Thanks for this Matt.
critters looks very interesting. I've signed up and gotten my intro email with username and password, but I must be particularly thick today, because I cannot for the life of me find where to login on their site. The best I can do is get to the Find out your UserName and Password" page.


It will ask you to log in when you try to review the queue. Critique at the top then View the Queue then scroll down to the "here" link to see the manuscripts. You'll be asked for your username and pw
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Fri Jan 29, 2016 6:25 pm

Thanks. The login opened in a small separate window that was hidden behind all the other windows, so I didn't see it. I thought I was going mad. I'm in now though.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby dbeavers » Thu Mar 03, 2016 4:53 pm

Hi Critters practitioners, my story "Zero by Zero" is in the queue this week. Would appreciate any thoughts on it. Bonus points if you guess correctly how it did last year as a WOTF entry - Dave Beavers
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Fri Mar 04, 2016 9:08 am

dbeavers wrote:Hi Critters practitioners, my story "Zero by Zero" is in the queue this week. Would appreciate any thoughts on it. Bonus points if you guess correctly how it did last year as a WOTF entry - Dave Beavers


Thanks for letting us know. I will take a look.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Mon Mar 07, 2016 3:37 am

And the crit... is in. Good story--enjoyed it!
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:36 am

I've got a piece up this week--"Winter Witch", only 1100 words, a brief dream of magical realism. Shouldn't take long, if you fancy a gander!
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Sun Mar 20, 2016 7:49 am

MattDovey wrote:I've got a piece up this week--"Winter Witch", only 1100 words, a brief dream of magical realism. Shouldn't take long, if you fancy a gander!


My crit is in. Loved the story.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Thu Apr 14, 2016 6:48 am

I haven't yet had time to go through the crits from my last piece (so apologies if I've not yet replied--I will!) but my next piece is already in, "Sorrrowspeak Eve". Magical realism, but opens with an explicit (though not even remotely erotic) sex scene, so please do skip if that's not your sort of thing.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby OldDarth » Thu Apr 14, 2016 7:19 am

Matt - this is a fantastic idea!

It would be excellent to start up an informal subgroup leveraging off of Critters - one of the big failings of Critters when I was using it was the total lack of consistency of getting feedback from the same people. It's what stopped me from staying with the group.

I'm certainly up for this and hopefully we will get enough interest from this forum to make this an ongoing thing.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Thu Apr 14, 2016 8:55 am

I will give it a look.
I haven't submitted one of my own stories yet. How often can you submit a story and how long do you typically have to wait before it comes up?
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby zali » Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:11 pm

amoskalik wrote:I will give it a look.
I haven't submitted one of my own stories yet. How often can you submit a story and how long do you typically have to wait before it comes up?


I just submitted a story March 31st and it'll be cycling through the queue next week, so about two weeks I would say.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby zali » Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:23 pm

MattDovey wrote:I haven't yet had time to go through the crits from my last piece (so apologies if I've not yet replied--I will!) but my next piece is already in, "Sorrrowspeak Eve". Magical realism, but opens with an explicit (though not even remotely erotic) sex scene, so please do skip if that's not your sort of thing.


My crit is in. Loved the idea behind Sorrowspeak.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Thu Apr 14, 2016 11:01 pm

amoskalik wrote:I will give it a look.
I haven't submitted one of my own stories yet. How often can you submit a story and how long do you typically have to wait before it comes up?


About 2-3 weeks depending on how many other stories are in the queue. I think you can just keep adding them in so they crop up every single week, but I've always waited for the current story to cycle out the queue before I add the next one. So long as your ratio is over 0.75, it should be fine, though.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby morshana » Sun Apr 17, 2016 10:51 am

I haven't used Critters in so long. When I found WOTF, I started exchanging stories with some people from here. I still have a Critter account, but my ratio is pretty low by now.

I might be interested in this. wotf007
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Mon Apr 18, 2016 12:08 am

morshana wrote:I haven't used Critters in so long. When I found WOTF, I started exchanging stories with some people from here. I still have a Critter account, but my ratio is pretty low by now.

I might be interested in this. wotf007


You can reset your ratio and start again from scratch, so you don't have a hill to climb :)
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby morshana » Mon Apr 18, 2016 8:24 am

MattDovey wrote:
morshana wrote:I haven't used Critters in so long. When I found WOTF, I started exchanging stories with some people from here. I still have a Critter account, but my ratio is pretty low by now.

I might be interested in this. wotf007


You can reset your ratio and start again from scratch, so you don't have a hill to climb :)


Thanks! Is it easy to do? Haven't logged on to Critters in years... wotf007
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby MattDovey » Mon Apr 18, 2016 11:09 am

morshana wrote:
MattDovey wrote:
morshana wrote:I haven't used Critters in so long. When I found WOTF, I started exchanging stories with some people from here. I still have a Critter account, but my ratio is pretty low by now.

I might be interested in this. wotf007


You can reset your ratio and start again from scratch, so you don't have a hill to climb :)


Thanks! Is it easy to do? Haven't logged on to Critters in years... wotf007


Just one simple form wotf013
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby OldDarth » Tue Apr 19, 2016 11:31 am

OK, sent in my feedback for Matt's story.

Anyone else have something in the Critter queue they would like looked at?
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Tue Apr 19, 2016 2:02 pm

I just added a story to the queue. It should be out in early May. I post a reminder when it is.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby zali » Wed Apr 20, 2016 7:35 pm

I have a story up this week, "S-----," under the name Z. Z. Ali [figured I shouldn't put the title just in case]. It's fantasy, written in the space of a day and it's been long enough now that I can't stand the sight of it, so would love some feedback if anyone feels like checking it out.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby OldDarth » Fri Apr 22, 2016 10:48 am

Great story zali!

I'll post my feedback this weekend but it's basically a gushfest. Lovely piece.

You wrote that in a day? Wow!
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby zali » Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:23 am

OldDarth wrote:Great story zali!

I'll post my feedback this weekend but it's basically a gushfest. Lovely piece.

You wrote that in a day? Wow!



Why thank you! It got a straight rejection from WotF and rejections from quite a few mags, so I've been hating it for a while now. The prequel I wrote for it after did net me my very first (and only) HM though, so I'm a little more fond of that one. Still, I thought S------ was better at first, but what do I know wotf017 I'm just a 22 yr old who pretends to be a writer while suffering through grad school. wotf001
Last edited by zali on Sat Apr 23, 2016 8:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby dbeavers » Sat Apr 23, 2016 6:24 am

zali wrote:I have a story up this week, "S-----," under the name Z. Z. Ali [figured I shouldn't put the title just in case]. It's fantasy, written in the space of a day and it's been long enough now that I can't stand the sight of it, so would love some feedback if anyone feels like checking it out.


Hi Z.Z. Ali,

Just submitted a critique at Critters. I'm impressed that you wrote that in a day. I'm more of a hard sci-fi fan, but I found your dragon tale poignant. Good luck with it, and your grad school.
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Re: critters.org Manuscript Notifications

Postby amoskalik » Sat Apr 23, 2016 7:17 am

zali wrote:I have a story up this week, "S-----," under the name Z. Z. Ali [figured I shouldn't put the title just in case]. It's fantasy, written in the space of a day and it's been long enough now that I can't stand the sight of it, so would love some feedback if anyone feels like checking it out.


Loved your story. I just posted my critique. I can't imagine writing something that well constructed in one day. Wow.
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