One way writers can aid their writing process is to upload extracts of their work onto a writers’ site where other writers will read, review, critique, suggest. By this means, a story or novel can benefit well before it is complete. In turn, writers review their peers’ work. In considering how another writer’s work might be improved, they become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.
There are quite a number of these sites. Here, I discuss four:
fictionpress.net allows writers to set up a profile and post stories, scripts or poetry and to review others’ work. It’s a popular site and seems particularly suited to the new writer. Even short pieces are accepted. Apart from reviews and supportive forums, there is a useful list of beta readers, categorised for genre. Participants can look at list of new uploads, briefly described. This makes it very easy to select something personally appropriate to review. Reviewers range from very new to well experienced. It can be quick to upload, change tack and upload something else. That way, a new writer does not feel over-committed before he is ready.
authonomy.com invites both readers and writers. It is a site for serious writers since for a book to be considered, an upload of 10,000 words or more is required. This rules out short stories except in a collection. Many writers choose to upload their entire novel and it is not that unusual for some to read the entire manuscript. There are many really good writers regularly using this site and some thorough and useful reviewers too.
Each participant has a shelf for highlighting his favourite five books for as short or long a time as he likes. Novels are ranked by an intricate algorithm which records the number of reviews received, but particularly the number of shelvings and star rating. The higher the ranking, and the more stars readers award the work, the nearer the Editor’s Desk the book reaches. This sounds manageable until you consider that each book starts its journey at a rank of about 5500. Reviews are gained by the writer reviewing many other books, the writers of which may not necessarily choose to review back. There’s no way of ensuring a full review, even then, or that the reviewer is not simply copying reviews already made.
At then end of each month, the top five rated books are reviewed by Harper Collins editors. However, they may take a fancy to a book which hasn’t reached that height. An extremely few books are taken on for publishing. The top five are not necessarily liked by the editors. Reviews are fair but frank.
There are various forums, some very active, the most useful concentrating on one particular genre or on in-depth reviewing.
Common dissatisfaction amongst writers on this site is the way that a book may rise up to the top rapidly as a result of ‘spamming’. Authonomy has undertaken to improve the complex site and have regard for this. To some extent it has succeeded already.
writerscafe.org make it easy to upload work of even very short length. This is useful for poets or writers who only want a small section reviewed. It is not so easy to get reviews on this site, but there are readers groups, lists of agents and of competitions. There is no guarantee, however, that names on the list are from reputable agencies. Similarly, some participants complain of scams. There appear to be mixed feelings about the quality of reviews. There are writers who have felt tremendously supported and helped by being a member of this site.
youwriteon.com This Arts Council supported site has some distinct advantages over the four above: reviewers cannot see existing reviews so whatever they write will be from their own pen; reviewers cannot choose the book they are allocated to read – although they can ditch it for another if it is really out of their comfort zone; they can’t fudge whether they have read the piece because there are questions on content they have to answer correctly if their review is to be lodged; they rate the book on several writerly qualities – e.g. dialogue, pace. Each review gains a credit which the writer put towards his own book. Sooner or later his book is allocated to a reader. The ratings received build up to an overall ranking. Whereas reaching top rank on Authonomy make take, literally, years, on Youwriteon it may be achieved in as little as two months. The top three rated novels each month gain a review by Orion, Random House or Bloomsbury editors: not a bad reward!
On all the sites the fantasy genre is extremely popular, or at least, represents a high proportion of uploads.
A common worry amongst beginner writers is the fear that their work will be poached. There doesn’t seem to be a high rate of this occurring. In general, there is much to be gained from assiduous reviewing and reflection on reviews given. Life-long friends are made by some serial users of these sites.