I've made this a new topic so that hopefully we can point to it for the rules if it takes off.
To help each other get stories ready for market, submitted and published.
We all have trouble second-guessing what editors want, and it's hard to know when a story is really ready for market--or as ready as we can make it.
In an article at Baen, Mike Resnick observed that as new writers we have to be, not just good enough, but better than established writers if an editor is to make space for our work.
The "Ready for Market" group uses competition (F&SF is a competitive market, despite us being a friendly lot) to help us judge our stories against others, and a grading scheme which asks, "Is the story better than Heinlein?" The grading assesses the story overall, and important characteristics like plot, character development and so on.
Without demanding a lot of critting work on the part of readers (the story should probably have been workshopped already, so in the author's mind it's pretty much ready for market), this scheme should help us to understand which aspects of a story are okay, and which need work.
The group is open to anyone at Hatrack. Stories should probably have been workshopped and certainly ready to submit to market.
Stories must be complete. No WIPs. This is not a way of getting others to help with the writing of a story that has not yet made it past first draft. Grammar and spelling should be good.
Stories that have been rejected by editors will be welcome. After grading, the writer may choose to share the (non-form) rejection letter so we can discuss how it compares with our gradings.
How it Works ============
The scheme is designed to demand a minimum of effort both from readers of stories ("graders") and administration.
There's almost no need for written crits (just a few one liners), unless you want to do them.
The only commitment you make to the group is this:
You don't have to submit a story every month. But in the month you submit a story you commit to:
- grade all first 13s according to the 3/2/1 scheme below; - select at least one story to read fully, and grade the story overall and on ten characterics according to the scheme below.
That's the minimum. In line with Hatrack's ideas on the value of critiqueing, the more you do the more you learn, and the more kudos you earn. Grading more stories, or critting some, will be well received and hopefully returned.
Everyone will get their first 13s graded, and some (hopefully all) will get one or more gradings of the full story. (Short stories will clearly have a better chance than novels.)
Note that there is no guarantee that each story will get a manuscript request, and thus get graded. No request means its first 13 wasn't enough to attract interest from what we assume is a representative audience and that perhaps therefore some work is needed to make it stand out in the market-place.
Grading Scheme ==============
The scheme aspires to "better than Heinlein" or your favourite author of today, because our theory is that we have to be competitive with published authors to break into that first market.
For first 13s: -------------- 3 - would read on enthusiastically 2 - would read on with caution 1 - would not read on
Each grade includes a one liner (one sentence or bullet point) with the reason for the grade.
For stories: ----------- Story overall:
3 - Better than Heinlein (or, better than my favourite published author of today--name her if you like) 2 - As good as the best authors published today (but not quite good enough) 1 - Okay but not as good as published authors
Story characteristics: (3 = better than Heinlein, 2 = average, 1 = weak)
1 character development 2 plot 3 satisfactory ending 4 milieu 5 willing suspension of disbelief 6 unique/never been done before 7 writing style 8 dialogue 9 action 10 understandable ("I get it")
Thus, if a story is requested as a result of its first 13, it gets a 1/2/3 score on its overall readiness for market, and on each of 10 attributes. If you want to include a short crit of the story, that's great but not mandatory.
There's a monthly cycle.
On the 1st day of the month everyone is invited to post first 13s.
We give ourselves one week to do that. This is not time for writing since the stories should be ready for market, but just recognising that we can't all get to things immediately.
Entries close on the 7th day of the month.
By 14th day of the month we - grade first 13s - request at least one manuscript (via an e-mail to the writer) of the story we'd like to read and grade (probably one whose first 13 we scored highly)
By the last day of the month we - grade at least one manuscript - grade more stories if we want to (e.g. those that have great first 13s in addition to our favourites)
The "end of the day" is the end of the day in your local time. There's no need to be more precice than that.
On the first of the month I will create a fresh Topic in Writing Challenges for "Ready for Market" entries for "this" month.
Contributors post their first 13s only. You include three lines at the beginning of your first 13 giving title, genre and word count:
quote: Title: My Story that's Ready for Market Genre: SF Word count: 5000 words First 13 lines of your story.
On the 7th day I'll create an "entries closed and here's a template for first 13 grading" post and then we use the same Topic to post gradings of first 13s.
On the 14th day I'll create a post that says, "first 13 grading closed and here's a template for full story grading" and then we use the same Topic to post gradings of stories we've fully read, and to discuss them. If discussions get long on a particular issue or story we move the discussion to a new topic in the appropriate area of Hatrack.
On the last day of the month I'll create a "gradings closed" post. The Topic remains open for further discussion, which could include sharing of non-form rejection letters for stories we graded this month, in order to better understand what gets stories rejected and how to improve our ability to grade stories--to second guess editors and market readiness.
On the first day of the following month the cycle restarts with a fresh topic.
Rules & Admin =============
Normal Hatrack rules apply to story content and critque etiquette.
Note that only first 13s are in the public topics. Manuscripts are shared via e-mail, as usual.
Kathleen--would you like to check first 13s or shall I?
If you submit one story, you must grade at least one full story. If yours is a short story, you can grade a short or a novel. If yours is a novel, you must grade a novel if one has been submitted this month, else a short.
If for any reason the month's submissions include nothing you can read in all conscience (you only do Fantasy and this month it's all SF) you are at liberty to withdraw your submission and try again next month, because this month's contributors aren't your target audience. Or, do your best with the story you most sympathise with; you're a budding writer and your opinion will likely be valuable even if this is not your genre.
Since all the reporting is in public there should not be much admin work. However, I will monitor traffic to assure everyone grades first 13s and stories according to the rules. If someone appears to be not playing nice, I'll write a polite post in the month's thread reminding them of the rules.
If it takes off, and if there's too much work, I'll offer free ansibles in exchange for assistance.
If it takes off and we want to modify the rules, I'll offer to facilitate discussion towards consensus on revised rules.
How's that? Comments, queries? (This could get to be a real long discussion and I think consensus is important so please, only make suggestions if you really cannot live with what's proposed or there's an obvious flaw.)
Kathleen, is it okay from your perspective? And that of our long-suffering webmaster?
Anyone up for a quick pilot trial using the three weeks we have left of this month? (A week for posting first 13s, a week to grade them, and one week instead of two to grade one story.)
If we get six takers, we'll run the pilot trial. I'm in, so that's one already!
TaleSpinner, if you were posting the 13 lines for people, as they do in the 13-line challenges, then you would be able to cut those that go over. Since I'm the only one who can cut 13-line posts that other people put up, I guess I'll check on that.
And it all looks okay to me. I'd recommend that people who choose novels to read and comment on only be required to read a partial (first 20 pages and the synopsis), so that novels will actually have a chance of receiving feedback.
Kathleen, I'd be grateful if you'd check the first 13s because then people can e-mail the author direct to request the manuscript using the poster's e-mail address in their profile. I imagine it won't be much extra traffic as long as it's a monthly thing. If it's too much, let us know and we'll find another way.
The idea of reading a partial and the synopsis is an excellent way of getting feedback for the novels. Let's do that.
I think we have four takers for a pilot starting pretty much immediately, with first 13s due by the 13th:
JeanneT annepin snapper TS
Two more takers?
If we get two more within 24 hours I'll create a new topic for the first 13s, else let's wait until August.
I am ready for action any time. This sounds like a great idea.
I have a problem with the first 13, though. I'd like to be able to judge the first 13 of my own work before I post it, but my computer has trouble finding the cutoff. In the "Fragments and Feedback" area my browser displays most of the submissions as just 5 or 6 lines long.
If it fits exactly (it's 13 lines, but some browsers show boxes with more space or less), then you know that whatever amount of your beginning that fits exactly into the reply box is also 13 lines. If it doesn't fit exactly, then you judge your own 13 lines accordingly.
Things like this always sound like a good idea, but publishing is just so subjective I'm not sure if this will be as helpful as you hope it will be. Here's your first critique for the group :
After having just had 9 critiques of part or all of my first novel, what struck me most is how one person would say (or imply) "if you don't rewrite this section exactly the way I would, then it's not publishable" while another person absolutely loved that section exactly as it was. This got to be a tad bit confusing and depressing, to say the least.
I learned a few good basic principles from the whole experience, but it almost stopped me from writing at all. So many of the critiquers were nit-picking my "voice" right out of the novel. It didn't matter if the sentence was fine as it was and I was making a point with how I worded it. The critiquer would have writen it this way, so I needed to change it....really, truly! Even when it came to cutting stuff, no one agreed on what they thought needed to be cut.
My point is, how do we really know if something is publishable or not when the typical publishing experience is rejection after rejection and suddenly you hit the right person on the right day and get published. I've helped critique first 13 lines before that didn't remotely interest me only to learn that that short story, opening unchanged, was sold shortly thereafter. Was it a bad hook? Obviously not in the sense of "not ready to be published."
With the normal first 13 lines critiques, the critiquers are saying that the opening does or doesn't work for them in certain ways. In this proposed group, it sounds like you're saying, "if the critiquers of this group don't like it, then no one in the publishing industry will." This isn't true, and I don't think it's even possible predict much of the time.
Feel free to ignore this critique of your idea, though.
[This message has been edited by DebbieKW (edited July 11, 2008).]
I understand what you're saying (I think) but I don't think thats what this group is purporting to do. Perhaps the wording is suggestive of that goal, but look at the metrics--character, plot, dialogue, etc. No one is saying it's unpublishable if it doesn't meet my tastes. Rather, we're using our experience as readers and writers to express our reactions to a piece within specified parameters, something that makes it much simpler and quicker. But for the specific parameters, this is really no different from most critiques. And the underlining philosophy, that these are only one person's opinions, take it or leave it, remains.
I agree there's a huge danger in taking people's words at face value and changing your work to accommodate their tastes. But that's no more, or less likely, I think, here than in any other group. It's up to the writer to decide how much to change, what rings true, and what doesn't. That's part of finding our voice and confidence, as writers.
quote:After having just had 9 critiques of part or all of my first novel, what struck me most is how one person would say (or imply) "if you don't rewrite this section exactly the way I would, then it's not publishable" while another person absolutely loved that section exactly as it was. This got to be a tad bit confusing and depressing, to say the least.
Sounds like you need to get new critiquers, i'm partially jesting there. No, and I mean no beta reader should be telling you that their way is law. They should only be suggestions. The book is yours, remember that. But as you pointed out ones opinion is just that, take the points you want and move. Consider yourself lucky that you have had 9 people offer to spend their time on your project. Again, take the points you value and move on.
As far as one saying one thing and another something different, been there, done that, no two people feel the same. I have 2 people faithfully critting my novel. One time I had a line I liked, one critter said cut, the next highlighed and said great line. It was priceless, I couldnt have laughed any harder. Just a quick moment to brag about my 2 critters, I love them, they have only gotten more brutal as the novel continues. We have gotten past that first crit niceties and now telling anything and everything that comes to their minds. I can't thank them enough, they have gotten me to push myself and not settle for any weak scenes.
As far as my predictions for this group, if it gets by the first month, and knowing the writers involved it will, then they are only going to get stronger. A group commited to helping each other can make the difference, possibly pointing out character flaws, and weak points of the story. Yes stories are subjective, but the more opinions you have, the better the chance the story has.
[This message has been edited by Tiergan (edited July 11, 2008).]
I really hope that people don't try to rewrite someone else's work when they give feedback, and I hope even more that if someone does try such a thing, the original author will be able to remain true to his or her original vision and only listen to the feedback that helps further that original vision.
The only person who can rewrite something is the original author, and the only time critiquers should even consider offering "this is how I'd do it" feedback is when a comment is not clear in any other way. Even then, it should be done as "let me show you what I mean" with accompanying example. Anything else runs the risk of hijacking someone else's story, and that just might qualify as a form of copyright infringement.
It's true that nothing guarantees publication, any more than failing to satisfy one arrogant reader will assure failure.
I think annepin, tiergan and Kathleen have offered some great advice on reacting to critiques, to which I would add:
I read crits of other people's work as well as my own, and I learn which critiquers to respect, which to ignore, and which to consider carefully even though their tastes and mine are quite different.
I've also learned from Stanley Schmidt at Analog that Ben Bova told him that strong stories tend to polarise people. For me that means that if a critiquer absolutely hates an aspect of a story that others love, I'm likely to keep it because it causes strong reactions.
It's true there's no way to guarantee publication. But form rejections tell us nothing. The idea of this group is to get some feedback that's hopefully relevant to being better than established writers in a way that's not too much work for us all. Not perfect, but better feedback than none at all.
On being put off writing by lousy crits: I'm sorry to hear that. I think it's important to remember to be encouraging when writing a crit. "Telling it like it is" is lazy, I think; it doesn't take much to find some nice things to say, to take out definite predictions of "unpublishable" and substitute remarks like "not to my taste". We can use writing a critique to learn more about how to write without being misunderstood. I imagine those people who were unkind did not intend to put you off writing. I would suggest it's good for our writing discipline to learn how to write crits that are objective and helpful, without being unkind enough to discourage.
All that said, the focus of this group will be a simple scoring system, on the basis that the work has already been workshopped.
[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited July 12, 2008).]
Since some of those nine critiques were people from here, just let me add that I don't think a single one of them meant to be mean. Also, I learned at least one useful thing (if not more) from every critique, even the least useful ones. If nothing else, I learned a lot of good general principles from what multiple critiquers pointed out.
I did have one critiquer, however, who outright said that my novel wasn't even close to publishable after giving me some strongly-worded advice about what was wrong. Ironically, other critiquers actually liked or had no problems with several of those things that apparently made the novel unpublishable.
On the other hand, pretty much every person gave at least one implied "it should be written like this" where it appeared to be a matter of how they would have written it instead of something actually being wrong. Some of it might have been laziness: it's easy to cross out a word and put your own in instead of explaining the problem. Others explained the change in strong terms, yet it seemed a matter of personal preference. The first isn't a problem, though it wasn't really helpful to me. The second was a problem because it began to make me doubt myself--what was so wrong that I wasn't seeing?
Just so people understand what I'm getting at, here's a made-up example:
"Having him fall fully into the mud when shoved will create more reader sympathy for the character" is useful to me.
"Make him fall all the way into the mud! Don't wimp out; make him suffer!" isn't useful. I don't understand why I should consider changing the scene and it seems like a matter of personal preference.
"I can't picture these characters because no description is given of them" or "The description doesn't create a clear imagine in my mind" is useful to me.
"You need to describe these characters: what is their age, skin color, hair color, eye color, etc.?" is not useful, especially since it seems to encourage an infodump (forbidden!).
I guess my main concern with this group is that people are being asked to "grade" the stories by what they look for in a "perfect" story instead of comparing them to stories of like flavor. For example, they might be comparing a milieu-focus story to a character-focus story instead of another milieu-focus story.
Also, the grades don't help a person know what's really wrong. Several of my critiquers might have given me a two in character development, and others would have given me threes and praised me for how good it was. I know at least one critiquer would have given me a one. Which is right? Is my story unpublishable because of character development, or is that where it shines?
In any case, I hope that this group is useful for those who join it. Perhaps it's simply not a group that would be helpful for me but exactly what others are needing. Good luck.
[This message has been edited by DebbieKW (edited July 14, 2008).]
If it isn't for you, that's your choice, Debbie. The current setup isn't for me. It just doesn't fit my personal preferences.
I must admit I don't quite understand your point about the crit comments though. I didn't understand how "You need to give more description of the character..." doesn't imply to put in an info dump but "You need to describe these characters: what is their age, skin color, hair color, eye color, etc.?" does. This kind of baffled me.
I see them as saying the same thing in different ways. Maybe I'm being defensive because I might well put a comment in the form of a series of questions like that hoping to jog something in the author's mind, rather than just give them my solution (which I am overly prone to do). I would be shocked if they thought I was saying to info-dump.
Thanks for being constructive and polite in your critique of the idea, DebbieKW.
"I guess my main concern with this group is that people are being asked to "grade" the stories by what they look for in a "perfect" story instead of comparing them to stories of like flavor."
Not quite. The idea is to compare the story-telling against that of the best published authors, because according to Mike Resnick, as new writers we have to be better than published authors. It won't be a contest as such, just a monthly "read it and score it" cycle.
Thus, we won't be grading the stories against each other, but against the scale. If you think all the stories in one month are "better than Heinlein" in all respects, you can give them all straight 3's. That tells the writers that they have the technical aspects of the craft well-mastered, and now their only problem is to find editors who like their stories. (Provided that, as readers, we have gotten into editors' heads and graded as they will. Maybe we won't be good at that, but I think it's a good idea for us to at least try to think about our stories from an editor's perspective.) Better to be turned down for "don't like" than "no character development."
As with crits, it will be incumbent on the author to decide which grades are helpful and which not. We'll be able to see who graded what and will be free to politely ignore grades from people whose posts indicate they're not our kind of reader.
On crits: I think it's a mistake to tell you what to do with a story, and myself, I try not to do it. But sometimes, it's the easiest way to show what seems to be wrong. I think it's important to look past the advice and think about what's really bothering the reader. Maybe "You need to describe these characters ..." means "I can't picture these characters ..." and as the writer one decides whether that's a common problem for most readers and if so, how much to describe and how to do it without infodumping.
I can't resist chiming in about workshopping, since I've been in a lot of creative writing classes. Good teachers are adamant against "prescriptive" comments -- telling the author how to fix something or other. What the author needs to hear is the readers' experience -- "this is what I thought the plot was, and it confused me at this point," or "I had trouble identifying with the protagonist; I just didn't care if lions attacked him." Then the author can decide if the reader is bringing up a real problem, assess if multiple readers are having the same problem, and what, if anything, he wants to do about it. Like, "OK, the protagonist is a bastard, but maybe the reader needs to care a little bit -- I'll give him a pet dog to cry over." Or, "this plot point is tripping everyone; how can I clarify that?" Specific "how-to" questions can be discussed with very trusted writing friends, or other friends; the solution often occurs to the writer through the course of brainstorming. that's my process, anyway. I see this "ready-to-go" group as a "final check" (it's early here; I don't know if that's why I'm so quote happy today ) My writing group will have already seen the piece, possibly multiple times, so it would be hard for them to fill the same role.
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