[The Critter Captain's Tesla FAQ]


Ahoy, Critterfolk!
New entry May 28

Critter Notices

[It's Freebie Friday in the Critters Store...]

Books from Critters!

Check out Books by Critters for books by your fellow Critterfolk, as well as my list of recommended books for writers.

How to Write SF

The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Ben Bova, best-selling author and six-time Hugo Award winner for Best Editor. (This is one of the books your ol' Critter Captain learned from himself, and I highly recommend it.) (Also via Amazon)

The Sigil Trilogy

If you're looking for an amazing, WOW! science fiction story, check out THE SIGIL TRILOGY. This is — literally — one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read.


I was interviewed live on public radio for Critters' birthday, for those who want to listen.

Free Web Sites

Free web sites for authors (and others) are available at www.nyx.net.

ReAnimus Acquires Advent!

ReAnimus Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of the legendary Advent Publishers! Advent is now a subsidiary of ReAnimus Press, and we will continue to publish Advent's titles under the Advent name. Advent was founded in 1956 by Earl Kemp and others, and has published the likes of James Blish, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein, Damon Knight, E.E. "Doc" Smith, and many others. Advent's high quality titles have won and been finalists for several Hugo Awards, such as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy and Heinlein's Children. Watch this space for ebook and print editions of all of Advent's current titles!

Book Recommendation

THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

Announcing ReAnimus Press

If you're looking for great stuff to read from bestselling and award-winning authors—look no further! ReAnimus Press was founded by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]








Critters FAQ

Critters FAQ

Table of Contents [version 1.6, 08/25/21]:



What is Critique.org?

Critique.org is home to several on-line critique groups (aka workshops) for professional and professionally aspiring writers, artists, and creators in any endeavor. We have workshops for each area, where you submit your work and other members send you detailed comments on it. By receiving -- and doing -- critiques, you improve your craft.

This means that authors/creators share their works in progress in order to receive the opinions of other authors/creators on what works and what doesn't in the piece.

You should check out the official rules of membership, poke around to get a feel for how it works, read some sample critiques, read some articles on how to critique, how to select how-many and what-kind of stories to receive, look over the bios of members, scan our resources for writers (market lists, tips) and so forth.

The workshops are primarily e-mail and private-web-site based (between author/creator and reviewer, not group discussion oriented). We do NOT -- I repeat, do NOT -- send manuscripts or critiques around in any public place, like a discussion forum.


What is Critters?

Critters is the name of one of those workshops specifically for professional and professionally aspiring writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Critters was the first of the workshops, established in 1995. The direct link is: www.Critters.org

The term "Critter" also gets applied to individual members of any workshop, i.e. "someone who critiques," so you may see this term used throughout the site. Likewise, the word "Critters" gets applied to all members collectively, regardless of genre. It's loose, so there's no real worry about applying the word "Critter" or "Critters" outside the science fiction writing area. If someone referred to, say, the photography workshop as Critters, it wouldn't really hurt anything.


How does a workshop work?

Workshop members are expected to perform a certain number of critiques to remain in good standing (notably, to have their own works critiqued).

Members send their submissions to me (Dr. Andrew Burt, official Critter Captain and Founder; email: critters@critique.org). New manuscripts go to the end of the queue of manuscripts. Each Wednesday I e-mail the current week's batch of manuscripts to members (and post them to a password protected web page). Members critique those stories they want, and email the critiques back to me (not the author -- to me). I forward the critiques to the proper author, file the critique so others can read them later, and give the critiquer credit in my database (used to determine whether that critiquer has met their quota when their own ms. comes up for review). The next Wednesday I close out that set of mss. and we start over again; a few days later I email out the collected critiques to anyone else interested in seeing them, and post them to the web page.

Depending on the size of the queue, it takes roughly one month from when you submit your ms. to when it comes up for a week of reviewing. Authors receive an average of 10-20 reviews, which, believe me, is plenty enough to get a strong feeling for where the story needs work. (Longer works and later chapters of novels get fewer, but generally still a useful number. See "How many reviews should I expect?")


Why are there multiple workshops?

Originally there was only one workshop (for science fiction/fantasy/horror). When I branched out into all the other genres and creative areas, it didn't make sense to throw them all into one large workshop. It did make sense to house each related area in a separate workshop, with all the workshops under one roof.

Thus, each workshop has separate submission queues, credits, discussion areas, logins, etc.

You can join any of the workshops that interest you. You can submit to any of them at the same time, since your participation ratio is tracked separately in each. It also didn't make sense to share credits among the workshops: since the point of doing critiques is to help you improve your craft, and while critiquing, say, thrillers helps you improve as a thriller writer, it doesn't help you improve your craft as, say, a photographer. So it didn't make sense for credits from the thriller writing workshop to count for the photography workshop, and so on.

(I should note that as of this exact writing, I haven't opened up all the other workshops yet, so if you're scratching your head that there's no photography workshop yet, don't worry, there will be soon.)

The color bar above the top navigation menu helps you know which workshop you're in if you belong to more than one. It's black for Critters / Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror writing; blue for Lit; steel gray for Mystery & Thriller; tan for Non-fiction, and so on.

Use the "Workshops" link on the top navigation menu to switch to another workshop.


How do I switch between workshops?

Simple: Click the "Workshops" link on the top navigation menu. You can then sign into any other workshop. If you're not a member of another workshop that interests you, you're welcome to join it.


Do you do novels? Screenplays? Poetry?

You bet. We have a special program for novels, whereby your queue entry is a "request for dedicated readers" who will read your whole work as fast as you can get it to them. (Many folks consider this better even than most face-to-face workshops.)

You can put a screenplay/scripts/etc. either into any of the genre writing workshops (such as science fiction, fantasy, or horror if that's what kind of thing it is), or into the workshop specifically for screenplays/scripts/etc.

Poetry should go into the applicable genre workshop (such as science fictional poetry in the science fiction writing workshop, mainstream poetry in the mainstream writing workshop, etc.).

The same applies to other kinds of writing, such as novel query letters or synopses you might send to editors. Not as many members work outside of the short story or novel form, so review rates may be lower, but they're absolutely welcome.


How do I join?

Drop in here to join.

Anyone who is serious about their writing can join. We have members ranging from utter-beginner to award-winning.

Voting SFWA members should particularly note the "relaxed" rules to encourage participation. (Your mss. go to the front of the queue and you have your choice of doing a mere one critique per month, or three each time you submit a ms.)


Do you only do Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror?

Update! We used to, but not any more! Now we do everything! Check the list of workshops on the "Workshops" menu link up top. We have several other workshops beyond the original SF/F/H, covering all genres and all forms of creative endeavor.

I also keep a list of other workshops here.


Do you have discussion forums?

We used to, but they weren't used much, so have been shut off.

About both Submitting and Critiquing


How do I send a critique/mss. in email?

You can submit critiques online or follow certain procedures to email them.

Exactly how you send depends on what software you're using to send mail. Your goal is to get the thing to me as ordinary, vanilla "plain text" (aka "ASCII" or "DOS" text) in the body of the email message (preferably not as an "attachment," but that's ok as long as it's not encoded in any way).

Once you've saved the critique/manuscript as a plain/DOS/ASCII text file (.txt) in the proper format, you can "attach" it via your mailer's attach button. Make sure you have it selected "as is", NOT "encode as text" -- the latter turns it into text all right, but unreadable gibberish text (meant for encoding binary stuff into something mailable; but I won't be able to read it).

Alternatively, you can try doing copy&paste by:

  • bringing up netscape's mail sending window
  • highlighting the text to send with the mouse (so it changes color to indicate highlighted)
  • "copy" it by (possibly) control-C or (possibly) clicking the word/wordperfect "Edit" menu button and picking "copy"
  • moving to netscape mail (move mouse & click in window to make it the active window
  • "pasting" the text into it by (possibly) control-V or (possibly) "Edit" menu, "paste".

Try that... If no luck, ask for help for more detailed info for your specific type of computer (mac, ibm, whatever) and software.


Why do you only use "text" format for manuscripts?

I know, sending Word (PDF, RTF, etc.) documents as attachments would be soooo much easier for everybody, right?

Alas, wrong. Critters has thousands of members and, believe it or not, not everybody uses or can read Microsoft Word documents, RTF, etc. There are people using text-only browsers, for example, or text-only email readers, and binary attachments like Word files are just so much gibberish. Some people use word processing programs that can neither read nor write Word format. RTF's sometimes print as gibberish. Some folks can't handle PDFs. Some can't even handle attachments of any kind. And so on. There's also the secondary issue of spreading macro viruses via Word-like documents, which is both (a) actually possible and (b) worrisome to people, who would otherwise choose not to participate if there was even a risk of infection.

Some people (rightfully so) argue that they shouldn't have to mold themselves to the machine by the chore of converting to text. The counter-argument, however, is that many folks (rightfully so) don't feel they should have to mold themselves to the machine by upgrading their (possibly older) hardware or software that works just fine for their needs. :-) Since you can't win, and yer ol' Critter Captain hasn't the time to handle more than one format, not to mention the programmatic difficulties I'd face getting my Linux machine to scrape title:/author: etc. headers out of a non-text file, I had to pick what works best.

Text is both safe and 100% universal among the English-speaking audience that Critters is designed for (and easily manipulated by software). Nothing else fits that bill.

Note that the submission form does allow direct submission of Word .DOC files. and there are also instructions how to create plain text files to save you the headache of reinventing the wheel.

As part of the submission process you can also share a link to any other place where you've stored other formats, like PDFs or whatnot.

Note that if you engage in our special novel-reading program then, once you have your reader group set up, you can send the novel chapters to your readers in any format you all agree to, since you can talk with them to arrange preferred formats. It's only when sending work to the general Critter population that you have to use text.


Do authors need to send Thank-You's to critiquers?

Personally, I try to, but in the interest of keeping tempers down about anyone expecting a Thank You note, I have deliberately made thank you's entirely optional. Feel free to send them, of course, but critiquers should consider themselves thanked by default. And even explicitly so right here: Thanks!

Also, don't forget that half the value of critiquing is how it helps the critiquer improve as a writer, for which I guess thanking yourself would be in order... :-)


What do I do if I think a story or critique is insulting?

Come across an insulting story?

My first advice is -- stop reading it and ignore it. If it stinks that badly, or is that offensive, editors won't buy it anyway. Move on to another story.

But if you do feel you'll just explode if you don't tell the author what you think about their piece of pusillanimous cow-pie drivel... Make sure you do it tactfully. Remember that Critters has a Diplomacy Standard.

I've definitely found over the years that if you want someone to hear you when you have something to say that they don't want to hear -- ranting and raving won't do it. Telling them in soft, logical terms what your opinions are is far more likely to get your opinion heard. Your goal in Critters is to communicate, not tell someone off. If you can't be tactful -- don't say anything. Critters is not the place for venting. Remember, it's your opinion, no matter how "factual" you think something is. You can tell an author anything you want about how you didn't care for their piece -- so long as you do it cordially. Suggest, don't preach. (Yes, that makes critiques harder to write; but they won't fulfill their purpose otherwise. If you don't like this, well, membership is optional...)

If an author says you sent an obnoxious critique -- and if I agree -- I'll revoke your credit for it, scold you, require you to rewrite the critique, or toss you from the group if you've been making a habit of it; and I'll tell the author this:

Received an insulting critique?

So (in your opinion), some nitwit just couldn't restrain themselves and (in your opinion) delivered you an overly harsh, mean-spirited, or downright insulting critique? First, contact me right away. Do not argue with them about it, reprimand them, tell them they aren't right, etc. No matter how they phrase it, it is their opinion (and only opinion), so don't get hostile about it.

Tell me who sent it and why you feel it's a problem and I'll have a look at it. While Critters is meant for honest criticism (which almost always stings), I won't tolerate insulting behavior. If someone wants to shred your story, they have to be courteous about it. :-)

Now, if I agree that the critique was mean-spirited, I'll tell you so, and I'll reprimand the critiquer, as well as take back their credit for the review and have them rewrite it. See above.

It's also possible I'll tell you that I think they were right, both in what they said, and in how they said it. Indeed, since I warn people to be tactful, many of the disputes are cases where I think the author is being a tad sensitive. Remember, the reactions you get from a critiquer are the same kind of reaction you'll get from "real" readers, should your work get published. I never tell critiquers to soften their meaning -- only their phrasing. If someone doesn't like your piece, and says so in a polite way, then I'll just tell you what I'm saying here.

In either case, remember that not everybody will like what you write, and what they've said reflects how they honestly feel; there may be a kernel of truth in there you can learn from, once you get past any impoliteness. (Or, you may decide, as with any critique, that there's nothing of value there.) But regardless, published writers need thick skins. Then there's the famous quote that (paraphrased) goes, "Anybody who can be discouraged from writing, should be." Finding out how readers react to your piece can be very painful. Critiques by nature are going to sting (since primarily the critiquer is trying to help you improve your piece, and that necessitates discussing its imperfections); but beyond that, you'll find that people read things into your piece you didn't intend, or just plain don't like what you wrote. That's life as a writer, and if you can't deal with that, writing for publication may not be what you're best suited for.

For more thoughts on this, please see these articles, It's not what you say, but how you say it and the official Diplomacy Standard.


Why do short-shorts only earn half a credit?

Basically, because when they got a full credit, works under 2,000 words received too many critiques, more than authors needed -- an overwhelming number, at times -- and they took people's attentions away from the other works. In short, you might say it's because they only need to get half a credit for them to be properly critiqued, and the net result is better critiquing for all the manuscripts overall.


Why don't you give more credit for long stories?

Well, while I realize they take more time to critique, and receive fewer critiques in general, I'm not in favor of giving them more credit, for reasons laid out below in the question on "How many reviews should I expect?" Basically, it's because of the (sad) fact that long stories from beginners are nearly impossible to sell, and beginning authors would be better served by focusing their attention on salable work. Works in the 7,500 to 80,000 word range are just darn near impossible to sell to anyone unless you're a Big Name (hard even then).

Note that novels in the RFDR program do get credits proportional to their length (because novels are highly publishable).

About Critiquing


Am I qualified to give a critique?

Yes! Everyone's qualified to describe how they felt about a story. What I recommend is reading through the various "how to critique" articles on the web site, writing down a comprehensive checklist of topics, then describing your reaction based on all those areas in a friendly way.

Do be sure to read the "how to write a critique" articles. That will ensure you phrase the inevitable bad news you need to deliver in a way that the author will hear constructively.

Then just dive in!


How do I write a critique?

There are lots of articles on the web site with guides on how to critique.

Basically, you read the manuscript and write down how you felt about it. What worked for you? What didn't? Why? --and you write these up. Look at all aspects of the piece: Beginning, ending, middle; characterization, plot, setting, ideas & themes, etc.

Critters has a Diplomatic Phrasing Standard you'd be well advised to follow (it consolidates years of wisdom on the matter).

But basically, remember the author is an ordinary person, thinking they've done well, but wanting to hear how you felt. Respond as if you're talking to them -- "Hi, Pat, I read your story and while it worked for me overall, I...."

Avoid "the reader" and "the author." Use their name and use "I."

Stare hard at the thing; think about it. Don't rush or try for quick credit. The more you analyze it in-depth, the more you're helping your own writing. (This is why we have minimum word counts on critiques.) Remember, this isn't a school assignment where you want to get a grade and be done with it. You're doing critiques because they help you as a writer, and that's presumably why you joined the group!


What do I say if there's nothing wrong with a story, the story was too good to critique?

I confess, I've never seen such a story. The goal of Critters is to help writers improve. On first glance, this is done by receiving critiques of your own writing. But in fact, much of the learning comes from doing critiques, and really scrutinizing stories when you think they're fine. Not to carp on them and nitpick, but to truly understand them, and make sure in your own mind that you've explored that piece as fully as you're able. This is how you learn.

This is not to say you should rip the heart out of a story (going overboard is a different sort of sin, as is lack of tact when pointing out what you perceive as weaknesses). This FAQ question is addressed more to those folks who read a story and say, "that was good", there's nothing wrong with it, and can't for the life of them think of what else to say.

In that case -- you really need to peer deeper into the piece, since (chances are) it's not the Absolute Best Story Ever Written.

In fact, my advice in this situation is to ask yourself, Why isn't it? How does this piece (that you've just concluded has "nothing wrong with it") fall short of being The Absolute Best Ever? Surely it must fall short. (Or else, chances are, it would already have had Hugo and Nebula awards heaped upon it.)

The resources page has many articles on how to analyze a story for critiquing, and I strongly suggest you proceed there. You aren't doing the author a favor by telling them this is equal to The Best Story Ever. And you definitely aren't doing yourself a favor as a writer by not getting to the heart of that story.

Yes, this is hard work. I never said critiquing was easy. In fact, if it is easy, you're probably not doing it right. :-)

If, after careful scrutiny, you still believe a given piece is, in fact, The Best Ever, then justify those opinions instead. Describe, in detail, how the characterization, plot, milieu, underlying idea, prose, etc., are all extraordinarily fantastic. Defend your position with evidence. And tell me, because I want to read the next Hugo+Nebula winner before it's published too. :-)


What do I say if I think a story is just hideously awful?

Well, if you can't say it nicely, don't say it. (See the reasoning and the Official Diplomacy Standard.)

If you can say it diplomatically, then by all means, tell the author why the story didn't work for you. Keep it your opinion, keep it tactful. (Remember, you do not and should not speak for All Readers. :-) Say something like, "I'm sorry, Pat, but this one just didn't work for me. I thought the characterization was.... I felt the plot was... I had a hard time believing...." and so on.

This will help them; saying "This was awful and you should quit writing" won't. (Not even "I felt this was awful" -- that's presented as opinion, but isn't very tactful. :-)

Don't feel you have to correct all their typos. They should have proofread the piece the same as if they submitted it to some top-notch market like Asimov's; but it isn't your job to line edit (just say, "I didn't have time to mark the typos because there seemed to be a lot of them.")

But if you can't be tactful, skip the piece and pick another; with dozens to choose from each week, you're sure to find another to critique.


How is best to critique a Screenplay?

You should check out David Maisel's article that he wrote for Critters...


What do I do when I go on vacation, get sick, etc.?

As in, I get time off from critiquing, right? Well...... no. :-)

Ok, yes. Sort of.

The reason the participation ratio is 75% instead of 100% is precisely to handle instances where you may not be able to critique as much in some week or other as you want. Your goal should be to critique at least one ms. per week -- that is, aim for 100% and if you need to take a breather, you can then slide down to 75%. (So long as you still keep up with at least one a month.)

So if you're planning time away, build up some critiques in advance (or, rebuild when you return). Also, don't forget to set your email preferences if you need to keep your mailbox from overflowing.


Do I have to critique every story I read? Can I just read stories for fun?

The answer to the first is a guarded "Yes"; to the second, a scowling "No". A more precise answer is that you should submit a well-intended, detailed critique for every piece you read all the way to the end.

Critters is emphatically not the place to go solely for the enjoyment of reading stories. There are plenty of zines on the web and in newsstands, free, or that you need to pay for (and remember, authors need to get paid for the work you've enjoyed!). A list of some zines on the web is here.

The primary reason to join Critters should be because you want to improve your writing (by critiquing stories to help others yourself); most of the people who join want this help for themselves, and do the critiques of other people's work as a means to get their own work critiqued (though of course doing critiques themselves is of immense value to a writer as well). People who join Critters but have nothing to submit themselves are welcome -- as long as they realize that the essence of Critters is for them to submit critiques, not to read stories for fun.

I don't mind people getting pleasure out of reading the stories; certainly not! But the general rule is that you should submit a full critique -- not a quick or half-hearted one -- for any story you read to completion.

(An exception would be if you find a piece so awful at the end that you just can't see your way clear to writing a tactful critique; then, as the other advice in this FAQ states, you can just skip it. But chances are you'd notice such a lack of merit in a story well before the end and should just quit reading it anyway! :-)


I'm an editor too; can I ask authors for stories?

Well... I have no real objection to this, but want to make a few things clear.

One, authors on here are not putting their work up with the expectation that any editors will read it, and thus may be taken aback by your request (or thrilled to death). They haven't yet made changes based on whatever suggestions the readers make. Thus having an editor see their work in its imperfect stage may bother them. Or, it may not. It doesn't hurt to ask, very politely. :-)

Two, if you've joined for no purpose other than to solicit stories, I'll have to ask you to leave. Critters is strictly for people seeking to offer critiques, not to hunt for stories.

Three, don't expect them to say yes. Chances are they'll want to try sending the stories to Gordon Van Gelder at F&SF's first, Stan Schmidt at Analog, etc. etc. etc. So it might be a couple years before they've exhausted the pro-rate-paying markets and are ready to send it to a place that doesn't pay a bunch (currently SFWA defines the minimum pro rate as 5 cents/word, by the way). It probably doesn't hurt, however, to say something like, "Hi, I noticed your story XYZ, and I'd like to consider it if it's still available after it makes the circuit of Asimov's, F&SF, etc.; or if you have other pieces available now, I'd like to take a look." But to be entirely honest, unless you pay pro rates, I would encourage an author to send it to the top places first.


I sent a critique in with the wrong manuscript #, what should I do?

Resend it with the right manuscript # and mark it "NC" - no credit - like "Subject: NC#1234".

About Submitting


Won't people steal my stories?

I can't say it will never happen, but I'd say the odds are against it. (Let me also mention that I'm the former chair of SFWA's ePiracy committee, so I know a little something about this subject. :)

Arguments against:

  • Honor. Percentage-wise, most people are honorable, and since it's clearly wrong to steal your story, most people wouldn't even consider it.

  • Passwords. The Critters web page is password protected so only active members can see the manuscripts. Likewise, email is only sent to active members. I regularly prune members who aren't participating, so a potential thief has to do a fair amount of work to see more stories, which is against the natural laziness of the thief.

  • It just doesn't happen very often. I don't know of any incidents where on-line stories have been stolen and submitted under someone else's name.

  • Why bother? The story you enter into the queue is in a state where you're admitting it's not perfect, and you want to know how to improve it. You'll almost certainly improve it after it's critiqued. If they were such great writers that they could make it better, they wouldn't bother stealing yours -- they'd write their own; and if not, why would they steal a story that has lower odds of making a sale? Even more so, why bother submitting a story you didn't write? There's almost no way to make a living on short fiction, so for most folks the purpose is to sell their own dear creations. (And a novel would be much more difficult to steal.)

  • What's to gain? They'll almost certainly get caught -- and that's the end of their "career." (You can't keep a theft-based career going for very many sales.) Remember, they don't know which markets have already rejected the story (in the exact form they're stealing it), so they run a huge risk of instant blackballing.

  • Odds. Even if some idiot went around stealing stories, with so many flowing through Critters, the odds are against it being yours.

  • Off-line stories get stolen too. Yes, a few really fantastic stories circulate around the net, with author's names stripped off, etc. (Though they weren't stolen for profit, which is what a theft of a Critters story would most likely be about.) Yet those were scanned or typed in by the thieves -- so not being on-line is no guarantee against theft. (There was (is?) even a site in Argentina that translated a bunch of published stories to Spanish and posted them, without the authors' permission or payment.) Even so, these events are rare. Anyway, the point is, if your story is so fantastic, being off-line is no theft-deterrent. (And again, chances are your story isn't yet one worth theft anyway.) Frankly, if I were an aspiring thief (which of course I'm not!) I'd steal solid-but-not-stupendous stories from 10/20/30-year-old print magazines and hope editors won't remember them -- I wouldn't bother with works in progress.

  • Lastly, if you're really that concerned about it, you can submit it to the queue as a Request for Readers: Then the story/novel itself is not available except to those to whom you send it, whom you choose from among the folks who email you asking to be a Reader.


Is sending through the group considered publication?

In a word: No. Editors recognize the utility of critique groups and that many authors belong to them. Being seen by a restricted set of other authors is not publication ("publication" means available to anyone, i.e., "the public"). Besides, you'll almost certainly change the story after workshoppers see it, so what you submit to an editor is different than the group saw. Lastly, consider that Critters was recommended in Asimov's, and the venerable old Omni, one of the highest paying F&SF markets of its time, had workshops listed on their page of links, and the fiction editor, Ellen Datlow invited this very group to be an "official Omni workshop", so I think it's safe to conclude that at least one influential editor has no problems with critique groups.

If you're really concerned about it, mention in a cover letter that the story was sent through Critters. Chances are that will do more to enhance Critters reputation than anything else, but I doubt it hurts anyone. :-)


Ouch! I got negative critiques, does that mean my story is lousy? (Or, Are your readers blind to how great my story is? :-)

Heavens, no -- understand that Critters is intended for authors asking for genuine criticism (i.e. bad and good both), so it is guaranteed you will receive negative opinions from readers -- negatives being the most common, since those help authors the most to identify what needs improving.

We have had award-caliber stories in the group -- for example, four members of Critters were Nebula award finalists in 2002, and a Critter'd story won (woohoo!) -- and even these stories were criticized for their weaknesses (hopefully fixed in the versions that contended for glory).

The thing to be aware of is succinctly put by Tom Grimes, in his essay "Workshop and the Writing Life" (in The Workshop - Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers' Workshop):

Without quite understanding it, Workshop students expect validation as writers.
Critters (or any workshop) is not, alas, to tell you how fantastic your writing is, and you'll only be disappointed if you expect that; rather, the workshop is here to help you get better (no matter how good you already are).

No matter how good a story is, chances are it isn't perfect. I know I've never read a perfect story. (If anyone does get a whole batch of "wow this story is totally perfect as is," please let me know; pigs might be flying outside my window. :-)

Above all else, remember that each review is that one reader's personal opinion. If it didn't work for them, well, it didn't. That's the point of a workshop: to find out how folks react, so you can make any changes you decide are called for. (If only one reader says something, probably not a big deal; if a lot of readers say a certain thing didn't work, you might want to pay attention.)

But bottom line, if you expect and embrace the negative feedback you'll get -- I've never seen any story get all positives; 50% positives is probably rare -- then you'll get the most out of the Critters experience, and be on your way toward getting your name next to Heinlein's on the shelves. :-)


How many reviews should I expect, and when? What if I didn't get many?

How many should you expect? It varies, from five to fifty. Usually folks get in the 10-20 range. (Compare with a face-to-face group, where you might get 5-10.) As for when, they'll start trickling in during the week, but most come on the last few days (so if you send yours early, you have more of the author's attention!).

I also send out a notice in the middle of the week (Saturdays) listing which mss. have below average number of critiques, so readers can concentrate on those.

Here's a breakdown of when the reviews arrived that I did in October 1996 of the 6,217 reviews to that date (doubt the pattern's changed much):

Day of weekNumber of critsCumulative Percent
2nd Wed134394
2nd Thu22098
2nd Fri7699
2nd Sat31100

As you can see, almost half arrive on the last couple days. (But try to get yours in earlier!) Nonetheless, don't panic if you haven't received many/any reviews by the weekend. (I haven't studied, but would venture a guess, that those receiving very few reviews, receive them mostly at the end.)

If you received dramatically fewer than average, here are some reasons why this may be:

  • Novel chapters. Novel chapters, particularly non-chapter-1 novel chapters, tend (naturally) to get fewer reviews. The earlier chapters are available on the web page for readers, but many readers are still likely to prefer instant gratification. Doing your novel as an RFDR is likely to help.

  • Length. Readers tend to shy away from longer stories (i.e. novelettes and novellas). So do editors. This is a natural by-product of how readers read, and thus I feel it's somewhat Darwinian for longer pieces to get fewer readers -- it discourages writers from writing longer pieces until they've proven their ability at the shorter form. Critters does discourage reviewers from spending all their time on short-shorts (under 2000 words) because they had been receiving a disproportionate share of reviews; but I have no desire at all to encourage writers to write longer stories. (To be honest, most of the time the 10,000-20,000 word "short stories" are simply 5,000-8,000 word stories that have been written too verbosely; or possibly, works that need to be expanded to novel length.) With respect to novel segments, you may simply want to submit shorter excerpts each time, or do an RFDR.

  • Ability. Alas, it may be that your writing ability (or style) is not sufficiently saying what you want to say to interest readers. Particularly if you have a high number of typos or grammatical errors. Editors won't stand for this either. If this is your only problem (albeit a big one), it's quite likely you'll get critiques that tell you this. But you will get fewer, overall, since many people are annoyed at excessive typos/grammos and simply skip your story for another. As would an editor.

  • Content. Yes, it's entirely possible that nobody is interested in reading a long, thinly veiled, dialog-free rant about how the reader had better embrace Christ/Mohammed/Buddha/Cthulhu as their savior right now or you're going to come lynch them. :-} Etc. To a much lesser degree, there are simply certain kinds of fiction that have much more limited audiences. There are thousands of members in Critters, and I feel we have an accurate cross-section of the world's SF/F/H readership (and writer-ship). You may not like (or believe) that only a small percentage of readers are interested in, say, hard-core military SF, but this may well be true. Likewise for "Star Trek-like" stories -- to be honest, many people tune out a story when they run across, "The blast from the anti-matter torpedo threw Captain Smith over the bridge railing. 'Damage report, Mr. Jones!' he yelled to his Hulkan second in command." While there are markets for all of these things, they are more limited in scope than the stories that appear in, say, Asimov's or F&SF. Make sure you're familiar with the marketplace for the kinds of stories you want to write before you write them. Generally speaking, the more people like your first few paragraphs, and find them "to their tastes," the more readers you'll get. This is true of editors, too, and is thus not something I would change in Critters even if I could. (You are, of course, eminently welcome to start your own critique group dedicated to fundamentalist Star Trek military SF! :-)

You may notice that most of those reasons for receiving fewer readers are also reasons editors are likely to reject your stories. While I don't want to sound discouraging, writing is not an easy field to make money in, alas; and you should be aware of the above sorts of reasons the cards are stacked against you. This is not to say that a story that gets sub-par number of reviews is flawed in the above (or any particular) ways. And, chances are you'll get at least a hint why readers aren't flocking to your story -- but don't expect readers (in Critters, or out in the world) to force a story down their throats that they simply don't care for. As always with writing, if one piece didn't work out, try another. And another. And... :-)


Is it bad form to ask certain people to read my story?

As in, I critiqued so-&-so's piece, or they're a good writer/critiquer, can I fish for critiques?

That's sort of bad form, yeah. Folks shouldn't feel beholden/guilty about who they critique or don't... Note that there's an implied request to critique your story by the mere fact that it's up for critique. Nobody should critique a story because they feel they have to. (Quite often folks will do stories of those who've critiqued them because they want to; but I don't want to breed an atmosphere where this is expected.) So don't worry about it; you'll probably get plenty of critiques anyway. :-)


Do I classify the genre of this story SF, F, or H? T or M?

As far as categorizing a story for the Critters queue, that's pretty much up to the author. If you think of it as science fiction, call it that. If you think of it more as a Mystery than a Thriller, pick "T" over "M" (or vice versa); and so on.

However, since people do ask, here's my own personal guidelines and how Science Fiction differs from Fantasy differs from Horror. Of course they're debatable -- which is why you choose the label.

First, I'd say all Critters SF & F stories should include some essential element that is a divergence from reality as it is or could have been (Horror is a separate case). Thus a story about a made-up soldier in WWII isn't SF or F -- but it is if the Germans win the war.

Science Fiction is for stories where the deviations from reality generally adhere to principles of science and speculations thereon. (I'd include as ok the typical and long established "wink wink" that SF has paid to the "provably" impossible elements of faster than light travel and travel backward in time. The intent is still to adhere to science as we know it or as it could perhaps be.)

Fantasy is for stories where the deviations do not expect the reader to subscribe to scientific plausibility. If Magic is involved, or medieval settings with elves & dwarves, call it fantasy.

Horror is for stories where the intent is to be scary/disconcerting. There may be no deviations from reality, or if there are, they may be either scientifically plausible or not. Horror is more a mood and intent and often overlaps with SF & F. You pick. :-)

There are clearly borderline cases. The Star Wars movies -- most of the speculations are not scientifically outrageous -- blasters, space travel, energy weapons -- but "The Force" clearly borders on mystical/magical. (Although "psi powers" were long a staple of SF, even if they've more recently fallen out of favor.)

Or, read Aburt's Definitions of F & SF for more details.

Bottom line: Take your pick.


Can I send in an updated manuscript if I fix it?

Sure; but there are some limitations to be aware of.

First, make sure it truly is a "resubmission." That word means to me that this replaces the file currently in the upcoming queue. (I.e., don't use the word "resubmission" if the piece went through the queue and is now done, and this is your revision. That's a "revision" in my mind, and you don't need to call my attention to that at all. If so, then be sure to tick the resubmission box on the web submission form (or, if you're using email to submit your manuscript, add "resub: yes" below the other headers like "author:..." "genre:..." etc.).

Second, make sure you use the **exact** same title and author name as is currently in the queue, including the same exact capitalization and punctuation. In order to avoid mixing up manuscripts with similar titles, my software is byte-for-byte strict about replacements. (One upshot of this is that you can't change the title this way. If you really truly need the title changed, use the renaming web form.)

Third, they have to reach me in time. I thus strongly suggest sending a resubmission be ten days in advance of your currently scheduled queue date if your manuscript is in the top quarter of that week's list (in case I bump your piece up a week to fill empty slots!). And in any event, three days in advance of your queue date. That means by the Monday of the week your piece is scheduled for (or the Monday a week prior to that if it's near the top).

Please try to send revisions via the web (rather than by direct email); the submission form is here.. To keep the server load down, if you tend to make frequent changes, I'd appreciate it if you'd save them up and not send me a plethora of resubmissions. (A general guideline would be to send however many are needed to fix format problems if the minions are giving you a hard time on that, then save up content revisions until shortly before your piece goes out.) Thanks!


Can I send a story through in pieces?

Depends what question you're really asking... If you mean, "Can I send my 80,000 word novel through the queue in chapter chunks?" -- absolutely; most people do. (See also the RFDR program for getting whole novels critiqued.)

If you mean, "my email program won't let me email you my entire short story in one email, can I send you two emails and you splice them together to make one submission?" -- No, everything is automated, and the software has no clue about joining files together.

If you mean, can I send my manuscript through the queue in multiple parts, that depends: If it's a novel, yes, see the program for novels. If it's not a novel then No, it needs to all be sent at once.

If you mean, I'm trying to email you a manuscript (rather than upload via the web), and have problems with your email program, then No; you need to use one of the other methods for submitting stories:

  • The on-line manuscript upload page -- via this page you send me your manuscript bypassing email. Trust me, it works; use it. :-)

  • The MS-Word manuscript upload page -- via this page, you can directly send me manuscripts written in many (but not all) versions of Microsoft Word (the page converts it to plain text). Ditto for WordPerfect.


    Can I rename, remove, or switch manuscripts in the queue?


    To rename a manuscript, you want this form.

    To remove a manuscript, you want this form.

    To replace a manuscript with a completely different story, you want this form.

    To replace a manuscript with an updated version of the same story, see the FAQ question about updates.


    Can I change the genre if I made a typo?


    If it's within the same workshop (like changing "science fiction" to "fantasy"), use this form.

    If it's a different workshop (like changing "science fiction" to "nonfiction"), then submit it to the new workshop (after joining, if you aren't already) and remove it from the first workshop.


    What's the policy on "adult" material?

    Couple policy points on material of an "adult" nature:

    If your manuscript is meant for adult audiences primarily because of the "mature" content (e.g. erotica), then it belongs in the Adult workshop, and not in any other workshop, regardless of any underlying genre it may use as a vehicle.

    If your "adult" material is strictly a side-element of a story that is, e.g., science fiction, but contains mature elements that are vital to the story such that the story would fall apart without them, then such manuscripts should be handled like novels, with a "request for readers" -- i.e., send a synopsis of the story into the queue with a request-for-readers and then email the story to those who ask for it when your turn comes up. (And I also suggest you read the article referenced in the last paragraph of this question.)

    If your mature content is a side element, and it's not vital to the story -- then I might suggest you cut it; and definitely also read the article referenced in the last paragraph of this question.

    What's the definition of "adult material"? Well, that's at the author's discretion. Ye Olde Critter Captain does not have the time to read all the mss. submitted. If you're an author of such, decide it this way: Ask yourself, would an average parent of an average eleven year-old get upset if they found their child reading this? (Yes, we have members that young.)

    There's also a step in between, namely, putting an author's note at the top of the ms. saying "adult language/situations" or somesuch and let each reader make the choice. This is for those borderline cases where you feel a younger critter's parent might not flip out, but some readers might want to be warned.

    Lastly, if your story contains sexual elements, abuse, graphic violence, or rape or other sexual assault, I strongly urge you to have a look at this article: Writing Assault and Why You Should Avoid It.


    What's the policy on Star Trek / Star Wars / Harry Potter / etc. fan-fiction material?

    Well... it's not strictly prohibited, but here are the issues. One, it's technically illegal -- copyright law gives ownership of "derivative" work to the copyright holder (thus Paramount, Lucasfilm, J.K. Rowling, Asimov's estate for Foundation stories, etc.). Two, this makes it nearly impossible to sell, except for rare opportunities like the Strange New World open anthology for Trek fiction, or pitching novel ideas to Lucasfilm, and so on (highly unlikely, as I said). But because it's not utterly impossible, it's okay to send through the group, but I would urge anyone doing so to note what they anticipate their market being.

    Stories written specifically for fan-fiction sites are definitely out. Critters is for professional and professionally aspiring writers, and aiming at fan-fic sites isn't the way to get there. (Some pros have done fan-fic way back when, become pro, then become more or less embarrassed that their fan-fic exists, pops up on the web, etc.) So saying you're writing fan-fic for its own sake will likely get you chastised by other Critters.

    So, bottom line, it isn't forbidden in Critters, but highly discouraged unless you can demonstrate a reputable paying market you have an actual shot of selling it to.


    Will readers understand non-Americanisms?

    If you're from across the pond, or down under, etc., and are afraid folks might ding you for spelling on "colour" or not grok what a "lift" is, etc., the best thing to do is put a note atop each manuscript you submit reminding readers that you're using British spelling, or whatnot. ("Note: British spelling." is sufficient.) Alas, yes, most Critters are American, and while most will get the hint when they see 'colour', if you're worried about it, just insert the note each time. No biggie.

    About Being Critiqued


    What do I do if a critique seems to violate the Critters "Diplomacy Standard"?

    You contact me immediately, sending me a copy of the full critique and an explanation why you think it wasn't courteous. (You should review the diplomacy docs and Diplomacy Standard first to be sure it's violating them, of course.) :)

    When reading critiques, bear in mind that no matter how authoritative or tactless someone sounds -- whether they say "you must..." or "never ever...!!!!" or "I've been an editor fifty years and you must..." -- remember that EVERYTHING a critter writes is their *personal opinion*. So if they say something you don't agree with, chalk it up to difference of opinion. (Please don't argue with them, though -- because you can't argue with readers, either. And besides, it's just their personal feeling; what are you going to say, "you don't really feel that way"?:-) If many people say substantially the same thing, then you know that many readers might react similarly. Remember that there are no "laws" of writing, only guidelines (though you should know the guidelines to know when you're ignoring them and to what effect, of course!). People even differ on what they think is "being tactful," but if you think someone was unnecessarily rude, please draw that to my attention; and even so, remember that everything is just that reader's opinion (but despite their abrupt phrasing, look for any kernels of truth inside; they probably do have an opinion they want to share, just aren't good at communicating).

    Even the nicest criticisms sting, so simply take as much useful commentary from every critique as you can, regardless of phrasing. :-)


    When will my critiques arrive?

    First, your story has to come up for review, on some Wednesday, probably 3-4 weeks after you submitted it, depending on the length of the queue. See the queue to see what date yours will go out. Then you should receive critiques as they dribble in (most arrive toward the end of that week; see above for a breakdown of which day they tend to arrive.)

    If you're not getting critiques, check the admin.ht page and see if any have been received (i.e., _before_ asking me if I've sent any :-). It may be that mail to you is bouncing, being filtered, etc. I don't have time to resend bounced crits (sorry); you can pick them up at the end of the week from the web page, or by visiting www.critters.org/mycrits.cgi , which will show you the raw mail file of all critiques received for you.


    What if I check my crit count and haven't received all the critiques?

    Check your spam box... If you don't see the "missing" critiques there, grab the critique file the next Saturday, or if you're impatient, go here to see the raw mail file of all incoming critiques for you.


    Do I have to reply to each reviewer?

    You don't need to reply to each Critter who sends you a critique, though doing so will probably improve your take for the next time.



    I liked a story I read in Critters, can I share it with friends?

    Absolutely not! No way! Big trouble awaits!

    All works submitted to Critters are copyrighted, and you have no authority to share the work with anyone, at all, period. And if you have the urge, keep in mind that the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) carries really stiff fines (minimum $2500 -per violation- up to millions of dollars) and up to ten years in jail. Yeah. Heavy stuff.

    Don't mess with the copyright law.

    Respect that authors control who they sell their work to for publication, not you. I'll boot anyone right out of the group if I hear they've done this and they don't make it right, pronto, and apologize big time to the author if it was done out of ignorance. (But here's this FAQ question, so I'm not keen on the ignorance defense, capish?)

    If you liked the story that well, ASK PERMISSION to share it, and honor the author's decision with the utmost graciousness and politeness if they say no. (If you're an author so asked, be ware that sharing it thus may lose you the chance to sell it, as if it's put "before the PUBlic" then it is, indeed, "PUBlished.")


    Do you have any suggestions where to submit work for publication?

    There are a number of good "market lists" as they're called. They come into and go out of existence, so the ones mentioned below might someday cease to exist (or become outdated -- markets come and go rapidly).

    That said, check out the list of lists on the Resources page, here.


    What's with the colored bars above the top menu?

    The color bar above the top navigation menu helps you know which workshop you're in if you belong to more than one. It's black for Critters / Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror writing; blue for Lit; steel gray for Mystery & Thriller; tan for Non-fiction, and so on.


    What is the "Form:" header sent out with manuscripts?

    That indicates the kind of submission:

    S=Short Story/Novelette (self-contained prose fiction under 20,000 words)
    N=Novel/Novella (chapters or RFDR -- prose fiction over 20,000 words or part thereof)
    SG=Stage play
    SD=Documentary, nonfiction script
    SC=Script (other)
    Q=Query letter/pitch/synopsis
    G=Graphic novel/comic/anime
    AC=Computer generated / computer assisted (photoshopping, etc.)
    AO=Other form of art (mixed media, sculpture, etc.)
    MP=Performance - audio - cover
    MO=Performance - audio - original
    MV=Performance - video
    MC=Composition, Songwriting (written lyrics, sheet music, etc.)
    AU=Audio (non musical)
    VS=Short video / film / movie (fictional)
    VL=Long video / film / movie (fictional)
    WS=Web site
    WT=Web site template
    APA=Apple iPhone/iPad app
    APD=Droid app
    APB=Blackberry app

    (Each workshop only allows specific forms. For example, it doesn't make sense to have audio performance forms in a writing workshop. You pick the proper form when making a submission.)


    What does it mean if I get asked to log in twice in a row?

    The only time I've seen this is if you used a URL to a private page that begins with "http:" instead of "https:" (secure). The http: page redirects to the https: page, but apparently only after having asked you to log in. If you have a bookmark, change it to https:... If the http: was in some Critters email, pleas let the Critter Captain know about it.


    How do I get more help?

    If you have any other questions, just ask the Critter Captain.



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