Although they won’t admit it, almost all writers need feedback on their work before it is ready to be released to the world. Even the best of the best have a writing partner that they rely on to give some notes on their first drafts. Stephen King has his wife, J.R.R. Tolkien had C.S. Lewis and the rest of us have the internet, which of course can vary in the quality of its feedback. The internet may not be the most trustworthy writing partner, but it does allow us to get opinions that we would of previously not had access to and whom have no obligation to be complimentary to our writing.
I know there is a certain apprehension to put your work on the internet for fearing of others pilfering ideas, but the truth is that your work is more protected than you would think. Sure, copyrighting ideas helps when posting your work, but when you put your words on paper, they are in themselves protected. Although posting your work gives people easy access to steal ideas, posting it is in a way proof of your work. On most sites, you will always have a time stamped record of when your work was made public. And while people stealing your ideas is no fun, I forget which 1950s Western director said it, but it was something to the effect of, “If they’re stealing my ideas, I must be doing something right.” So cheer up! If your work is good enough to be stolen, it is an odd form of validation and flattery.
Putting aside these issues, let’s profile a few of the more popular workshopping sites for writers.
Zoetrope: Zoetrope is the workshopping site that I am most familiar with. I’ve used it for many years and have always been happy with the feedback. It has an established community that can occasionally disappear at times during the year, but for the most part stays strong. It’s also a useful site for those who wants to join writing groups that will keep you appraised as to the ebb and flow of what’s happening in the publishing industry. You can workshop everything from scripts to excerpts of novels on zoetrope.
Critters: Critters is a site that really encourages giving feedback to others, because your work will not be looked at until you do. Operating more through email chains than any sort of central hub, this site almost guarantees feedback on your work if you choose to be a participating part of the community. I’d say the biggest criticism (albeit it a minor one) against Critters is their formatting for submitted work is very strict and requires a bit of busy work to set up.
The Next Big Writer: The Next Big Writer is a site that encourages their members through goals, contests and broad motivation in the hope that they will become … the next big writer so to speak. I know people that have used it and gotten published based on their exposure from the site, so there is an added element of opportunity that comes with this site.
Authonomy: Authonomy is a workshopping site started by Harper Collins in an effort to discover writers and publish their work. I know it sounds like a great way to get some feedback while bypassing the slush pile altogether, but reports are that Harper Collins hasn’t plucked as many authors from obscurity as you’d like to think. Still, it seems to be a thriving community. There are minor concerns due to the fact that the user based ratings determine which works Harper Collins considers, unintentionally creating an unnecessarily competitive atmosphere. But other than that, good stuff.
Have you yourself workshopped on any of these sites? How was the experience? Do you have another favorite workshopping site I left out? If so, let me know.