Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

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Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby aburt » Wed Sep 01, 2010 6:32 pm

Hi all, I wanted to start a sort of free-form dialog to get input on how you all would want to see me structure an expansion to Critters. I've long planned to add a workshop for more genres, like Mystery, Mainstream/Literary, Romance, etc. As I sat down to map out how to do that, I realized it shouldn't stop there, that it can easily be expanded to include workshops for a number of other creative areas that could benefit from the critique process, such as photography, painting/drawing, music one performs and/or writes, films, web sites, etc.

My plan is to have each related area be a separate workshop, housed under the banner. Critters would remain as it is, one of the workshops, the one focused on writing SF/F/H. Beside it would be a workshop/queue for, say, Mystery/Mainstream/... and so on. (I.e., rather than add the other genres into Critters I envision adding workshops alongside Critters.) So it wouldn't change the character of Critters, which seems to be pretty successful so I hate to tinker with it; but it would open the process up to other genres and other artistic fields, which seem like they could benefit from the Critters-like process.

That raises questions...

1) What should the workshop groupings be? Here's my first, back-of-the-envelope list, which I wanted feedback on:
Code: Select all
                Critters - SF/F/H
                nonfiction - books, articles, blogs...
        video based arts
                nonfiction - documentary, informational
                films (fictional content), long or short, any genre
        anime, graphic novels, comics
        audio based
                song writing (e.g. critiquing lyrics, music/etc. that one writes)
                song performance - audio / video
        web sites (critique web sites one is designing)
        apps - iphone/ipad, blackberry, droid...

So... thoughts? Are those groupings good, bad, or ugly? What makes sense? Other areas?

My goal is to keep like artistic endeavors together, but with enough critical mass that there are sufficient members in each workshop to keep it going. Obviously this could be updated over time, but I wanted people's thoughts on whether those were too small or too large, and so on. (Like, should song writing be merged with song performance? Or should song performance be split into audio vs. video separately? That kind of thing.)

2) Should credits from one workshop carry over into another? E.g., if someone has a 75% ratio in documentary films, should they be counted as having a 75% ratio if they submit a horror short story to Critters? Or should they have to earn 75% in Critters separately to earn the right to get their short story critiqued. Similarly, should someone be allowed to earn the 75% mark from critiques half & half in two workshops /etc. ? (From ease of implementation I think I lean toward carry-over, thinking people will rarely step into areas they aren't also critiquing in, but wanted to hear what people thought. And there already is a sort of carry over, in that someone could critique all SF manuscripts but submit a Horror piece.)

3) Woohoo!s -- separate or combined list?

4) Discussion forums for each area -- separate or combined?

5) Other considerations???

I think the general idea is pretty exciting, but lots of little details.

Let me know what y'all think.
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Name: Andrew Burt
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby pezimmerman » Wed Sep 01, 2010 7:48 pm

Popular Science books and essays, please. Hell, let's throw in Engineering, Math, Medicine, and Technology for good measure as well. I'd also like to see a workshop for pop history books and essays. It's hard for writers without minions, er, I mean students, to get readers for things other than scholarly articles. Adding these workshops might be good for inter-field communication and it would allow writers not in these fields to increase their base knowledge of STEMM and history.
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby mellissa » Wed Sep 01, 2010 8:14 pm

Sounds great! Though I don't think you need sffh in the new workshops. Yes, the credits should carry over and so should membership.
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby charityjune » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:23 pm

My vote would be to keep all things you've mentioned separate, including critique credits and woohoos (maybe just list the woo hoos separately? Subheadings so we know which stories are in which genre at the very least). Why?

1) Expertise : Because in its current form, when I submit a story to critters, I'm pretty confident that critiques will come primarily from other amateur speculative writers, which means they are people who are fans of the genre I'm writing in and who are familiar enough (probably) with the genre to understand those things taken for granted in speculative fiction. Each genre has its own internal standards /expectations. While we all want our fiction to reach a universal audience, realistically I think the most useful critiques will come from the people who know speculative fiction well.

2) Maximizing critiques within each genre:

We already see that the shortest stories receive tons more critiques than the other stories in the queue, which persuades me that people will continue to do whatever critiques seem like the easiest and fastest way to get credit. Particularly if you add in art and give credit for that, I image a lot of non-artists would write critiques for the art pieces just because it woudl be so much faster than taking 15/20 minutes to read a story.

If you add an erotica or romance category, I could see many people reading and critiquing a bunch of erotica stories while waiting for their stories to go through some other genre's queue, simply because both the good and the bad could be a lot more fun than reading the stories in other categories.

It might be fun to dip into other genres now and again, but maybe you coudl just limit how many credits count from other genres/categories (25%?) and/or give partial credit or something like that - I'd hate to see the number of critiques going through the original critters reduced too much by this expansion.

The scholarly categories has potential; I'm sure grad students trying to get credit for their first publication could use a tool like this, but I do wonder if it woudl be expoited. (Maybe it would become a resource for stealing papers for class credits? Maybe more potential for harm with this type of writing.)
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby amcleod » Thu Sep 02, 2010 12:00 am


I'll probably sound like a wet towel, but I think it's probably more productive to focus your energy on improving the core strengths that Critters has, rather than branch out. By "core strengths" I mean critique of written material. I think that branching out into visual arts would be technically difficult and unlikely to garner enough popularity to make it worth the effort. It's no judgement against you-- I think it's just the natural physics of Internet communities, and building community is probably the critical function here as opposed to technical challenges (which would still eat up a lot of your time). However, with Critters and written material you already have a community, so technical investment pays off more.

Some things to consider:

-Photoshop: A site called Worth1000 houses a massive online community of both professional and amateur graphic artists. The site hosts contests for fun, and has a system that lets corporate clients accept bids for paid graphic design work. You get critiqued by entering contests. They also publish books about photo manipulation. There are other less advanced but nonetheless very large photoshop communities, too (b3ta, SomethingAwful forums, to certain extent). If you're up for competing with these groups for members, then go for it... But your post makes me think that's not really what you want to do.

-Anime, comics, etc: There are likewise some very large and established communities for this. DeviantArt is what I'm thinking of. Wikipedia says they have 14.5 million members.

-Animation: albinoblacksheep and NewGrounds are huge communities of Flash animators.

I think I could probably find an active community based around most of the non-writing media that you listed. While they may not be focused on critiquing, plain old web forum software comes pretty close, and it will be tough to peel away members or look good to new recruits. It's just my humble opinion and I've never actually run a web community and I haven't built a web site since 1997, but building a modern web site that allows for viewing and critiquing of rich media (especially video) seems difficult and expensive (bandwidth). In other words, it's hard and it's a longshot.

However, if you have the time and energy to even attempt something like that, I think that giving Critters a web design makeover would be very nice. I'm certainly not a web design expert, but I think you could grow the Critters community by adding technology like a forum that spawns for each story that is posted in the queue (sort of like how does for news stories), so instead of "manuscript critique" on each line, it could be "manuscript critique discuss". I often end up having discussions via email with people that critique my stuff, and there's no reason that communication couldn't be on a webforum. A perma-forum on the manuscripts page would probably be very active, too.

Maybe you could give critters the ability to "cite" other stories with an easy-to-grab hyperlink or tag... "Your story really reminded me of <this one>".

On a weirder note, what if you gave people the ability to critique stories in a quantitative as well as qualitative manner? Even if it was just a number from 0 to 100, then you could do some interesting stuff with stats that I think people would be interested in. Where does your story rate against every story that has passed through Critters? How does your story rate among others that are highly rated? Every now and then you could even seed the queue with "controls"; bits of critically acclaimed or commercially successful literature (or for that matter, intentionally horrible prose) to get a picture of the dynamic range of the community.

Anyway, my basic sentiment is to grow what you've already made successful. It would probably be easier, and my opinion is that you'd get a lot more bang for the buck, in terms of effort.
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby Ben-M » Thu Sep 02, 2010 12:08 am

Hi Andrew,

A couple of copper...

1) I would only be wary of creating a ghost town with any particular category due to limitations in marketing. While the principle of 'critiquing' can apply to almost any human endeavour (even a bricklayer can be critiqued), part of the strength of critters is the large number of participants. So my fear is that a particular "less popular" category would suffer from a self defeating spiral wherein there aren't enough members to reach the critical mass required for a self sustaining community. There could be ways around it (starting the new site once enough people have registered as willing members, perhaps being one) but I'm no expert there.

2) I don't think they should carry over. On the one hand there is learned expertise developed in critiquing a particular activity which doesn't automatically apply to other categories (ie "I couldn't find a character arc in your essay"). On the other hand, critiquers have a vested interest in critiquing, which is that the process of critiquing helps writers improve their own writing and analytical skills. If an aspiring SF author critiques law essays just for points, one may rightly wonder what quality critique will result.

3) If they're separate sites and memberlists, it would seem less spammy to get an email targetted to that specific group's interests.

4) A forum could have individual subforums for the different genres, but I'd have thought a forum per-site, targetted to that specific group's interests, would seem more conducive to producing a feeling of identity within that group.

5) Have you in the past considered publicly visible critters stats? To explain by example, consider the manuscripts page, having a link under each authors name; I click on the link and I can see this author joined at 'date', has done 'N critiques', has been awarded 'N most valuable critters', submitted 'N stories' and the author's bio page is linked 'here'. I realise there are probably pros and cons to such info - as pros, if I critique a great deal (and put a lot of effort into those critiques) I may like to make sure other veteran critters are getting a good share of critiques, or even the opposite, making sure the new guy gets a healthy dose of feedback - and as cons, I can imagine that in some circumstances such info may prejudice certain critters from critiquing certain work. Then again, I probably do something similar to this manually - if I'm hard pressed for time in a given week, I will scan the available manuscripts for something at a readable length but which (most importantly) has a well written and engaging intro; I know such a story is going to be easier to read and critique.

my 2c
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby Peloquin » Thu Sep 02, 2010 1:18 pm


I appreciate critters for helping me write better, but I also do 3d modeling. Of course I'm not hoping to getting a review on the models themselves, but the imagery. I've just had a pic published with Utility Fog Press, nothing paying, but it's a step.

I think a graphics review system (like critters for pictures) would be better than just Photoshopped pics. This would be more inclusive, and could be broken-down into categories. I've seen a lot of 3d models on the net, but not as many cohesive sets of work that could be made into a commercial enterprise. I believe it's because it's fun to do graphics (so is writing), and creating very detailed works that are focused on an industry (sci-fi book cover art, true commercial art {faucets, interiors, botany, etc.}, animation, and posters) are still rare because it's not as fun. It becomes hard work.

It's difficult to break into graphics, but there are those that stand out on occasion that I'm sure would like to compare and critique work to help improve the industry as a whole. I've heard you say that critters writers are 10x more likely to get published, and critters could be the new "go-to" place for graphic artists as well as writers. Besides, artists would provide a hyper-attractive website that could be easily pitched with the work of it's own contributors.

Most graphics sites just offer places to post these pics, but not critique. It's a niche that's yet to be filled, and I'd be happy to offer more suggestions on the structure of a GRAPHICS side for critters.

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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby Greg Hullender » Thu Sep 02, 2010 3:49 pm

My brother is trying to write Legal Thrillers, so I'm sure he'd appreciate a workshop. However, I don't think he'd want it to be part of an SF/F/H workshop. Likewise, I don't think we really want non-genre people trying to write critiques for SF stories. (I've noticed my brother thinks it's an error whenever the story uses a term for some future technology without defining it first; that's correct for his genre, but very wrong for SF.)

I suspect Legal/Political/Spy thrillers could go into the same workshop, but I'll bet Westerns wouldn't fit there. Likewise historical fiction might work in one place. Perhaps the best guide would be to look at what the equivalents of SFWA cover. (I note there is a Mystery Writers of America, for example.)

I'd see these operating mostly independently of each other. In fact, I don't think the SF/F/H group should even be able to read the manuscripts for the Mystery group. I think that'll help maintain the argument that submission to Critters doesn't constitute publication. I'd make an exception for anyone who states that he/she wants to submit a story in that genre.

It might be well to go slowly; just add one new workshop and see how that goes. There are probably current members of Critters who write in other Genres, so a good start could be to ask who would participate in (say) a Mystery/Legal workshop. Not sure how many it would take to get it rolling, of course.

The biggest question, for me, is whether this is likely to add a big time committment for you. I get the impression that Critters still involves a good bit of manual labor. I'd worry that you might get overwhelmed.

Finally, there's the question of whether there ought to be higher priorities for Critters itself. The option to submit PDF instead of text would be real, real nice. (I suspect 90% of critters can read PDF today, and I might be willing to forgo feedback from those who can't.) A way to "crit the critters" would be nice too. Something other than e-mail to let us give feedback to people whose critiques aren't helpful. (Many critiques don't actually criticize anything. Others ramble about their own experiences rather than criticizing the story. Some don't seem to have done more than skim the story, offering only vague and unactionable comments. And a few narrowly focus on personal pet peeves. A suprising number don't even follow the rules for quoting the story.) At the moment, the only way to try to educate a critter is e-mail to Dr. Burt himself--that has to be HUGELY time-consuming! It might be good to make this aspect more automatic before doing anything else.

All that said, I'd be delighted to see additional workshops--especially one I could point my brother to.

Greg Hullender
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby gavintonks » Sat Sep 04, 2010 9:05 pm

My suggestion is you have done critters so well, begin with a genre you have had feedback on and grow it a link at a time, that way the growth is manageable and you can monitor the support
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Re: Input wanted on how to structure an expanded Critters

Postby tacrow » Sun Sep 05, 2010 12:10 am

I think there have been a lot of thoughtful responses so far, and I hope I can add something (as opposed to just echoing what others have already said, perhaps more eloquently!).

I like the idea of expanding to other genres. Expansion can help a community thrive -- but only, I think, if it's managed correctly.

Most of us who belong to Critters write science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Having expertise and experience within those genres usually means the critiques are going to be more insightful. I know that when I ask my non-science fiction friends to critique my manuscripts, I get some good feedback. But I get that same kind of feedback, plus genre-specific feedback, from Critters. I'd really like to preserve that benefit.

I suggest we expand slowly. Maybe pick a couple of genres that are either related to speculative fiction or that is often associated with it (maybe mystery, for example). Build that community; watch its impact on the existing community; make sure the expansion doesn't hurt what we already have.

Then, at a similar pace, add other genres.

For me, preserving the spirit of the community and the high qualify of the critiques is absolutely essential.

I'd keep the point system consistent across all genres. For acknowledgements, I'd tend to announce them to the whole community, but I'd break them down by genre.

I'm really hesitant about adding art. Visual art is wildly different from prose or poetry (at least, in my experience). I don't see how those disciplines would easily merge, though that might just be a lack of vision on my part.

I'd keep the discussion areas separate, but united via a common entry point.

Thanks for asking for input. Good luck on the expansion!
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