Do you ever just get to the point where you need feedback in a desperate sort of way? You know you need improvement but you just don’t know how?
I live in a small city (which is more like an overgrown town) that does not have anything in the way of writer’s workshops or groups. Not outside the local university’s classes, anyway. This is very distressing for someone who’s written 17 drafts of her query and 8 drafts of her novel and still feels like something is terribly wrong. I may start slamming my head against walls, I don’t know.
So, in desperation, I turned to the Internet. There are several places you can go, some of which you have to pay for. I’m paranoid and distrustful when it comes to putting my work online for others to review. There’s always that fear in the back of my mind that someone is going to steal my work. Finally, though, I landed on a website called Review Fuse.
Here’s how it works: You post your short story/flash fiction/book chapter. You then review three or more pieces of other people’s work. Based on the ratings those people give your review, your work is assigned to similar reviewers. Lets say all the people I reviewed say my reviews are great. Then, my work will be assigned to people who write great reviews. If my reviews are crap, then people who write crappy reviews will read my work. You receive as good as you dish out, essentially. This is the theory.
Here is the practical: it works, mostly. Thing is, though, the people who reviewed me did not give the level of review I give. I tend to tear something apart paragraph by paragraph and I can be fairly blunt about my criticism (life is too short for niceties when it comes to writing, my high school mentor taught me). I’m also very specific. Not only do I say ‘this doesn’t work’, I also say ‘because of this, that, or whatever’. I then round it out with ‘here is what I think may make it better’. I had three reviewers. All three of them said, ‘this doesn’t work’, and that was it. One was slightly more specific and caught a couple of things the other two didn’t, but s/he didn’t suggest ways of making it better, just ‘fix this’. And one person, I think, only skimmed it because s/he complained about not knowing the age of my protagonist despite one of the characters bluntly giving the girl’s age.
(I’ve never understood people who gives this sort of review. They love it when they get detailed reviews where someone practically tears it apart with a red pen, but they don’t give the same in return. Are they afraid of hurting my feelings?)
I think the reason why these people were assigned to me is because they got such high marks from other people they reviewed. This is the first flaw in the system that I encountered. A lot of times, people are just too polite and too nice when it comes to rating others. Even I gave them higher marks than maybe I should have. So, they’re going to be assigned to people who give detailed reviews and want detailed reviews in return.
(Then there’s the fact that, you could give a really good review but because the person you reviewed disagreed with what you said, you’ll get low marks. You’re a good reviewer but the person thought you were wrong in what you said. There’s a way to talk to the person, maybe persuade them to change their ratings, but I can see how that could turn nasty quickly.)
The second flaw is, if I understand it right, you get assigned a different reviewer every time you post something. That works all well and good if you’re writing flash fiction or short stories. But, if I’m posting chapter 20 of CLARA, all of my reviewers are going to be lost. And they will probably all comment on that. But I honestly can’t help it. There’s a space for a description of what you’re posting, but that’s insufficient. It’d just be better to be reviewed by people who’ve read chapters one through nineteen. They can better comment on the scope of your work as well as the small details, which is essential when editing a novel.
I’m going to use this system for the first and second chapters of my work, but I don’t think it would do much good beyond that. I would recommend this for people who have trouble getting started in their novels or for people who write much shorter pieces of work. This actually may be helpful for novellas, as well.