New entry May 06
Critters is 25!
This November, Critters is 25 years old! Wow! Thanks so much to all of you, who've made it such a resounding success!
Books from Critters!
Check out Books by Critters for books by your fellow Critterfolk, as well as my list of recommended books for writers.
New Book from a Critter Member**NOW IN PRINT EDITION TOO!** Awesome new book, HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SPECULATIVE FICTION OPENINGS, from a Critter member whose unearthed a shard of The Secret to becoming a pro writer. Really good piece of work. "...if you're at all concerned about story openings, you'd be nuts not to read what Qualkinbush has to say." —Wil McCarthy, author of BLOOM and THE COLLAPSIUM
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)
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!
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]
Thanks for your interest in the Critters Workshop -- Guaranteed Critiques or Your Story Back.
Our mission is to achieve a high level of participation in the giving of critiques on Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror short stories, novel chapters, and entire novels. The focus is on providing timely, helpful critiques.
Basically, the rules are: We look at a bunch of stories/chapters each week; you can have yours critiqued as long as you review roughly one piece a week. But, to handle the various odd situations that have come up, here we have:
The Official Rules of Membership
1. Members may submit SF/F/H manuscripts to be critiqued at any time, but may only have one manuscript in the "queue" [Note 1]. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submission format is in [Note 6]. Critters stance on "erotica" is in [Note 7].
2. Manuscripts may be (1) a completed short story [Note 9], (2) complete chapters of a novel plus outline of the entire novel, or (3) a "request for dedicated readers" for a complete novel [Note 5]. 20,000 words maximum per submission for type (1) and (2). Manuscripts are assumed copyrighted by the authors and are not to be redistributed by other members.
3. Manuscripts will be sent out in the order received (subject to rule #5). The exact number of mss. sent out in a week will depend on the total number of members and the length of the queue. (You can check the queue on the web page.)
4. Members are expected to submit critiques of a work back to the moderator within one week of the work being sent to the group. Send them to the same address, email@example.com. We've gotten into a pattern of Wednesday-to-Wednesday on this. (Novel reading groups get longer; that's whatever you arrange with the author.)
5. To encourage members to send in critiques (that's the name of the game, right?) members who have critiqued one ms. in less than 75% of the weeks they've been a member will have their manuscripts held until they return to 75% by either (a) submitting enough critiques (in this or another workshop); or (b) submitting "missed" critiques with approval of prior member(s) whose work(s) he/she missed.
(See [Note 2] for further details.)
In other words, aim for an average of about one critique a week.
Once the set of manuscripts for the current week is decided, they will be sorted such that those folks who've done the "most" critiques are listed first, since there's a very slight bump in number of critiques the higher up the list you are. "Most" is based on a formula that rewards high participation ratios as well as length of time of membership.
Members who don't submit at least one critique in a calendar month will be placed on the inactive list and not receive further manuscripts until they tell me they have more time available (planned downtimes excluded if you tell me). Novel "RFDR" points do not count toward this one-per-month minimum.
Stories under 2000 words earn one half a credit; whole novels earn you one credit per 5000 words read.
6. Critiques must be well intended and in-depth (not just "I liked it" so the sender can claim "see, I sent one"). Critiques under 100 words of critter-added material will receive no credit; those between 100-200 words, half-credit; and full credit for those above 200 words [Note 3]. Remember to be tactful and courteous when you criticize. See http://www.critters.org/c/diplomacy.ht for Critters Diplomacy Phrasing and http://www.critters.org/c/whathow.ht for why it matters. These tips on phrasing are Critters' official policy on diplomatically breaking the bad news to an author and are fundamental to Critters success. (Yes, it's a rule you follow.) Your role as critiquer is to let the author know your personal reactions as a reader; not to act as a teacher, expert, any kind of authority figure nor to try to persuade them. Believe me, decades of this have proven that this is both necessary and useful.
You should read an entire manuscript before critiquing it; and you should critique nearly all manuscripts you read to the end (i.e., Critters is not meant for pleasure reading; if you read to the end, only skip doing a critique if you really can't stomach it). Authors should not argue with critiquers (asking for clarifications is fine; objecting to points made - no); report any rude/undiplomatic critiques to me.
7. Critiques will be available to everyone in a digest after one week [Note 4].
8. There is no rule #8 [Note 8].
[Note 0] To encourage professional SF/F/H authors[*] to participate, pro SF/F/H authors can have their work sent out the very next week (instead of being added to the end of the queue) if they agree to critique either three of the mss. sent out that week or critique one ms. per month. Anyone thinking of pretending to be an SFWA/HWA member will be denied membership -- in other words, I'll verify membership!
[*] For Critters purposes, I define "pro" much as SFWA and HWA define it for their voting/full membership levels: Having sold one novel to a major publisher or three short stories to pro markets (see http://www.sfwa.org/org/qualify.htm for a list of professional markets). If you're a pro member of SFWA or HWA just say so, otherwise drop me a list of your professional SF/F/H publications.
Pro authors in other genres are accorded the rate of two critiques per month average and are entitled to have their SF/F/H works inserted at the half-way point in the queue. Please send verifiable proof of pro status.
[Note 1] That is, I'll maintain a "queue" of whose manuscript is scheduled to go out when. If you send more than one, I'll put your first one in the queue, and hold the others on a waiting list until that first one has been reviewed, then put your next one at the end of the queue, and so on. It's probably best just to send me only one at a time. :-)
Note that an RFDR [Note 5] consumes all your queue slots until you've finished the RFDR.
(Note that I cannot guarantee the order of mss. in the waiting list.)
See http://www.critters.org/c/queue.php for the queue.
[Note 2] The idea is that you must be an active participant to receive critiques. Once you get behind, you can always catch up by either waiting enough weeks during which you dutifully send in your critiques, or if the prior authors are still interested in receiving critiques of their "older" submissions, then, with their approval, making up for "lost" ones can count. But you can't browbeat authors into accepting your belated critiques -- they may no longer care, or your remarks may just be a rehash of what you've already seen other people say. So if you want to make up an old one, send it to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), I'll send it to the author, and ask if they feel it's ok for me to count it toward your quota. But no hard feelings if they're no longer interested! (You might drop them email first, to see if it's even worth your while to write one; but the final say is only after you've written it, to prevent just rehashing what others have said.)
I suppose you could even review ones that are from before you joined (author willing) to get back to 75%. The focus is on providing useful critiques, which I believe this encourages.
What exactly, you ask, is this 75% thing? We call it the "participation ratio" and it is defined thus:
(number of critiques credits you have) / (number of weeks of membership)
You get one credit for each critique you submit (of over 200 words of critique material, not counting quotes). To encourage reading of longer manuscripts, stories under 2000 words only receive half a credit. If you join a novel "dedicated reader" group (see [Note 5]), then you earn one credit for each 5000 words you read of the novel. The participation ratio is approximately the same as saying you need to critique one story a week, with one week off a month for vacations, being too busy, etc. So if you aim for one critique a week, you're doing great.
A member whose submission was bypassed for low participation will have it put back to its prior position in the queue upon regaining good standing (i.e., goes out next if it was held from being sent around).
Further note regarding multiple submissions per week: The number of manuscripts sent per week is a varying quantity; how many depends on number of members and size of queue; I aim for roughly one story per fifteen members, per week). Members only need to critique one of those each week, though doing more/all is highly desirable.
Note regarding sharing partial credit between workshops:
If you'd like to participate in some of the other workshops than the one you signed up for, and have extra credits in one workshop that you'd like to use toward another workshop to get critiqued, well, you're in luck! :) I've enhanced the credit system so if you have credits above the 75% minimum threshold in one workshop, you can use part of those credits to apply to any other workshop. Say for example you had done 20 critiques in one workshop and been a member of it for 10 weeks. Then you'd have a 200% participation ratio in that workshop, and essentially 12.5 "extra" credits (since 7.5 credits would be your minimum to have a 75% ratio). If you then wanted to have something critiqued in another workshop, a share of those 12.5 credits would apply to it. Credits are shared at 2/3 value between writing workshops and 1/2 if a non-writing workshop is involved. So from science fiction to nonfiction, for example, you'd have 8.3 credits. If you just joined the nonfiction workshop, that'd give you an 833% ratio. :) So check out the other workshops and submit something! (And please spread the word about the workshops wherever finer writers' discussions are found.) :)
Also, by 'popular' request (well, a number of folks asked for it), I've formalized a policy about resetting critter counters back to zero -- it's permitted. That is, if you feel you're waaaay behind on critiques, and will just never be able to catch up, you can zero your counter. It's just like quitting (and losing all prior critique credit) and signing up again, fresh. (So you're back to zero critiques in zero weeks.) However, any manuscript you have in the queue goes to the end of the queue (as if you just submitted it, which should make sense, since we're pretending you just joined), so this can't be used to instantly regain good standing the day before your story is set to go out. :-) Also, to prevent freeloaders, only members who have submitted at least one critique may ask to be reset (those critiques are lost, but otherwise someone could just remain at zero critiques and get stories emailed to read for pleasure -- which we don't allow). If you ask for a reset and are at zero, you'll be set to -1, and must submit a critique within one week to get to actual zero. While we're talking about it, anyone quitting with no critiques can't rejoin for two months (and I reserve the right to flatly refuse membership, of course, if someone is acting like a moocher, etc.) I'll announce other restrictions if anyone tries to find a loophole. :-) Anyway, if you feel the need to reset your counter, drop me an email note asking for it.
[Note 3] It's almost always possible to exceed 200 words. The Critters average is about 500 words, often more. I highly encourage people to read the various "how to" articles on the web page (http://www.critters.org/c/resources.ht) since one of the primary benefits of Critters is that critiquing itself improves your own writing, thus you want to do the best critiques you can. Analysis of even short pieces (even a haiku!) can easily run 500 words, so don't shortchange yourself by doing a hasty, shallow critique.
Note also that the minimum is 300 words for MPC credit (Most Productive Critter award; see http://www.critters.org/c/mpc.ht for details.)
However, if you find a piece where you haven't the time to do a full critique but just want to send a short note to the author, send it not for credit by placing "NC" in the email Subject: line along with the "#" and the manuscript number (e.g., Subject: NC#1234). Otherwise you'll get a note from the software minions scolding you for too short a critique.
[Note 4] This is to prevent bias by reading other people's critiques before you write your own. After the week, feel free to discuss them all you want, as long as you want. The newsgroups are ideal for this. (See http://www.critters.org/c/resources.ht#ng for more.)
[Note 5] Ah, so you want to send a whole novel through Critters, eh? Well, I think we can handle that. We have a method for handling whole novels that might even be better than face-to-face groups.
The fine print is below, but the gist of is, you submit a "Request for Dedicated Readers" (RFDR) into the queue (alone, or with an "ordinary" chapter or group of chapters). In your RFDR you should describe your novel so as to entice readers to want to read it. Include your email address in the RFDR.
Readers will take you up on your request if they want to get a bunch of critique "points" in exchange for seeing this novel through to the end (arranging to get chapters with the author, not via the queue).
1) Why do this? Because novels are hard to get folks to read one queue chunk at a time. (This is true in a face-to-face group too, but perhaps this method will work better than face-to-face workshops -- who knows!) This way, readers read them as they and the author arrange.
2) Readers who want to read the work described in the RFDR contact the author at his/her email address. Readers and author work out the details of how they'll read it -- that's purely between readers and author. Presumably readers will be asked to read all the way to the end of the novel. Readers may want to ask for an outline and should feel free to ask the author for one, etc.
3) The author is responsible for getting readers the chapters (as they're ready, all at once, whatever everyone agree on). This has nothing to do with the Queue.
4) If the chapters show up in the queue, readers can NOT get double credit! If some of this novel appears in the queue, that's the author's prerogative, and a way to get folks to read just that part who have no commitment to read the whole thing.
5) If a reader finishes critiquing the whole novel -- to the author's satisfaction -- then the reader gets Critter Points as follows (one "point" is the same as reading one queue submission in one week):
6) If an author fails on his/her end of the bargain (no longer sends readers chapters, etc.), then (and only then) readers get partial credit for what they've reviewed. Should this arise, contact aburt. Note that readers otherwise get no credit unless they finish critiquing the whole book to the author's satisfaction. Readers should keep copies of critiques sent in case the author vanishes and they need to ask me for partial credit.
7) Authors - make sure you include the "dr: Yes" header in the header block [Note 6] so that I know you want people notified that this is an RFDR. No header -- no RFDR. :-)
8) While you may send chapters of the same novel through the queue, you may not send other works through until the RFDR is completed (else you're effectively having two or more pieces going simultaneously, which isn't fair to others who only have one at a time).
9) Ask me for clarifications, etc.!
[Note 6] Notes on submission formats...
(These are really simpler than all this verbiage implies, but these answer all the nitpicky questions people have asked. Except for information about the "header" items below, these are condensed from the web page, http://www.critters.org/c/format.ht .)
Please send critiques as TEXT, ONE PER EMAIL message, identifying the manuscript number in the subject (e.g., "#333"). If you make comments "inside" the story:
>It turned around. >"blah blah," it said,
No, I think it would say yadda yadda yadda
then please TRIM! TRIM! TRIM! all but near where you want to make a comment -- some folks print out the critiques, and having huge amounts of the story included wastes lots of paper. Please use the format above, marking the author's text with ">", leaving a blank line, then adding your own comments. No "in-line" comments, please!
By far the easiest is to use the web page submission form, http://www.critters.org/c/sub.php , to submit. It accepts Word .DOC files and plain text files. You can still submit by email, but email submissions need the "header" information so the software minions can process it.
If yo use email, send manuscripts as plain text, just as you would a critique; not encoded using binhex, base64 or such, just... straight text. Please keep the margins to 70 chars per line (but wrapping words, not truncating them). Single space. Indent paragraphs five spaces or double space between paragraphs. No "Rich Text Format" -- just ordinary, boring "plain text (aka "ASCII" or "DOS" text). No HTML. Certainly no word processor files (MSWord, WordPerfect, etc.). Proofread for typos/grammos as if submitting to Asimov's. Make sure you identify the genre (SF/F/H/M/T/...) or the software minions will get confused... :) There's a list of codes at http://www.critters.org/c/mastergenrelist.php .
You may test out your manuscript for conformance to the format rules by visiting the http://www.critters.org/c/mscheck.ht web page.
To make my life easier (and thus enable me to keep running and improving Critters), please submit your stories with the following simple items of information at the top of your submission text. This is called the "header block". This will allow me to add your entry with a program instead of manually (which is impossibly tedious). Failing to do so will result in your manuscripts getting bounced back to you! :-)
[I really recommend using the web page to submit your ms., as it will send me the right stuff based on a form you fill out.]
The four main "header" items are (illustrated with a properly formatted example):
title: The Return of the King, Chapters 1-5
author: John R. R. Tolkien
Devilish details (do exactly like above, but if your really must know...):
Please put the keywords (title/author/genre/words)
And follow these simple rules for each keyword (doing it EXACTLY like the example should make these obvious):
title: The title of your story
author: Your real name
genre: Story type
words: Word count (or length in minutes for audio/video, # pages for web sites)
format: What kind of thing this is, e.g. short story, novel, script, song...
There are two additional header items for special purposes:
Tells me this is a Request for Dedicated Readers, and will be marked as such. Failure to include this header -- nobody will know the thing is meant for dedicated readers. :-)
Tells me this is a resubmission of an existing manuscript (one ALREADY in the queue but not yet sent out). Lack of this header will cause the manuscript to get ADDED to the queue. Note that for a resub to work, the title: header must be 100% identical. (If you're changing the title, send me a note and we'll work it out.)
Note that resubmissions must arrive NO LATER than 10 calendar days before the piece is scheduled to be sent out. I make no guarantees about anything received after that. (If you want to live on the edge, 7 of those 10 days are in case I move the ms. up a week, e.g., to fill a hole left by someone with sub-par participation. The other 3 days are to give me time to get the ms. into place. Anything tighter than that and chances get close to zero that I'll get it replaced in time. If it's already gone out to reviewers, it's too late to use this method.)
So if you had all six header items, you'd have:
title: The Return of the King, Chapters 1-5
author: John R. R. Tolkien
format: N dr: Yes
Finally, folks may wonder what to put in the Subject: line of submission emails. The word "submission" somewhere in it is helpful. :-)
[Note 7] Since Critters contains members who are minors, we can't have material emailed or posted on the ms. page that might offend their parents should they find out. If you have a ms. that Asimov's/F&SF/Analog wouldn't run because of said content, rather than submitting the actual ms. to me, send me a note describing the story and request that it be put in the queue. (Include the title, author, genre, word count, just as if you were sending the story itself -- but send the description instead of the actual story. Mention the level of erotica (where it falls on the range of"not sure if this counts" to "extremely graphic"). Include your email address.
When your story comes up for review, readers will contact you by email to get a copy of the story. It's then up to you to verify that they are not minors. (Ask them.) They should still send their critiques to me as usual (if they want credit!). Thus, this is akin to the rules for novels.
[Note 8] There is, however a note #8. In particular, since we've grown to where emailing everyone all the manuscripts for a week can be a burden, we now have a throttle you can employ on how many manuscripts you receive, and of what genre. The easiest way to set this is to visit the preferences web page, http://www.critters.org/c/prefs.php.
Also, since I get a tremendous amount of spam (as of this writing, close to a thousand spams a day), here's a note about contacting me: My spam filter is pretty good (I wrote it myself :-), but if you have a question for me, there are three things I'll say: (1) Most ordinary Critter mail is handled perfectly [based on subject lines], so don't worry about this unless you have a question for me; then: (2) If it's a "how do I....?" question, please visit http://www.critters.org/c/help and that'll get your question answered the fastest. (3) If you want to send a personal note to me about something (e.g. an overly harsh critique), then please include "Nospam: Lazarus Long" in the body of your message and it'll get to me. Thanks!
[Note 9] A few critters have asked if they could split their really long "short stories" in two parts so they'll receive more critiques. I'm (somewhat grudgingly) relaxing the rules on completed works to allow for this under the following strict conditions: (1) you must have my permission; (2) no more than two parts; (3) you may only do this if the piece is longer than 15k words; and (4) you must submit both parts at the same time (so the first part goes into the queue and the second goes into the waiting queue). The main thing we're avoiding here are people submitting incomplete works. (Alas, if you can't finish a short story, you need more help than Critters is designed for.) Also, realize that longer pieces are (a) harder to sell and (b) less likely read by readers, so I hate to encourage critters to write novellas & novelettes by making special provisions for them.
Now, that wasn't so bad, was it? Jes' send in ya critiques 'n' nobody gets hurt.