Saturday, August 20, 2011

All right, well, Blogger has managed to delete this post twice, so third time's the charm. This is the first actual review in my review in my review series of different online writing forums. Read on to learn about WritingForums.Org:
I actually started over at this site because I had lost my critique group in the meat space and was desperate for some kind of interaction with other writers. I chose to go “undercover” so to speak, because I am not that into shameless self-promotion, and I didn’t feel like trying to convince everybody there that I knew what I was doing. That was clearly a mistake.

Social Experience: I initially selected for it’s large user base, about 25,000 at the time of this writing. I figured that in a group that size there would be enough people for a generally positive experience. I was wrong.

Aside from the general naysayers and doom-speakers, the people there were largely positive. During my brief time there was a hot thread entitled “what will we do now?” that had to do with an article in which a single literary agent said she was no longer going to accept new clients, and that made some stupid remarks I shall not bother repeating here. The thread was just a long argument between the “Traditional Publishing is DEAD camp” and the “this is clearly on person’s opinion so STFU” camp. I would have belonged to the latter, but I couldn’t care enough to join such a discussion.

The big problem was the way it spilled over into many other threads. I made a post about one of my rejection letters and had some jerk jump in and tell me to basically give up because new authors were never going to be published again ever. Fortunately, this was the exception, not the rule.

In general, the people were mostly nice, and there were a few very well-intentioned people there. I personally look at intentions more than results, and based on that, these were great people. But, as you’ll see below, they were not all that helpful.
Score: 6, only because some people were nice.

Spring Boarding and Critiques: I would say the community falls flat here, but it gets even worse. You have a lot of parroting on, and when you ask for help, you can expect to get about 10 people jumping in with the same copy/paste response thinking that’s helping.

In particular, when I asked for help on a character. I posted with a simple question: I needed a character to fulfill a certain roll in the plot, and I wanted some suggestions on character traits/facets that I could use. He was a throw-away and probably not likely to appear for more than a handful of pages, so I just wanted some basic suggestions for things I could do to make him less of a plot-forwarding robot.

What I got was a dozen responses from people saying “He’s YOUR character, only YOU can write him, so write him and see how he turns out.” Even the Camarillo Writer’s Club was beyond that sort of useless BS. But it drug on for 2 full pages, the same thing, over and over again, before anyone even tried to be helpful. After some more polite prodding, I did finally get one user to suggest a few character traits, but she did so in a condescending and insulting way that implied I was a high school student trying to cheat on my English homework. I was insulted. does have a critique section, but to encourage user interaction they have a rule which states you must post 2 critiques on someone else’s work before you can post one piece of your own. This is actually a good system and I am okay with it. I did not attempt to post any critiques because of the rule(there wasn’t enough short sci-fi/fantasy for me to find two current pieces to critique), but I actually support it. It keeps the forums from be crowded with 500 people whining for feedback and six people actually offering it.
Score: 4, and most of that is because I liked the critique rule.

Quality of Information: This is where basically fails very hard. I spent most of my time in the publishing sub-forum getting information for my upcoming round of queries. Most of the users, while basically well-intentioned, were regurgitating useful knowledge mixed with their own misconceptions. Unless you already knew what information was of value, you were kind of in trouble.

There were definitely a few intelligent people on there, with mostly good things to say. Unfortunately, these were non-fiction writers with useful things to say about the non-fiction writing industry. I did not encounter a single person on that entire site who claimed to have sold a genre-fiction novel.

Those attempting to offer information about selling a novel had not done so, and as mentioned, were mixing useful information garnered from other locations with things they thought. They thought very, very wrong, incidentally.

One thing I heard over and over again in a few different discussion threads I have commented on before in this journal. That is people claiming that if you are a good novelist, you are good at writing query letters, and if you write bad query letters, you must be a bad novelist. The implication here being that I am a bad writer since I can’t do query letters. Business is not a story, and it was this belief more so than anything that made me leave
Score: 0, the bad information overwrote the good.

Ease of use/User Interface: This is really the one area where shines, and that’s a sad thing. It’s like announcing to a girl that you have healthy gums. Good to know, yes, but if that’s really your best feature, you are kind of pathetic.

The default colors are pleasant shades of blue, which is very calming. I imagine I would have become fed up with the forum a lot sooner if it hadn’t had those nice, cool colors. It is probably skinable, but its always a plus when the default is good.

It is clearly a pre-fabricated system, which is fine. They are reliable and easy to use. The interface was generally straightforward and I never had to search for a standard feature. There were some ads, but this is the internet.
Score: 10, a very hallow victory.

Over-all User Experience: At the end of the day, I have to consider my time spent at as wasted. I did pick up a few semi-useful tidbits, but I have no way of really knowing how correct they are. While there is good information to be found on there, you pretty much have to know what the good info is ahead of time in order to separate it from the bad. If that’s the case, then what’s the point?

The people are mostly polite, but it’s the same sort of hollow politeness you see in form rejection letters from literary agents and publishers. They aren’t really being polite, just trying not to burn any bridges. The general vibe is that they still want to be able to be your friend in case you make it big.

It’s certainly not true of everyone. There are a few genuinely nice, helpful people on there. But one or two good people does not make up for the vast majority of the community.
Score: 2, because that’s how many people I met who were genuinely nice

Final Score: 22 out of 50. Since almost half of that came from the user interface, I would stay away from

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