Re: Free critical reviews.

#21

Half Wrote: I'm particularly interested in the process of critiquing the critique -- with an eye toward becoming a professional editor. As an art director, it was my job to come alongside artists (and sometimes writers) to help the creative process without trying to overwrite the artist's vision with my own tastes. That is a tricky balance and something that is a skill far beyond just being able to spot errors or generic writing advice.

I see it as a collaborative and supportive role. It isn't so much about grading (as you might think of a teacher grading correctness) and more about helping to refine the writer's vision. It really is all about helping the creator bring out their best selves.

Yes, exactly. Which is one reason I prefer to have a longer section to look at. Usually in the first five-ten chapters, especially on what is essentially an amateur publishing site, even the author doesn't know exactly what they're trying to do. It takes a while for the heart of the story to show itself, and then the task is to coax it into its best light while cutting away distractions, without making it so bare that it loses its vibrancy. 


A serialized story also isn't the same thing as a novel, not bounded in the same way, with different conventions and limitations, and I'm still only beginning to understand the underlying core to either. Still, we're nearly all beginners at some point. Maybe we can stumble through our early years and help one another on the way.
I've read so many indie/self published stories that came so close to being incredible, but just needed a strong edit to push it up that extra step from mediocrity. I want to learn how to give that push. If I could help authors make their books the best possible, I can't think of a much greater impact I could have on the world.

Re: Free critical reviews.

#23
So, I had someone private message me, asking for my help but unwilling to accept a public disclosure of the rating for fear of the story dropping in the rankings.

I said no.

If you are in a similar circumstance, don't bother asking, you will receive the same answer.

I did my best to reply reasonably, but since I have strong feelings on this matter, here's a rant:

One of the major reasons I want to write reviews, aside from my own ambitions and to study stories in general, is to provide readers with an unbiased opinion that isn't influenced by the (imho) disgusting prevalence of fluff-padding and reciprocitive 'oh yeah this story is great' reviews so heavily encouraged by authors wanting to cheat the system into rating their story better.

I fully understand: people want to win, they want to be the best; they want to be a success. Many are new to this, probably struggling, grasping at any chance to get by. But that's life. Everyone has the same barriers to face.

And dishonest, inflated reviews only hurt everyone in the long term, by systematically devaluing feedback to the point where it becomes meaningless noise. When readers can't trust reviews, that makes them less inclined to read new stories. When the star system is actively manipulated by authors selectively accepting only reviewers who'll rate them above a certain level? Sure, it may be 'nice' to help each other out, but I personally feel it's wrong and it's dishonest and it's unfair to people using the system the way it's meant to be used. That sort of authorial censorship, however gentle and implied and under the table it may be, infuriates me.

There is a reason I set up my thread and offer the way I did.


If you want to hire me as a private consultant, I have reasonable rates. I'm a hobbyist, so you get what you pay for. But if you want me to do private work for free? No. No way. Not gonna happen. Move along. I have bills too. I have dreams too. And I'm offering exactly what it says on the tin. REVIEWS. A public service for writers and readers. Not me-as-your-free-editor.

Rant over. Carry on.

Re: Free critical reviews.

#24
I have no issues with anything you said about your stance on reviews (especially as it relates to people not liking your terms). Your terms are yours to set as you see fit.

However, it is also worth keeping in mind there are two categories you seem to be interested in pursuing here:

1) Critic
2) Editor

A critic judges the relative merit of something. That is the end of their job.

An editor has to find some way to make a relationship work to get a saleable finished product. There may be a multitude of strategies that can be employed, and which one works best may be different for each creative you work with. But the most important thing to understand is once you put your editor hat on, the critic hat has to come off. Those two jobs cannot happen at the same time. The only time an editor would find themselves in the role of a critic is when they are weeding through submissions to find that diamond in the rough. The reason why is a submission reviewer is looking for excuses to reject the submission... usually as quickly as possible. Whereas as an editor, you are already committed to making the best of the talent you are assigned. You may not like the talent's work. You may even have a contentious relationship with them. However, you are obligated to make it work. A critic has none of those concerns.

As an editor, you want somebody who isn't a perfect finished product. That is your opportunity to make a real mark on the world.

Maybe another way to say it is an editor seeks potential, whereas a critic seeks perfection. An editor's service is to the story, whereas the critic's service is to the readers.

I really don't care about how many stars you give or don't give. To me, that's a useless metric. I am far more interested in what you actually have to say, and especially your suggestions for improvements. That is where the rubber meets the road.

The reason I am speaking like this is this is part of my feedback to you for your review. I am analyzing you as if you were an editor I am considering hiring. I've been in that position before (hiring for publishing companies) and I am applying those experiences now.  I would like to help you on your way to being gainfully employed in your chosen profession. Hopefully, you take what I am saying in that spirit.

Re: Free critical reviews.

#25
Yes, absolutely. I am incredibly grateful for your thoughts on the matter, especially as a professional in a related field, and I agree with basically everything you've said. You are very correct that my current choice of action is not perfectly centered on my eventual aims, but I do have multiple motivations for this thread. I want to provide reviews to readers, I want to offer feedback to writers, and I want to advance my own understanding of stories.

To be clear, as far as this thread is concerned, I am going to be acting almost solely as a critical reviewer, though I may also add proofreader notes and personal thoughts as a reader. I'm still working on the 'learn to analyze stories' phase, not the 'figure out how to fix them' phase yet. I honestly don't think I'd know how to begin suggesting fixes on the level I hope to one day attain. This is merely my first step toward that eventual end.

In reviewing stories, I hope to figure out how they fit together, seeing what works and what doesn't. And then I'll move on to the how, and the why, and only then the what to do about it. I hold no illusions that proper editing is something I could just start doing with no buildup. It will undoubtedly be years before I'm even close to qualified to act as an editor. Let alone doing it to the standard of quality that I'd aspire to uphold.

Right now, any suggestions I make should probably be given about the weight of any serious reader; I would not lay claim to any serious editorial prowess as of yet.

Re: Free critical reviews.

#27
I am far from being a proficient critical reader myself. Reading has always been my hobby, and I would like it to remain that way, so I try not to bring my critical mind to bear on writing very often. My area of expertise (such as it is) is art and storytelling through art. As such, I have spent so long looking at art with a critical eye that I find it difficult to not look at it that way now. 

Luckily for me, I was able to mentally separate Anime and Manga (and by extension Japanese Light Novels) as my hobby. Because they are so different from the style of my professional experiences, I can mostly enjoy those without the critical eye pulling me out of fan mode. Mostly.

So, to be clear, I make no pretenses at being a qualified editor (or writer). My past experiences do have some direct parallels, however. In that sense, I am more interested in commenting on the day to day professional aspects of the career rather than the technical aspects. Having said that, here are some skills to consider developing alongside the technical aspects of the job:

1) Psychology - you will need to be able to "read" a writer and understand how to get them to do what you want them to do. Herding cats is basically the job description. Being able to find the right way to communicate with a writer to get the response you want is critical. Your authority as "the boss" is actually not going to be worth all that much in the relationship, so it will be far more carrot than stick.

2) Organization - creatives can often be unorganized, and a big part of your job will be getting and keeping them organized.

3) Time management - it will be somewhat rare to find a creative who is timely and professional. Especially at the lower level publishers, where you are likely to get your career started. Much of your time will be spent on making sure others deliver on time.

All in all, it can be a pretty thankless job. You often have to work with talents you know are far from optimal (mostly due to budgetary constraints -- top-tier talent costs top-tier money, and inexperienced editors will definitely not be assigned to them). You'll likely need to prove your worth by spending an extended amount of time squeezing blood from untalented and/or unskilled stones. Going in with those realistic expectations upfront will help quite a bit in keeping your enthusiasm from withering. The rewards come in those rare moments where everything just clicks. Well, that and a paycheck, hopefully.

Even if your advice is correct and will result in a perfect final product, it doesn't do any good if you cannot get the writer to implement it, or the book never gets finished. On the other hand, even if you never give any meaningful advice (beyond basic proofreading), and are only capable of keeping the talent on a production schedule, you are likely to enjoy a long career as an editor. In the professional world, being mediocre but productive is far, far better than being brilliant but unproductive.

I'm sure all that seems cynical. However, it is absolutely the truth.

All that said, my best advice is to practice what you want to do. Don't wait until you know what you are doing. That is just procrastination and fear of failure talking. Do it now. Do it badly. That's OK. The only way to improve is to embrace the suck and keep on going. Having knowledge doesn't improve you nearly as much as having experience. Everybody is bad before they get good. In art, the saying is: you have 10,000 bad drawings you need to get out of your system before you can start producing good drawings. The most important thing is to just not stop. My experience has been the same principle applies to virtually every job. I'm applying that principle to my story right now.

You started a great idea for a practice attempt here. Take it all the way. Give advice as you would if this was your paying job. Even if it's poor advice, you will learn from the experience. It should be uncomfortable and hard for you. If it doesn't make you feel pressured, then you are likely not getting any benefit from it. An analogy I like to use is working out. If you don't feel pain and exhaustion, then you aren't gaining anything.

Re: Free critical reviews.

#28
Honestly, at this point it's terrifying just trying to look at stories differently. I love reading, and I'm somewhat afraid that if I get in too deep into analysis, I'll never again be able to fully enjoy the less proficient but still decent stories. It's already started to happen, as I see that there are flaws, but to push further and ruthlessly search out what exactly those flaws are, how and why they make a story less than great, I worry that I'll become incapable of just enjoying a story instead of automatically tearing it apart into its constituent elements.

But I do truly believe that I have the love of stories, and the capacity to see what could be improved, that if I hone those natural abilities I really could help writers be more than they'd be alone. And even if I have to sacrifice some of my own enjoyment of casual media, it seems a worthwhile tradeoff.

This is something I've thought about for years, but it was always something 'maybe someday'. But the older I get, the less 'someday' seems appealing. It'll take time to get there, and if I keep waiting for the right time to move forward, I'll die without accomplishing anything of value.

I'd be afraid of giving bad advice and ruining an author's story if they followed it, but since you are the current active to-review story on my list and I have your explicit encouragement to go all in with this, I'll gladly treat your story as a guinea pig to experiment on.

Re: Free critical reviews.

#29

Sovrin Wrote: Honestly, at this point it's terrifying just trying to look at stories differently. I love reading, and I'm somewhat afraid that if I get in too deep into analysis, I'll never again be able to fully enjoy the less proficient but still decent stories. It's already started to happen, as I see that there are flaws, but to push further and ruthlessly search out what exactly those flaws are, how and why they make a story less than great, I worry that I'll become incapable of just enjoying a story instead of automatically tearing it apart into its constituent elements.

That's what it is with me. Sometimes even if I'm trying to shut off the critical part of my brain, I will spot mistakes that most readers in this site probably wouldn't care about(ones like redundancy, passive voices, etc), and each time I do, I'd either facepalm or grit my teeth, or simply sigh. It always manages to take me out of the story...


Sovrin Wrote: But I do truly believe that I have the love of stories, and the capacity to see what could be improved, that if I hone those natural abilities I really could help writers be more than they'd be alone. And even if I have to sacrifice some of my own enjoyment of casual media, it seems a worthwhile tradeoff.

This is something I've thought about for years, but it was always something 'maybe someday'. But the older I get, the less 'someday' seems appealing. It'll take time to get there, and if I keep waiting for the right time to move forward, I'll die without accomplishing anything of value.

I'd be afraid of giving bad advice and ruining an author's story if they followed it, but since you are the current active to-review story on my list and I have your explicit encouragement to go all in with this, I'll gladly treat your story as a guinea pig to experiment on.

Don't worry. Trust yourself and you will reach your goal. And always try to keep tab of your progress because sometimes people don't realize they have already reached where they want to go. I don't know how this being an editor thing works, but maybe you can try yourself out in small, indie publishers to test your limits? Meanwhile, use all our fictions as your testsubjects. I wish you the best of luck...

Re: Free critical reviews.

#30

Sovrin Wrote: So, I had someone private message me, asking for my help but unwilling to accept a public disclosure of the rating for fear of the story dropping in the rankings.

I said no.

If you are in a similar circumstance, don't bother asking, you will receive the same answer.

I did my best to reply reasonably, but since I have strong feelings on this matter, here's a rant:

One of the major reasons I want to write reviews, aside from my own ambitions and to study stories in general, is to provide readers with an unbiased opinion that isn't influenced by the (imho) disgusting prevalence of fluff-padding and reciprocitive 'oh yeah this story is great' reviews so heavily encouraged by authors wanting to cheat the system into rating their story better.

I fully understand: people want to win, they want to be the best; they want to be a success. Many are new to this, probably struggling, grasping at any chance to get by. But that's life. Everyone has the same barriers to face.

And dishonest, inflated reviews only hurt everyone in the long term, by systematically devaluing feedback to the point where it becomes meaningless noise. When readers can't trust reviews, that makes them less inclined to read new stories. When the star system is actively manipulated by authors selectively accepting only reviewers who'll rate them above a certain level? Sure, it may be 'nice' to help each other out, but I personally feel it's wrong and it's dishonest and it's unfair to people using the system the way it's meant to be used. That sort of authorial censorship, however gentle and implied and under the table it may be, infuriates me.

There is a reason I set up my thread and offer the way I did.


If you want to hire me as a private consultant, I have reasonable rates. I'm a hobbyist, so you get what you pay for. But if you want me to do private work for free? No. No way. Not gonna happen. Move along. I have bills too. I have dreams too. And I'm offering exactly what it says on the tin. REVIEWS. A public service for writers and readers. Not me-as-your-free-editor.

Rant over. Carry on.

First of all, awesome service. I'm not sure what your qualifications are, but they must be something to offer a writing community, which hosts a variety of different styles and voices, editing assistance!


In a way, what the individual asked for and what you are discussing are two different concepts: asking for help without a review vs gaming the system to maintain a high rating. I can tell this individual in question was looking for over-the-screen writing opinions, although they might fear the rating. This isn't a hustler, trust me, ha-ha! This is actually why a lot of reviewers have standards on what they post; for example: "If I would rate below a 3.5, I don't review."

I don't think all authors look to win; there is a great deal of people that want to only improve but don't want their confidence completely crushed. 

With regards to nominal dishonest reviews, I'm not sure what you mean. Dishonest, I presume, refers to sugar-coating; and if so, that carries the same weight as a blunt review, especially when improving their skills. Avid writers need some sort of justification to continue their work, that's how it's been for centuries, which is why, as people and teachers, we bend the truth. It's to give confidence and motivation to actually do what they enjoy doing; all the same with writing. 

And as well as something you appear to be forgetting: the value of opinions. Opinions differ from person to person; so if you see something that you mightn't necessarily agree with, it's important to acknowledge that the person that offered that opinion may not share the same thoughts as you. This even goes as far as technical writing, punctuation, grammar, and structure, all things that a lot of people believe to be objective elements. But, believe it or not, each category has subjective and bias descent. Deeming it as dishonest would be a stretch, since we all have eyes.  

Oh-yeah-this-story-is-great reviews: never seen a review swap that bland, honestly. But they probably exist; most reviews on this site aren't like that, only a handful. People try to be as objective as they can, which is why there is no perfect truth to what makes a story good. It all depends on the eyes that perceive it. 

The way the system is meant to be used: It's meant to improve the authors work as well as encourage them to improve. This is why we bend the truth. An entirely to-the-bone review does as much as a totally sugar-coated review. One discourages and one encourages. It's important to remember that most of the novels on this site are not complete, and might not ever be; they are simply there for enjoyment and passion. For those that want to have a career in writing, the same rules apply: take the truth, tell it, bend it, mould it in a way that encourages and helps them improve. 

All this work is free, at the end of the day. The price, as you insinuate, is an "honest, blunt opinion". In other words: your opinion. The way it is worded suggests that your word might carry more weight than the people who left nicer feedback, which is not the case.

All in all: positive feedback is not necessarily dishonest (in fact, it likely isn't) and doesn't just equate to gaming the system. Vice versa. 

Good luck with this though!
peoapproval



Re: Free critical reviews.

#38
I've been writing for quite a while, so over time, I'm glad to say that I have received a lot of good feedback. But I have gone far past the early chapters that gained the bulk of critical attention, so if it would be possible, it would be very helpful to receive criticism for later chapters as well.

It's a sci fi story with a lot of slice of life and frequent mecha action.
https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/23547/a-super-robot-story