Scribophile, The Ubergroup, and BetaBooks

Please read “How to find critique partners” first.

Scribophile

If you do use Scribophile (or any other website) I encourage you to create a pseudonym. The sign-up instructions tell you not to, and I took them seriously, but most everyone uses a pseudonym and you won’t get in trouble if you do. This is because you will make mistakes and piss off people and you don’t want to inadvertently piss off the wrong person and kill your career before you start.

Scribophile is based on karma points. Basically, you can post a recommended 3000 words at a time. It costs 5 karma to do so. You earn karma by critiquing the works of other people. The longer your critique is, the more karma you get. A 2000 word critique might earn you 3 karma, whereas a 125 word critique will only net you the base award of 1 karma. That means you must critique in order to get critiques. Many new people complain about that. I was an arrogant ass when I started there and I didn’t complain about it–and this was before I recognized the benefit of critiquing.

If you sign up for Scribophile and you need a basic primer (and you probably will; it can be confusing for newbies), there’s a nice article called “The Unofficial Guide to Scribophile.” It’s a good place to start. You want to start reading at “The Community” header. You can also PM me on Scribophile; I use the same name there as here. I can’t place you in a group or make things easy for you, and I very, very likely will not agree to critique your work, but I can help you figure things out.* If enough people ask, I’ll even post Scribophile FAQ article here.

There are forums for general chatter and there are groups you can join. For example, there’s the Novel Exchange group, where you can find someone to crit your whole novel in exchange for critting theirs. There’s the Fight Club group, where you discuss writing fight scenes and critiques focus solely on those. There are groups for writers from England, groups for writers over 40, etc. etc. Lots of groups. Find some groups, join them, and make friends. The crits will come.

That said, it takes a while to form your own personal crit team. It took me about six months to find a group that worked for me, and then another six months to find a team that I was compatible with. (Groups can be very large; teams should be just the people you’re actually exchanging crits with. I have the bad habit of calling teams ‘groups.’)

I won’t go too far into how Scribophile works, but I will briefly discuss the spotlight thing because that’s what trips most people up.

When you pay the five karma to post a work for critique, you must select a ‘spotlight’ to put it in. If you critique a work that’s actively in a spotlight, you get a lot of karma for it. If you critique a work that’s not in an active spotlight, you get hardly any karma for it. That encourages people to critique works that are in spotlights, and it encourages writers to re-post their works in spotlights once they fall out. (Note: you don’t need to create a whole new upload to re-post your work. You just visit “your posted writing” under “menu” and select “put back in line for spotlight.”)

Before you find your very own personalized crit team or build your friends base (your “favorites”) via exchanging crits, you’ll want to keep your works in the “main” spotlight. This ensures that everyone on Scribophile can see and critique them. However, it’s expensive because you only get 3 full-karma crits per spotlight, and as a new member you don’t have much karma to spend. Make friends quickly. (I’m an anti-social introvert and I made friends quickly. So can you.)

Once you make your friends/team, change to the “personal” spotlight. This gives you six full-karma critiques, but only makes your work available to people you’re friends with or who are in groups with you. This is a really good idea because there are people of all sorts of skill level on Scribophile, and you don’t want one of your full-karma spots taken by someone who drives by, reads Chapter 22 in your WIP, leaves a critique that’s punctuation-only, and complains that he doesn’t understand what your story is about. While those people are rare, once you’ve been on Scribophile often enough you will get one of those and it will piss you off. My work is now restricted to a small number of groups and I rarely get critiques from people I don’t know. My current crit group has three active members in it, so that means they can each critique the work twice before I have to pay karma to put it back into a spotlight. This was especially helpful when I was trying to figure out how to start Joana.

If you want to post your outline, background, world-building, your magic system, or anything else that doesn’t need to be critiqued but should be online for your crit team to reference, select the “beta read” spotlight. It costs you no karma, but it also doesn’t give anyone who does critique that work any karma in return.

I encourage you to Google Scribophile and read the several articles about it out there on the Internet. They’ll tell you the good and the bad.

The Ubergroup

The Scrib group I ended up joining is called The Ubergroup. The website’s a bit out-of-date, but the group itself is extremely active. Folks are too busy writing and critting to update websites. The Ubergroup is a collection of crit teams arranged by genre, theme, tone, or crit style.

Because I write ‘darker’ themes, I ended up on a team called Noir Are We Normal. The members of my team are currently writing horror, SF/thriller, and urban fantasy. Recently we’ve had members who’ve written historical fantasy optioned for HBO, antiquities-era historical fantasy, paranormal romance, and psychological thriller. This is one reason why you should try your hardest to be conversant in as many genres as possible. My team’s core members have been together for several years now and we’ve each put at least one entire WIP (alpha draft) through the group. Ours is a good example of a team based on tone; not a lot of people enjoy critiquing content that comes with trigger warnings, so when The Ubergroup gets someone whose writing comes with trigger warnings, they’re typically sent in our direction.

Other groups include a very large team called Ampersand, which is broken into smaller teams of about 3-5 members. They do romance of all kinds. There’s a memoir team, a literary fiction team, fantasy teams, many YA and MG teams, etc.

There are all different skill levels in The Ubergroup; in order to join you have to have a professional attitude and be able to follow directions. You don’t have to write well. That said, we have several trad-published members, including a person who received a six-figure advance last year or the year before, and at least one indie-published member who supports himself on his Amazon book sales.

The Ubergroup runs by different rules that Scribophile does. Note: The Ubergroup is a subset of Scribophile. The one is contained within the other. In Scribophile you never, ever discuss critiques or your crit partnership in the forums. All crit discussion is handled through PMs. The forums are moderated, but critiques are not. If someone gives you a bad critique, you hit the “bad critique” flag at the bottom, and Alex (the site owner) evaluates the critique. If he thinks it’s bad, he gives you your spotlight spot back and takes the earned karma from the other person. I think he sends them a note, too, explaining what happened. Usually crits are flagged ‘bad’ for attempting to game the system; for example, I’d heard that someone posted chunks of the Gettysburg Address in a critique in an effort to gain more karma. If you’re an honest person, you have nothing to worry about.

The Ubergroup is moderated. That means that there are people who you can go to if your team members are being obnoxious, if there are personality clashes, or if their crits, while acceptable to Scribophile in general, aren’t up to snuff. The Ubergroup requires all critique discussions to be held in the public team threads in their forum, where moderators can see them, because we feel that people behave better when they speak publicly. If a member complains about another member’s critiques, the moderators read the critique in question to determine if the problem is one of tone (the crit is fine but the person receiving it is offended by the way it’s worded) or of content (the crit is superficial and the critiquer needs either a nudge to improve or extra training in how to give good crits). If Person A and Person B have a spat, three uninvolved moderators will read over everything and try to determine what’s going on. Usually it’s a miscommunication and we iron it out. When it’s a bad personality mix, we try to find both long-term and short-term solutions that are acceptable to everyone. Rarely we find we’ve accepted someone who breaks the only absolute rule: don’t be an asshole. Those people are usually shown the door. That happens roughly once a year. If you can’t behave professionally, you can’t play with us. Moderators also help new members find their first UG team and answer all their questions. (Many people in UG are on more than one team.)

Absolutely nothing has been of more use to me than joining The Ubergroup and finding my crit partners there. It was more useful than joining Scribophile, which is probably the second-most useful thing that improved my writing. I learned how to properly critique through my experiences in The Ubergroup because they’re considerably more organized and focused than Scribophile-at-Large, which is mostly a place where you can find critique partners and nothing more.

BetaBooks

BetaBooks is a website created by Scribophile members to make the beta read process easier. When you have completed your entire WIP and want to find beta readers, you can post it there. You should have a pitch already written. People will sign up to read your work. BetaBooks is free for readers and has a free tier “for newer authors who don’t have a large reader group yet.” There are more features on the paid tier, but you probably won’t need them until you’re well into your career. It’s a members-only site, a necessity if you want to protect your copyright. You can both post a beta for reading and read someone else’s beta, though you don’t have to do the one in order to do the other.

Basically, you upload your WIP in chapter-long chunks, then you send out your pitch to your readers. You can find readers through their Directory, or you can send the link to your friends who have volunteered to read your work. (They must make accounts in order to access your work, but their accounts are free.) You can set up how you want your feedback to be delivered. Say you want people to fill out a questionnaire. No problem. Maybe you want inline reader response. OK. Whatever works.

I prefer BetaBooks to sending out Word docs or Google Docs for a number of reasons.

  • You can filter feedback by key words. If you’re looking for what confuses your readers, search by the word “confused” or “confusing.” It will pull up all instances of that word from your reader responses.
  • It tracks where people stop reading. A lot of the time, beta readers will put a MS down and walk away. They may not be bored, but your book isn’t keeping their interest. If most of your readers aren’t getting past Chapter 9, BetaBooks will tell you and you can look into what’s happening in Chapter 9. No need to hunt your beta readers down and force them to tell you where and why they dropped your book.
  • It’s easy to upload your WIP and then send out one link. No need to email individual files to individual people every couple of weeks.

That said, I haven’t used BetaBooks much because I’m going to finish all 5 books in my series before I beta any of them. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on it in a few years.

*I very likely won’t critique your work because I barely have time to do my own writing, not because I dislike you or think I’m better than you. Teaching is a full-time job. I have a family I share a house with that wants to see me daily. I have several current crit partners whom I wouldn’t dream of stinting. And I’m a moderator for Ubergroup and have duties there.

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