Commenting and Critiquing Etiquette

Created about 3 years ago by Wesley Reid with 18 comments
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Picture Joseph Asphahani · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 8 likes
I’d really appreciate it if authors who spend the time reading another author’s work could highlight the text and leave a comment - specifically addressing any confusion they may be having or offering suggestions for improvement. 

In my experience, I’ve probably read through 15-20 authors’ first/second chapters (and counting!), and I always leave as many comments as I think are necessary. A lot of times, if the author’s done some amazing worldbuilding - nice and compact, not forced exposition, and then just seamlessly takes us back to the action - I leave a comment about how awesome it is, PLUS I point out my thought process for HOW it’s awesome. (For example, @Jaye Milius "Terminus" sticks out in my mind for being really good at worldbuillding in the posted chapter.) For me, leaving comments is a learning experience, for myself as much as for the benefit of the author (whether I’m right or wrong, I just like to get my thought process out in the open).

My comments are never "negative." I never say "this sucks" or something like that. BUT I definitely point out parts that I think are weak and proceed to explain as best I can WHY I found them to be. Maybe it’s some important detail above that I missed/misread that’s leading to the confusion. Fine... might be my fault. Or even still, in that scenario, it might be because that crucial detail wasn’t strong enough to stand out. Again, it’s like a learning process. I would say that’s the guiding rule for comment etiquette - treat it like a LEARNING PROCESS. I’m willing to bet that there’s NO author on Inkshares who thinks they’re an expert on writing. I don’t consider myself one. Writers, by most definition, are people who suffer from crippling self-doubt, right? :D  We’re always second guessing ourselves, right? If you leave a comment and make your INTENTION TO LEARN / HELP clear, whether the comment is positive or negative, then I think the comments system can be of mutual benefit. 

Just my two cents. :D

Oh, and for %^&*’s sakes... Please don’t point out misplaced modifiers or punctuation mistakes. That’s just nitpicky. I think a lot of your credibility as a commentor will go down the toilet if you get hung up on stuff like that. (...Unless you can zoom in on a specific grammatical error that’s led to ambiguity in meaning.  But even still... Tread cautiously with grammar comments.)
Jebnbubl P.H. James · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 1 like
@Robert Batten Glad to see you made your way over to Scribophile.  I think you’ll quickly see how great it is.  I managed to get 6 critiques in less than 24 hours.  All but one of them were incredibly thorough and constructive.  Their feedback has helped me tighten up my chapter, and even given me some great developmental suggestions.  I’m looking forward to seeing what folks there think of Human Resources.  Buckle up!
Batten003 web400px Robert Batten · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 1 like
Great conversation!

I’ve been using both DM’s and comments on excerpts. As others have noted, many of my comments such as "this piece could use re-wording" have gone into DMs, but not all (it is very convenient to highlight a section and add a comment). The general rule of thumb I have applied (not always consistently) is:

1. Positive comments on excerpts, regardless of status of the book.
2. Constructive criticism only on draft books (Unless the author of a funding book has done something to indicate they are looking for constructive feedback).
3. Moderate the feedback I give based on the author (e.g. hard edits only for authors who have told me they want that).

I’ll be checking out scribophile.

18278952 10105531439962004 7699412381249820269 o Evan Graham · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 3 likes
It’s kind of just the nature of the beast that people are generally going to be really positive with their critiques unless specifically asked not to be. At least for people who are currently funding, anyway. We want as many new followers as we can get, so we don’t really want to step on each others’ toes and make people mad at us.
It’s kind of an unfortunate inevitability. Some people may say they want harsh criticism when they’re really overconfident in their story and can’t see there being much to critique, then when it comes in they still get defensive and take it personally.
I, for one, welcome criticism of the most brutal variety. I’m not here to push my vanity project, I’m here to get a story ready for readers and to land it on bookshelves. A lot of people see it that way too, but when you’re critiquing someone else who you don’t know personally, it’s hard to tell what kind of criticism they’re willing to take.
Iys qkgj alex maher · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 1 like
Hi everyone. I’m new round these parts, but I’ve been part of the Scribophile community for a while. I’d absolutely second what @Wesley Reid and @P.H. James said. It’s a ’safe’ place to get your work critiqued, honest and fair. It’s also a good place to grow a thick skin and shed your ego. I know I certainly did ;-)

Dragon Nell Walton · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 1 like
I listened to that podcast on alpha readers.  Very good information.
Dragon Nell Walton · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 3 likes
Scathing critiques say more about the one giving the criticism than the work being criticized I believe.  I have been on the receiving end of that too many times myself and it is not helpful in the least.
Picture Amanda Orneck · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 4 likes
It really depends on the approach of the commenter.  I’ve had plenty of critical comments on my projects, but I am not sure if that’s because of a persona the person was trying to exude or if they really disliked my book enough to rip it to pieces. I will say that I tend to leave both types of comments, because I like to help authors improve -- especially when they ask for feedback. In the past authors really appreciated my tactfully pointing out elements of their samples that could be approved up. Again, it is all in the intent of the commenter.  Scathing critique doesn’t really help writers only demoralizes them, and it certainly doesn’t help funding projects get more orders.
Picture Wesley Reid · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 1 like
That’s a good point to bring up! Our purpose here is more as alpha readers than beta readers, for sure. I think every author and author’s friend would benefit from listening to the Writing Excuses podcast on alpha readers. And I’ll get in the habit of PMing authors if I want to share my thoughts. Thank you!
Picture Rick Heinz · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 6 likes
Leave the positive stuff on the campaign page, but by all means PM the author if you catch something. Mine had a few tweaks that I fixed that way. In a way, crowd-sourcing puts many more eyes on your novel and work than you alone will ever catch. 

But, largely, just pm the author. Not only is that good practice, it helps you form an actual relationship. If a book manages to fund, it will go through extensive editing by people actually being paid to do that. Look at the one or two sample chapters tossed up as sort of a ’beta’ draft of a book for an idea. 

If you find yourself judging commas... you are barking up the wrong tree as 99.9% of the drafts on inkshares haven’t been through copy editing yet. 
Dragon Nell Walton · Author · added about 3 years ago
I so agree with all these comments.  Very wise advice here.  And I will check out scribophile.
Picture Wesley Reid · Author · edited about 3 years ago · 2 likes

@P.H. James I’m actually familiar with Scribophile! It’s definitely a good way to get eyes on your draft if that’s what your looking for.

I definitely hope to see more activities like Draftshares in the future, and incentives from Inkshares itself would be pretty fantastic! For me, right now, the incentive to critique on Inkshares lies in building awareness. I’m working on a draft of my own novel, but before I ever post it I want as many Inksharers as possible to know that I care about the success of the site and my fellow authors as much as I care about quality writing.

Jebnbubl P.H. James · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 6 likes

The way things are now, I agree with Christopher. 

Funding authors tend to be the most active, and therefore the most visible.  So funding books naturally tend to draw the most attention and get the most exposure - which is a good thing and totally makes sense.  The understandably sympathetic reluctance to leave criticism on funding books sort of bleeds over onto drafts.  Also, authors here are really considerate, and don’t want to unintentionally discourage another author.  So it can be challenging for an active Drafter to draw attention, and organically get criticism from people browsing, or even those that follow your book.     

Plus, critiquing takes time.  Not only does a draft need to garner someone’s interest, but that person also has to be invested enough to take the time to provide constructive criticism.  Most important, there’s no real incentive to critique.  That’s why DraftShares was such a great idea. 

I bring up incentive because I was recently introduced to the site Scribophile (this is not intended to be an ad, just a resource I wanted to share).  They have a system where you earn points for giving solicited critiques that you can use to post your own work for feedback, and earn things like having your book featured.  It appears to be a robust community where people are pretty honest.  I suggest checking it out if you’re looking for an option to get your work thoroughly reviewed.  I’m definitely going to give it try

Sometime in the future, I think it would be of value for Inkshares to have some sort of similar, formal system of solicitation and incentive for critiques.  I wouldn’t think they have the resources to try something like that right now.  But as the site grows, it’s something I would personally love to eventually see.  I think that knowing there was an incentive to give and receive feedback would draw more authors, who would then potentially move on to the funding phase with a much stronger draft – hopefully increasing the chance of funding success. 

I would love to know what everyone else thinks.    

Picture Wesley Reid · Author · added about 3 years ago

@Nell Walton I like to think of myself as the voice of the masses ;)

@Christopher Huang and @M. Robert Randolph Thank you very much for those responses! Having a hard rule of "don’t critique books that are funding" is definitely a good suggestion.   

Mrr black n white crop M. Robert Randolph · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 4 likes
I agree with Christopher’s comment. I came to the same conclusion on my own through experience. Better to critique drafts. And also I tend to look for wording such as "feel free to comment / give feedback." If I don’t see that then I will only highlight stuff I really liked--especially if it’s funding.
Dragon Nell Walton · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 2 likes
I am so glad someone asked this question.
Cxh300 Christopher Huang · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 7 likes
Part of it depends on the author, I think, but as a general rule it seems preferred that critiques be done privately. This is especially true for excerpts currently in the funding phase, since negative comments (however constructive) draw attention to issues both real and perceived, and affect how visitors view the project. I’d like to say that anything goes for a project that’s still in the draft stage, since that stage is supposedly for people to perfect their project pitch, but there again, it’s always best to be constructive.
Picture Wesley Reid · Author · edited almost 3 years ago · 2 likes

As I’ve been exploring Inkshares and reading drafts, I’ve noticed plenty of positive comments, but almost no critiques or comments about areas where a draft could be improved. Positive feedback is wonderful, and I would never post a critique that mocked or discouraged a fellow writer, but I’ve always considered giving and recieving critiques to be an important part of growing and improving as a writer.

At this point, I’m wondering if there’s just a particular way we go about it here on Inkshares. Are critiques offered and recieved only via private messaging? Do we only critique authors who specifically ask for it via forums or in their blurb? Or are critiques considered bad form altogether?

Thank you for your time and consideration! Write on!