01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Peer review websites for budding authors 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Peer review websites for budding authors


Has anyone out there, or any budding novel writers in any case, ever tried the various peer review websites online?  I am finding the system absolutely exasperating!!  The two websites I know are;  'You Write On'  http://www.youwriteon.com/  (click here), and , 'Authonomy' http://www.authonomy.com/ (click here).  Both sites are sponsored by major publishers (Authonomy - Harper Collins, You Write On - various publishers Orion and Random House)

The idea is that you join the website, upload the opening chapters of your book, or the equivalent of around 6,000 words, then start exchanging reviews in order to gain credits for your book so that it can then get 'ranked' in relation to all of the others that have been uploaded by budding writers on the same site. 

The Authonomy system I discounted on the basis that it seems to be more of a popularity/marketing contest.  From what I understand (after reading quite a few forums on the topic), you have to campaign like crazy among all the other members who are signed up on the Authonomy site, plus all the friends and family that you can muster to join too, even the vaguest Facebook acquaintances - then get them all to review your story.  If you get lots of reviews, then you get to the top of the list.  I thought this was biased.  What if I don't have any friends?

I decided on signing up for http://www.youwriteon.com/ because it seemed like more of a fair system.  You review somebody else's work, rate their chapters for theme, dialogue, character, pace of story etc. from one to five, write a review of at least 100 words, then undertake to do a short comprehension test (just to make sure you haven't cheated).  This way you earn a 'reading credit'.  This credit is then allocated to a 'peer' who does the same for you.  Once you have 8 reviews, you wait in anticipation to see if you have made it into the coveted 'Top Ten' position.  If you have - then perhaps the holy grail beckons!  Your chapters will be reviewed by a professional publisher or agent.  No promises mind, but this could be a stepping stone to publication, wealth, fortune, adulation - okay - I admit that I'm getting carried away here!

In fact it's the second time that I've put myself through this most tortuous of  'You Write On' processes.  The first time I wrote a fiction book.  Some people loved it (heart leaps with joy) others - not so much (heart sinks...despair).  I wound up with a rating of 3.7 stars out of a maximum 5.  Not enough to get myself into the top ten, methinks.  So I gave up.  About 2 years later I return, (just picture an enthusiastic puppy with newspaper in mouth) - to upload my next attempt. 

A major reason for re-embarking on the You Write On site again, was because I sent out my sample chapters to a publisher (Harper Collins) and two agents (Conville & Walsh and Caroline Sheldon) recently and got rejections.

So - it went something like this; the first two You Write On reviews are pretty upbeat.  I'm encouraged.  3 and 4 were more 'so, so'.  But review number 5 was the ultimate in writer's dressing down.  A detailed analysis of what failed, what didn't work.  "you have a great story hidden somewhere here but...." then comes a hugely long list of problems.  My star rating this time was 3.9 - still significantly better than last time, however, I couldn't stop thinking about what 'Malcolm' had said, and decided to review my chapters - re-upload them and all over start again with the rating system - hopefully attaining something in the '4 point somethings' which might even get me into the top 10?!  (However, as far as I know, there's no way of telling how many 'stars' the current top ten book submissions were awarded - so am not sure how many you need to qualify).

Now don't forget, time is running out.  It was a gamble.  I'd have to start from scratch, reviewing other people's work like crazy in order to get enough credits to qualify for 'ranking' at the end of the month.  Undeterred I changed the chapters, keeping Malcolm's comments in mind - then started all over again - doing reviews of other people's work - banking credits, waiting for peer reviews (notifications are emailed through to you).  Plus I rated everyone else work pretty highly (the standard is pretty high), then I kick myself realising that perhaps by doing so, I'm scuppering my chances!  Is everyone else realising this too then marking others down?

By the way, the YouWriteOn reviewing system is both draining and time consuming.  From bitter experience, I can tell you that there's nothing worse than rating a book, writing a review, then failing the reading test because the questions set by the author are too obscure.  Zero credits banked, two hours wasted.  I now painstakingly copy all the manuscripts into Word on my computer, so that I can refer back to the chapters in question and therefore pass the reading test that might have asked;
"Was 'Sarah' Maggie's....great aunt, step aunt, aged aunt or granny?" 
Meanwhile, you're thinking, Sarah was just old, I forget what kind of relation she was to Maggie - I still think it's a good story though!! 
So you get the picture.

Again, the reviewed chapters were initially doing okay, and I was encouraged.  First two reviews - great!  second, not so enthusiastic 'there's a great story hidden in here' (I've been here before!), fourth - pretty bloody nit-picking if you don't mind me saying so.  To add insult to injury - after 4 reviews I find that my star rating for the revised manuscript has dropped to 3.6!!!!  Worst ever rating so far!!  I am actually dropping instead of climbing the charts.  Oh dear.  Disaster.

I've also hit on a problem.  I'm getting used to taking criticism on the nose and I hope I'm not being too egotistical here - but, through bitter experience, I've found that it's the men who are most critical of all and bring my ratings down - but my book is clearly targeted for women - so hang on a minute, what's happening here?!  What women readers might describe as 'atmospheric' or 'evocative' men will describe as 'a lot of unnecessary detail that detracts from the story.' 

It's all heartbreaking I can tell you.  Am close to giving up.  Who wants to write a silly old book anyway?! 

I love the quote: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  Then quit.  No use being a damn fool about it."  WC Fields, quoted in The Guardian.
If you want to have a look and see what you think, then you'll find my chapters here under 'Another Day in Paradise' by Africa Expat.  (click on the link below to read sample chapters).


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