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Superheroes and Landmines: How (Not) to Respond to Critiques

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     There are dozens of articles on finding a critique partner and loads of suggestions on how to critique, but there isn’t much information about responding to critiques of your writing. In this post, we’ll outline the most common bad behaviors and personality types of critique receivers and show you how to gracefully handle both compliments and criticism.

The Playground Superhero

     Did you ever pretend to be a superhero when you were little? There always seemed to be one kid who didn’t understand how to play the game. If he picked super strength and you hit him with lightning, he decided he was also invisible. If you tried to freeze him, then he could teleport even when frozen.
     The writing equivalent is an author who apparently already knows his own mistakes, but doesn’t bother to fix them. If you point out an inconsistency in character names, he says it’s just a typo. If you comment on a major plot hole, he says he was going to rewrite that part anyway. If you wonder when the main character got a talking dog, he says he already plans to put something about that in the beginning.
     The playground superhero usually ended up playing by himself. If you copy his bad behaviors with your critique partners, you might end up alone, too.

Avoid Being A Playground Superhero:

  • Fix all mistakes and problem areas before submitting your work for critiquing.
  • Let critiquers know about any major problems before they review (“I know I need to introduce the talking dog in the beginning. Right now, I’m looking for suggestions on making the dog a likable character.”).
  • Say “Thank you!” if someone points out an obvious typo.

The Invisible Author

     This writer is most commonly seen on forums, message boards, and anywhere online where posts can be deleted. The author doesn’t start as invisible. She posts a large text sample for critique and asks for helpful hints. All feedback is welcome! She is really looking forward to improving her writing.
     However, when she actually gets useful suggestions and reasoned criticism, she deletes her post and often vanishes from the forum. She might resurface later, claiming she was driven away by grammar nazis, elitist editors, or trolls. The real reason? She didn’t want concrete criticism, just soft-focus praise.
      Let’s be clear here: there is a difference between abusive messages (“Your writing makes me want to stab my eyes out”) and helpful– yet non-praising– messages (“The imagery in the first paragraph is contradictory and jarring”). Harassment should be reported, and legitimate help should be rewarded.

Avoid Being an Invisible Author:

  • Identify what you really want. It is absolutely okay to simply want praise, but critique circles are not the place for it.
  • Postpone posting your work in a public forum if you don’t feel comfortable opening yourself up to specific, potentially painful feedback.
  • Do not delete your post! Bookmark it and come back in a few months (or few years) to see if maybe those trolls were right.

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2012 Recap and 2013 Writing Resolutions

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      We’re a few days late with our year-end blog post (mostly because Lila has been sick since last year), but now we’re ready to share some stats, thank our supporters, and make some writing resolutions for 2013.

Where We’ve Been

      The first post on PopularSoda was March 26th, 2012. Since then, we’ve had 28 posts, 77 real comments, and 1,547 spam comments. Our most active commenter was erotica author Antoinette M. Anne R. Allen, Simon Crump, and Roxanne Crouse were also active on the site. Pete Ingham was an amazing help in launching PopularSoda and we are so grateful for his help. Thank you, and all our commenters and friends, for your feedback, experiences, and opinions.

In 2012, PopularSoda had visitors from 76 countries.

In 2012, PopularSoda had visitors from 76 countries.

      Our most popular post of 2012 was What the Guardian (and Ewan Morrison) Got Wrong About Ebooks. Fun fact: Lila wrote this post in the wee hours of morning after staying out all night at a friend’s birthday party.

      We’re most proud of the international makeup of our audience: we had visitors from 76 countries.

Where We’re Going

      We plan to be even bigger and better in 2013. Here are our writing goals and resolutions:

  • Post more frequently and on a regular schedule
  • Host guest posters (if you’d like to write a guest post for us, contact admin@popularsoda.com)
  • Continue to work with our ebook friends while getting to know new players in the ebook game
  • Foster a sense of community by highlighting independent, self-publishing ebook authors who are doing it right
  • Create free, useful, and crowd-sourced resources for independent authors
  • Improve and update our Facebook page
  • Stop editing all of our images in Paint to avoid giving heart attacks to our graphic-designer friends
  • Finally explain the deal with all those soda bottles!

      We’re grateful to all those who connected with us in 2012, and we can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring! 

Why You Should Pay for Duotrope (and How You Can Win a Subscription!)

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      If you haven’t heard the news, Duotrope, a popular site for tracking literary submissions, is moving to a paid model in January. Under the new pay structure, you can buy a year-long membership for $50, or purchase individual months at $5 each.

      Naturally, people were not pleased with the news. Who wants to pay for something if you’ve gotten it for free for years? Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie and Duotrope can no longer survive on donations alone. Duotrope must start charging for membership, or it will disappear entirely.

      It’s not all bad news, though. There are good reasons to pay for Duotrope, and the new model might actually benefit you.

The Price

      First, let’s take a look at the price. Once the sticker shock fades away, you’re left with the hard numbers. You can pay $5 a month, or $50 a year, which works out to $4.17 per month.

      That’s less than the price of a large frappucino, and unlike the frappucino, you can enjoy a Duotrope membership for more than fifteen minutes. Put another way: if you saved a quarter during each weekday in 2013, you would be able to pay for a year’s membership and 1/3 of next year’s membership.

      Fifty dollars a year breaks down to fourteen cents a day. Though there are people who cannot afford that, it is well within the reach of many aspiring authors. The new price model also allows for gift subscriptions, which means friends and family can help support your writing (without writing those suspicious-sounding reviews). 

The Statistics

      Some writers are concerned that Duotrope’s statistics will become less useful when the data pool shrinks. Duotrope itself addressed these concerns, and they expect their statistics to become more accurate. It turns out that the people who submit frequent, valid reports are also likely to be donators to and active users of the site.
      Though the number of total Duotrope users will drop, Duotrope will retain the most helpful contributors. This isn’t an unfounded assumption: by tracking membership pre-orders, Duotrope has already accounted for 51,000 submission reports and seen a decrease of 92% in unreliable data.

      Unlike scientific studies where a bigger sample size is almost always better, reliable data is the heart of Duotrope. To an extent, there are right and wrong answers. Claiming a one-day wait before reporting a submission as “never responded” is not helpful for anyone. The new subscription model discourages erroneous reporting from single-submission users.

Your Writing Career

      We’ve said before: if you want to make money from your writing, you have to treat it like a business. Duotrope now joins the ranks of Scrivener, writing magazine subscriptions, nice pens, and notebooks as useful writer tools. You certainly don’t need any fancy extras to be a writer, but these tools increase your productivity and open your eyes to new markets.

      The new membership structure could gel well with your personal style. Month-to-month memberships can light a fire under procrastinators. If you know you only have a week left to use the site, you might enjoy scrambling to submit before the deadline. If you’re hesitant to pay for the service, that might work in your favor, too. You might end up submitting more stories to justify the price and feel like you got your money’s worth.

      Whether submitting under deadline or submitting due to buyer’s remorse, increased queries in targeted markets can only help your writing career.

      You might examine all the angles and still decide that Duotrope isn’t right for you. That’s fine, too. We’re not demanding that every writer must get a subscription. We’re just asking you to consider things besides cost.

Do you want to win a six-month subscription to Duotrope?

Share this post, then comment below explaining how you would use your subscription, why you would like the subscription, or how Duotrope has helped you in the past. Be sure to use the same name for both the share and the comment. The contest will run until January 10th, 2013. A random winner will be selected from all valid entries and the winner will be notified by January 15th, 2013. This is a PopularSoda contest and not affiliated with Duotrope.

Ebook Basics Class Handouts

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      Last weekend, Lila went out into the “real” world to educate the public about ebooks at the OCH Art Market. If you couldn’t make it to New Orleans for the class, don’t worry! Here are the class handouts for you to download and share. 

Editors and Designers

Payment FAQ

Why Self Publishing

Got more ebook questions? Ask us on Twitter @popular_soda or email admin@popularsoda.com 

How to Save Your Writing (and Your Sanity)

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Q: How many writers have lost months or years of work due to computer problems?

A: Too many.

     This isn’t a joke– it’s a scary possibility (or reality) for anyone who depends on their computer to store their work. All writers should back up their work in multiple places. We’ve put together a list of the most common ways to save and store your writing. Ideally, you’d use each method. Please, for your sake, use at least one.

 

Note:  This article focuses on backing up text files and writing work, not videos or photos for personal use.

Online

      Both Dropbox and Google Drive have a free, basic plan that allows you to back up your work. These services let you access your work from any computer or supported mobile device. Here’s a handy chart for a quick overview of their different features.

      You can sign up for both services and use them for different purposes. Lila uses Google Drive for sharing and editing while Dropbox runs in the background to save any late-night ramblings or half-finished work.

PS: If you sign up for Dropbox through our referral link, we’ll both get an extra 500MB of storage.

 

Offline

      External harddrives and USB flash drives can keep your work safe in a different way. They provide a separate physical location (other than your main computer) for the storage of your work. The main problem with these items is that they’re susceptible to everything that kills computers: water, power surges, equipment malfunction, dropping, fire, bullets, lightning strikes, etc. And unlike Dropbox and Google Drive, these devices won’t automatically update. You’ll have to manually copy files to these external storage sources.

      USB flash drives and external harddrives can be useful if you want to back up your work but lack internet access (or visit somewhere that doesn’t have internet access). Also, USB sticks are cheap: you can usually find 8GB sticks for less than $10, and you might even find USB flash drives for two or three dollars during a sale.

      Of course, there’s always one last offline option: hard copies. If you want to feel like a spy, print out your manuscript and keep it in a safe deposit box. For a more realistic (and cheaper) alternative, print out a few copies. Keep one at your place and ask friends or family members to hold the others. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a fire- and water-proof safe. You’ll be able to securely store any writing work as well as delicate or important personal objects.

      The cost of printing hard copies can be prohibitively expensive for prolific (or graphomanic) writers. You can try to minimize cost by printing out only specific documents or using tricks to fit more words on a single page, like decreasing the font size, using a thin font like Arial Narrow, widening the margins, and putting poems into column. It’s a lot of work, but remember: hard copies are always compatible, no matter what happens to computer software.

Got ebook questions? Send them to admin@popularsoda.com. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share it!

Why You Need to Trash More Writing (and How NaNoWriMo Can Help)

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This is an opinion piece by Lila Moore, founder of PopularSoda.com


      I’ve said before that if you want to make money writing, you have to treat it like a business. Let’s add something else to that:

      If you want to perfect your writing as an art form, treat it like art.

      That looks pretty, but what does it actually mean?

      It means you need to write things and then throw them out. A lot of them. And often.

      In writing communities, I often see writers post snippets and bits of stories, wondering if it’s worth finishing or if it was even a good idea in the first place. It’s always worth finishing. It’s not always worth publishing. Voluntarily and creatively writing will strengthen your ability.

      You can learn from everything you write, even if you never show it to anyone else. I wrote a novel when I was thirteen and promptly lost it in a computer crash. But I learned. I found that I had the drive to complete a full-length manuscript, and I realized that you should never keep all your writing in one place. During a train ride from Boston to NYC, I wrote a quick (and admittedly terrible) story about vampires versus aliens. The story was a joke, but I learned that I could pump out a lot of words on a deadline. I write poems to my friend in Japan that follow the rhyme scheme of a certain pop song. The limited structure forces me to be creative in a way that free verse does not.

      I have hundreds of half-songs and paragraphs and little ideas and I learn from all of them (even if I’m learning what NOT to do).

      There seems to be such a focus on making things perfect for publication. Publication may be the goal, but you aren’t going to get there without a strong skill set. You improve your writing through practice.  Not every painting is a well-publicized masterpiece, not every song makes it onto the final album, and not every scene is saved from the cutting room floor. And like ice skaters falling on their bums and skateboarders wiping out, you’re going to make mistakes, but that’s okay.

      You’re just writing. Not publishing. 

      One of my favorite musical artists, Tori Amos, calls the process “noodling around”. She’ll sit at her piano and play without actively working on a defined song. Other musicians call it jamming. Visual artists doodle in notebooks. What’s the equivalent for writers?

      Do you noodle? Do you riff? Do you word-vomit? Do you bleed? Do you spit straight truth from the top of the dome?

      I write a lot of things just to play with words. I write a lot of things already knowing I won’t develop them further than a paragraph or a half-finished poem. If I’m writing an important scene, I write it more than once. I feel most comfortable when I write it once by hand, once on the computer, and then type up my hand-written notes, self-editing as I go, melding the versions into one, and deleting everything that doesn’t fit. Time-consuming? Most definitely, but we’re talking about writing as an art.

      Artists don’t suddenly appear. They work. The aforementioned Tori Amos started “noodling around” on piano when she was two, received a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory at five, got kicked out at 11, played bars at 13, failed with her first band at 25, and finally found commercial success at 27– 25 years after she started playing. Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel when he was only 33 years old, but his artist apprenticeship started when he was 13– twenty years before. He completed the Pietà at 24 years old, only 11 short years after he started working full-time as an artist.

      Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule: you must do something for ten thousand hours before you achieve expertise in the field. From the Beatles to Bill Gates, he presents a compelling case in his book, Outliers. In writing, some swear by a million word rule: you need to write a million words before you pen your best works.

      And that brings us back to NaNoWriMo. Fifty thousand words in a month is a great start. So write those words. Write more than the amount you need. Write everything that’s in your head. Write scenes that don’t fit and exposition that’s too long and conversations that are unrealistic. Write boring characters and major plot holes and top it off with a deus ex machina. Write  three novels’ worth of material and then gleefully turn your back on most of it.

      Because you have to. This is the practice before perfection.

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