Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Benefits and Drawbacks of Seeking Public Opinion

Bonnie Rae at Just Words recently asked about online forums and communities where she could find critique partners. I have answered this question in a previous post about How to Find a Good Critique Partner. The comments are also helpful. I would like to also add that the online writing conference, WriteOnCon, will be held August 16-18.  She also asked if it might be too risky finding a critique partner this way and that’s what I’d like to focus on in this post.

The Drawbacks:
1. Demoralising Criticism. The moment any of your work goes online it becomes open to criticism. I’m not talking helpful critiquing, constructive help, but harsh criticism from anonymous readers. To cope with these kinds of comments you’ll need tough skin.

2. Property Theft. A writer’s greatest fear is intellectual property theft—well, it’s actually losing an entire manuscript to a computer virus and having no backup copies, but we won’t go there.

If you put anything in electronic format then assume you’ve lost control of it. People will take your property for different reasons:
1. They will take it for profit
2. Because they can
3. Because they oppose digital protection
4. Because they simply liked what you wrote and want to keep it.

If you can live with that, then put it out there.

3. Rights Issues. Once you put your work online it is considered published. You can no longer offer first rights. For this reason, be careful how much you choose to share with the public before you get contracted.

The Benefits:
1. Getting Noticed. I know a few authors who have gained a publishing contract because they shared a portion of their work online. Of course, once contracted, their agent and/or publisher requested the author remove all instances of their work from the web.

2. Learning. If an author is able to sift through the often conflicting comments, they can gain valuable help for their work. Many commenters will take the time to carefully think about your work in the hope that you will do the same for them. You could learn a great deal.

Can you think of other benefits and drawbacks to putting your work online? 


  1. I think you covered them! The rights issue I've heard before. That's why the only excerpt I've ever posted was approved first by my publisher.
    I'm very grateful I was able to find critique partners who can attack my work in private.

  2. I put up a lot of my flash fiction, but never any longer work. Finding a critique partner from online interactions can be risky...

    But that said, nothing risked, nothing gained.

  3. I always learn something from your posts, Lynda. I did not know that once you put your work online it is considered published and can no longer be sold as first rights. Perhaps it depends on the editor for one of the magazines I write for doesn't consider work posted in a blog to be published. You give me much to think about. Thanks so much!
    Pam at

  4. Great post, Lynda!

    I'm a lot like Damyanti here. I will post some flash fiction every now and then, as well as some poetry.

    My thinking, misguided as it might be, is that someone on the publishing or agenting side of the industry will stumble across it. And bite.

    I don't think I will ever be comfortable enough in using an on-line connection for a critique partner of my WIP.

    You've got me rethinking my approach. Thanks for your sage words!

  5. You covered the ones that came to my mind.

  6. I'm glad you addressed this issue, Lynda. I've also heard that once you put something on your blog, it's considered published and that some editors might have a problem with that. I only put some of my poems in my posts because I don't intend to submit them anywhere.

    I'm glad you listed the other drawbacks, like people just helping themselves to whatever they want, stealing it and then claiming it as theirs. I'm not surprised about that at all. Sometimes we're just too trusting and need to weigh the pros and cons before putting our work on our blogs.

    I think you've covered everything, especially opening ourselves up to harsh or downright mean comments. Even if we're tough skinned, realizing that someone is being mean just for the heck of it is a bit upsetting.

  7. I think if we're smart about it, putting some of our work online is a great way to connect with authors/agents/editors/readers. If we're unwise, then the drawbacks can kick in.

  8. I would not put more than 250 words of what I'm hoping to get published on an online forum for any reason. I really don't see how the potential advantages outweigh the risk and would counsel any writer to conduct themselves in similar fashion.

    The idea that an industry professional is trawling sites to spot talent is such a statistically miniscule possibility when compared to all of the other dangers you've put forth.

    Naturally, this is simply my opinion, but one I hold strongly.

  9. I'm pretty careful about how much of my work I put on my blog. Usually it's just the query letter and the first chapter, a teaser, basically. occasionally I'll post a portion as part of a blogfest or something. As for critique partners, I've been lucky so far that everyone who has helped me (and vice versa)has done so with the aim to be helpful. After all, we all have the same goal here, to get better and to get published.

  10. This was a great overview of risks in putting your work online~ thanks!

  11. Great list :) I'd be most worried about IP theft - I wouldn't like the idea of putting something up on the web and then finding out a year later that someone has taken that and written a novel around it!

  12. Yep, I do post stuff on my blog that I don't intend to try and publish, even if I think it's good writing.

  13. Alex, yep, I'm in favour of privacy too.

    Damyanti, and of course those risks vary depending on how much you put online.

    Pam, well, I wouldn't include my blog posts as part of my publishing history ;)

    Bryce, out-of-the-blue agent bites are extremely rare.

    Jeff, :)

    LynNerd, That's why I'm somewhat vague about what I write except to say the genre and market.

  14. Bethany, yep, it all depends on what we put up.

    Suze, I'm with you on that one. I don't even share titles lol.

    mshatch, good to hear you've picked up some good crit partners.

    Jess, no worries

    Jamie, It happened to me once with some artwork. I took part in a forum where you posted your work in progress. I had the basis of a cool dragon pic only to discover that someone who worked faster than me produced a finished product--same subject, exactly same composition, and background idea, and character. Siigh. I also found one of my landscape photos with my name cropped out on a russian website.

    Trisha, If you're comfortable with the risks, then there is nothing wrong with that.

  15. I think you've covered the pros and cons - it's always risky choosing to publish your work online - and it's always best to be vigilant when doing so!! Take care

  16. I'll add one more drawback, and it's the flipside of "getting noticed"--if an agent or editor can find you and your rough work online, it could detract from your shininess as an author. And don't think it can't happen. Under an online handle that has nothing to do with my name, I posted my query in a forum for critique. My now-agent found me by searching the title of the ms I queried her with, and then searched ALL posts using my online handle, so she got to look at everything I ever posted. It turned out fine, but once I signed with her, she told me to scoot over to that forum and delete any samples of my work in case editors tried to find me the same way (fortunately, all that was there was my query, but that's not the case for many folks). Just a thought.

  17. Delicious post, Lynda. There are, indeed, advantages and disadvantages to posting a story or piece of work online. My experience with this is Harry Potter fanfiction. I've written one full story & have a current WIP on (pseudonym: Akshaya). While MOST comments are wonderful, encouraging (advantage!) and downright stroking to your ego, some are a smidge off the "let's play nice" road (disadvantage).

    For one, if you write fanfiction, 9/10 your readers are a stickler for accuracy. You must be true to the books or tv show, etc. for which you write fanfic. This goes for anything, really. Know your audience. Know your genre! Because they will nail you for hiccups, trust me. Opinionated people are wonderful--sometimes. But when it comes to them critiquing and/or bashing your work (your art, your pride and joy, omg!), it can really strike a nerve within.

    So, the developing thick skin part? Definitely one of the most crucial elements if you deign to post your stuff online. Learn to ignore it, and move on. Embrace the people who love you. ;)

  18. Thanks for sharing yet another great post! I am careful about what I post online. It is difficult to have the public critique your work. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Like Alyssa, I embrace those that love my work and move on.

  19. I've put my work online because of the two benefits you've stated. But I've decided to stop doing so because of the first disadvantage you've stated. It's not just the people who are mean for the sake of being mean, but it's the conflicting advice. I'd rather use people I trust than have a tiny chance I'm going to land an agent through a contest.

  20. yes, anonymous people can be evil. And I've often came upon people leaving totally uneducated and inexpert advice or criticism around the writing blogs which sometimes shocks me indescribably.

  21. Overall, I'm looking for exposure. If its good exposure, that's great. In the past I've has physicists and religous people disagree with my content as I sometimes marry the two. Nothing wrong with that by my standards, although some people have passionate and differing views.

  22. Great list of benefits and drawbacks. I've been hesitant to post much to forums due to some of these exact reasons. It can definitely be helpful, but right now, I'm not sure it's for me. Thanks for sharing!

  23. It all depends on who the feedback is from, i.e. some people are your intended audience and some aren't. People would critique Shakespeare and Milton just the same if they were alive today. A writer has to decide what critiques apply and which don't. That's my two cents:)

  24. I actually think private is better BUT sometimes you can get more honest feedback than a critique from your friends. And yes, I'd never post more than a few pages on a public forum. Queries are relatively safer to post and get feedback from.

  25. Hmm, I'm a supporter of both online crits and face-to-face crits with friends. There's no doubt that copyright and plagiarism is an issue, but I think you just need to be careful on which sites you post on. is a great site and I've posted there. It's run by a group of publishers and I've always found the comments there helpful.

  26. Does one consider theft more common from online groups? I've never considered that from in person critique groups. It also never crossed my mind about the first rights issue with "publishing" on line. Now, I know.

  27. Yep, when you went into the control over copyright, you pretty much nailed why I don't put anything significant from my WiP on my blogs or anywhere public.

    I did pick CP's from the internet, but all discussions happen in private. And that's how it will stay.

  28. Learning is the best reason.

    Although I find face-to-face critique very helpful, too. Yet we exchange work on email ahead of time.

  29. Old Kitty, absolutely

    Sarah, fantastic example. It's amazing how easily our work can be found if we aren't careful.

    Alyssia, well said: "Embrace the people who love you." Love it. That's so important too.

    Maeve, yep, it's good to be careful.

    Theresa, yep, that conflicting advice can damage more than help.

    Dezzy, It's a worry. That's why I try to leave my posts open to discussion. I want people to feel comfortable enough to speak up if they disagree with me over anything I might have posted.

  30. Stephen, yep, I've come across that a few times while reading faith blogs.

    Shallee, same. The idea is to get to know someone online and then trial a critique partnership via private emails. A lot safer that way. Especially if both parties agree on confidentiality.

    Mark, absolutely. I think that's why it's important to get more than one crit partner--to balance the comments.

    Carol, I'll tell you if your work sucks, you know that. It's a shame it doesn't ;)

    D U Okonkwo, thanks for the link.

    Stacy, theft is easier in online groups therefore in theory it would happen more. The problem is, you have no control over it. Saying something is copyrighted is no deterrent.

    Misha, yep, same.

    M Pax, I've never tried face-to-face critiquing. I imagine it would be more helpful, though.

  31. I'd say that pretty much covers it! I'm really shy about my work so for now I'm sticking with crit partners that share my last name :D

  32. All good points, especially the one about criticism. Which is why sharing your work on a blog can be scary.

  33. Lynda, regarding titles-- I can see that. Thought about it long and hard before I put them up on Analog Breakfast but decided to go with it, anyway. Kind of stirring the universe by putting them out there. :)

  34. I would definitely be worried about theft, and really harsh criticism.:(

  35. Sam, I started doing it that way but I found freinds and family weren't as honest as other writers.

    Angela, very scary indeed.

    Suze, hahaha. I guess titles aren't that important. Often publishers will want to change the titles anyway.

    Emily, yep, I try to avoid the harsh criticism.

  36. I think it's definitely an area where there are chances for huge improvement, but you do need to watch what you do. In terms of putting stuff online, one thing I'd say you should definitely have online is your pitch. I once read that you should always have pitches for your work on your website, and in the end, mine played a part in my agent's decision, so good advice!


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.