Those darn critters!
Sometime after I made that entry about writing, getting published and so on, Laurie convinced me that I needed to join a crit group. A "crit group", what the heck is that? I hear you ask :p Basically it’s a group of people who get together to critique each others’s work so that everybody could become better writers … and the people who submit crits are known as, critters :p
Laurie already had a crit group in mind and we both joined up after looking around a bit and deciding that they looked OK. Most crit groups require you to do some crits before you can submit your own crits – so as not to have people join up, get their stuff critted and then immediately leave. This particular group required you to crit six pieces before you could submit your own stuff and both Laurie and I started critting stuff immediately. I think I did one crit the first day and three crits the second day. On the third day, I discover that one of my crits from the previous day had been short critted.
Now a short crit, in this particular group, is a crit which doesn’t count as a crit. For each crit you give, you receive crit credits and you can later use the crit credits to "pay" for getting crits for your own submissions. So when you are short critted by an admin, you basically have your crit moderated down and you don’t get the credits for your work. I had worked several hours on that particular crit and I had stated in the crit itself that there wasn’t much to crit since the writer had done a good job. Besides, somebody who had critted an earlier chapter in the same novel, and who had written about 80 words more than I had (yes I counted :p) didn’t get short critted.
So I asked the admins about it and their explanation was that we were newbies and so were moderated and could have our stuff moderated down but the long-term members could call it a crit and it wouldn’t be judged till later – when the admins distributed crit credits at the end of the month. She went on to say that different moderators judged differently as to if it was short crit or not. I went back and did some checking – the other crit had been moderated as well and it had been moderated by the same person. So the explanations didn’t really hold water and as far as I could see, what it boiled down to was that they were simply looking at crits and deciding whether they qualified based on their whims and fancies, the phase of the moon and however they felt at a given time. I didn’t like that one little bit and quit that group immediately.
Laurie started looking around for other crit groups but we didn’t like any that we came across and so we started talking about starting our own group and how we’d go about it. After a little discussion, we both agreed that we really wanted to do it and so, the next day we bough the domain name we wanted and set about setting up the technology to do things the way we wanted them to be.
We wanted things to be as automated as possible but we also wanted the author of the submission to have control over a critter being credited or not – not some moderator/administrator who might not even have read the crit. We also wanted to take the critting process online – away from mailing lists though we wanted people to have recourse to a mailing list if that’s the format they liked. I looked around for a forum software which integrated well with a mailing list and the only candidate around seemed to be Fud Forum. But Fud Forum would not integrate with my choice for running the rest of the site – Mambo.
Because of this incompatibility, we decided to drop the mailing list idea for the moment and go ahead with the rest of the stuff. I set up Mambo and found that Mambo could be made to integrate fairly well with SMF – which was my choice for forum software. We also wanted a fully fledged web-based database system which would keep track of submissions, allow users to give themselves credit for crits they’ve done and also allow authors to either grant extra credits to critters or to take away already granted credits from a critter if they had done a poor job of critting. It turned out that Mambo had some pretty nifty add-on components which made coding all of this fairly easy. So, about a week after we had come up with the original idea, Speculative-Fiction.com was launched 🙂
Laurie had already gotten expressions of interest for the project from quite a few people on another forum where she’s a member, and by the time we launched we already had around 10 members. It’s been about a week since the launch and I’m still adding stuff to the database, we’ve had around four submissions and people are still signing up. It’s not a major success in terms of traffic but I’m happy at the direction its taking as far as getting stuff critiqued, encouraging people to write and making my own writing better 🙂