Part one of this essay appeared in a previous post.
When setting up, consider:
Members do not need access to the membership roster, as this only invites spamming. Tick items that improve the privacy of your member information. Each member can easily decide on his own to share or not share whatever information he chooses. While Moderator rights need to be reserved for your Moderators, if any, just ensure members have rights to post, to manage their file spaces, and up/download ability.
Do write a mission statement to head your site. Be plain and direct in it about:
The rules of etiquette.
What activities your group will encompass.
What age group, Genre, and work lengths you will support.
Crit sites aren’t all about rules, regulations and Policy. However, preformatting a few simple documents to keep in a maintenance folder right off will save you time and bother later. Consider a formatted (and polite) dismissal letter; a stock welcoming letter; perhaps a simple guide to creating personal sub-directories and getting around on your site, what file formats are best to put up work in, and so forth. Not all writers are computer hackers, ex-technicians, etc. nor should they need to be.
Members should be encouraged to use the list, talk to each other, understand who their reviewers are, and their proclivities. Be prepared to exorcise members who do not understand the purpose of your group.
Groups are not Blogs, and the members must be able to work together and have a focus, or it will quickly go silent, or become a general chat site.
Be sure members understand what polite means regarding critique etiquette, if not a particular format. Members need to understand that rewriting or ghostwriting others’ work, or just panning / lauding it, does not constitute any kind of critique. Corrections or suggestions need to be neutrally presented and suggestions tagged as to type, whether opinion, grammar, spelling, formatting, style or preferences. (see the article previously posted on crit techniques here) Authors should not have to be affronted by another’s attempt to change the individual growth of personal style, or be castigated for experimenting. It is OK to express an opinion, but mark opinions as such. Be sure your members thank every criticizer for each effort. It’s sweat equity, just as if a neighbor decided to mow a lawn for someone, out of the goodness of their heart. A good Idea is to make tit-for-tat critique a firm policy in your mission statement and stick to it.
All groups will need a little janitorial work from time to time. Be sure to designate a moderator as soon as possible to help members out. Encourage members to place useful links up in the link library area, and check these from time to time to be sure they are correct and work.
Public or Private?
Private. Period. Work held within a non-public group is not accessible by Googling, so forth, and is therefore not at risk of exposing work to copyright or sale problems, sex advertisers, trolls, fly-bys, so forth. Besides, ‘Public’ groups tend become fright-mares within days, and unsuitable for any serious purpose. Having only ten participating and motivated members is preferable to having a thousand trolls, advertisers and lurkers, so you do not need to “Go Public” to attract a good mix of active, mutually useful, participants. If your site is online to advertise, then of course, the opposite may be the better option, but you will not get much work done there, and everything posted will need watching.
Tick the maintenance Item that places New members on temporary moderation. This will allow you to preview what they wish to post, until you are happy they will be a good community member. You, or your moderator can rescind this feature for the member at any time.
Otherwise, dictate nothing, and be happy to have helped provide a stable and useful tool for your community.
Thanks again, Floyd! More of Floyd’s posts can be found by hovering over the ~Writing tab on the page list just below the banner picture at the top of the page, and clicking on the Floyd Hyatt link that drops down.
WRITING PROMPT: Rewrite the story of Jack and Jill in your own style.
Helen GingerDecember 5, 2011 at 10:57am
I’ve been in quite a few in-person critique groups, but never an online one. It sounds like it’s a lot of work for the person who starts the group.
Marian AllenDecember 5, 2011 at 12:27pm
That’s what I thought. If I didn’t have such a good face-to-face group, though, an established online group would be tempting.
Floyd HyattDecember 8, 2011 at 7:28pm
Helen, it needn’t be. Once set up, new member moderation is automatically applied, and I rarely get more than one or two additions at a time. Their first posts are simply added to your mailbox for approval. You look, then okay them. This usually only needs to go on for the first few posts, rarely more than three in succession, enough to see that the prospective member isn’t a bot, or expecting to lean way off topic for your group. Then moderation is removed with a keystroke, and things go forward on their own. I keep the site links down to those offering a real service of general use, like to reference guide sites, a tool site, a market source guide or three, such like. Except for your participation in the crit group, everything else should be a decision of your own to add. For instance mine sponsors a formatted and illustrated internal magazine (members only don’t ask), distributed free as a PDF to the membership. It allows members to see their work in a formatted context, and allows contributions not normally the focus of the group, such as graphics and personal interests. This sucks up a good deal of time, but the decision to do that was my own. you should promote a good member to moderator status, so they can have the rights needed to keep things going when you aren’t available. Group management shouldn’t be a chore, but it should be done even-handed, and lightly.
Dani G.December 5, 2011 at 11:29am
I have an online critique group that, gratefully, is small and kept going by a few of the regulars. It’s a great way to get feedback, but we still haven’t really hit our stride. The hard part for me is only critiquing bits and pieces of an author’s manuscript. I’m too used to getting the whole book and being able to work through it in one continuous read. It’s tough to do that with a group in which you’re rotating authors and commenting on short sections of a book.
Marian AllenDecember 5, 2011 at 12:29pm
That is hard, Dani. It’s hard enough in a f2f group, when you can see and hear who’s reading. I wonder if Skype video calls will turn online groups into f2f groups.
Bob SanchezDecember 5, 2011 at 11:55am
I have been a member of the Internet Writing Workshop (http://internetwritingworkshop.org/) for most of the last decade. Its membership is in the 300s now and is a very well-run group that follows much of what this post advocates. They don’t tolerate flaming, blatant advertising, or drifting off the subject of writing. Every now and then they expel a member, but rarely and always for good reason. It’s a solid, constructive group. I highly recommend it.
Marian AllenDecember 5, 2011 at 12:32pm
Thanks for dropping the recommendation and link, Bob! Sounds like the group to join, for those looking. 🙂
Floyd HyattDecember 8, 2011 at 7:46pm
@Dani G. – – IF you use the files section instead of the posts, there is no reason not to accept full novels for critique. Some groups only do short stories, others like chapter by chapter. (which can easily be done, even if the whole novel is available) Mine does both novel and short story critiques, but that’s up to you, as site owner, to decide. We don’t feature a single writer at any one time, like a f2f group. that’s not needed, or necessarily a good idea. once a file is loaded, its up to the members what story attracts their interest, and with small member groups, its easy to pick out who is returning critique and who is not, or needs prompting or even removal. Thing is, members need be aware that if they post a full novel, they are signing on to review a whole novel in return. This may seems if-ish, but in real life, works just fine. Bigger groups, where “faces” can loose themselves in a crowd, is a different story, but in small groups, like small towns, everyone knows everyone else’s business.