As someone who has moderated as well as been a member of quite a few online writing sites, there are certain things I have noticed through the years that make me hesitate to join anymore.
- Lousy Feedback – First of all if you really want to receive a fair and honest critique of your work you most likely will not find many online writing site members who are capable of giving you one. Many writing sites are filled with people whose idea of a critique is to write “well written, beautifully penned” on every single thing they read. This kind of feedback isn’t helpful and what’s worse it’s not trying to be. Then there is the polar opposite of those who give sweetie pie reviews, and that is those who leave harsh reviews. These are the people who make a point of negative or even mean-spirited feedback on everything they read. Granted there is a lot of bad writing online, but these types of people seem to enjoy tearing down others. If a reviewer likes or dislikes something they should be able to explain why, if they can’t then they are of no use to you.
- Myspace Part Deux – Many writers’ sites are little more than MySpace retreads where things like grammar, punctuation and sentence structure are completely ignored for the sake of being read by a lot of people who rate your work with stars or kudos or something else that is equally pointless. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with MySpace, but there is a difference in the quality of the work posted on a social site where the majority of people are looking for validation with the work of serious writers who are looking for constructive feedback.
- Popularity over Quality – Some writing sites equate popularity with quality. I have seen writing that was rife with spelling and grammatical errors or just plain bad make it onto top writing lists. First of all member voted listings of best writing or best writer are pointless. Having a bunch of online friends read or vote you to the top of a list does not mean that you write well. In many cases it’s a lie and sadly it’s a lie that all too many people are willing to believe. Some sites do this with member votes, reader statistics or by how many people have clicked your page. There are writers who click their own pages to make it to the top and those whose works gets them there alone. In either case both writers suffer since those listings are pointless no matter how you got there. Second when bad writing and bad writers are allowed to rise to the top of a writing community, then the site is going to suffer. Certain things aren’t meant to rise to the surface and bad writing is one of them. What’s sad about this situation is that quality writing is often ignored. In time those writers leave and again the site suffers since what you have left are a lot of bad writers who aren’t interested in improving their work because there is no need to. They will be number one no matter what they write or how badly it’s written.
- Literary Dumping Grounds – There are a number of writing sites that are little more than literary dumping grounds. People post a ton of work and just leave it there to fester. They don’t support the writing sites where they post their work by offering feedback to other writers on site and the site suffers because no one cares about anyone’s work but their own.
- Paying for review – Some writers’ sites have rules about having to essentially pay for others to read your work. You are required to read so many pieces before anyone can read even one of yours. I have heard both good and bad about sites like these. My experience has been that while I get a lot of reviews (because others want to do their required reviews so that their work will be read) is that most are rarely constructive. However there are some sites where members can rate reviews as being helpful or not so that others aren’t allowed to leave reviews that aren’t constructive.
- Big Fish, Small Pool Mentality and Drama, Drama, Drama – Many writers’ sites have members pontificate and treat new writers and everyone else with disdain. They don’t offer helpful critiques because they are not interested in helping other writers improve as much as they are interested in making sure everyone knows how wonderful they are. Then there are those who are more interested in online romances, who are a friend of whom, who’s saying what about this or that with little care about writing. It’s easy to get caught up in site drama, but in the end it isn’t something that is going to help anyone become a better writer. Writing communities that allow this kind of nonsense aren’t useful to anyone involved.
- Out of Site Out of Mind – Many site owners aren’t involved in the writing communities they have created. This can happen when a website goes from having a few manageable members to a large community. Site owners become overwhelmed so that when problems or disputes occur there is no one available for members to turn to. For some reason many site owners are unwilling to have moderators help them run their writing communities. Moderators can help site owners’ deal with site issues and problems, and also create a sense of security from site members since they will know they have someone to go to if any problems should arise.
- Hobbyists vs. Writers – Without sounding elitist there is a difference between those who call themselves writers and those who are writers. People who call themselves writers get angry if things like spelling or grammar errors are pointed out to them. I have been called a Grammar Nazi for doing just that. Their excuse is that they are too close to their work to handle any kind of critique. They care about it too much because it is like their child. I could write another essay about that attitude alone, and perhaps I will, but I will say that that attitude is the fundamental difference between those who are hobbyists and those who truly are writers. Serious writers want to receive constructive feedback about their work. They want to shown where they are problems with their writing so that they can improve it. People who call themselves writers want validation and they want to turn online writing communities into their own personal refrigerator doors where their work is posted and praised.
- Bad Interface – If members can’t easily navigate a website they are going to become frustrated and leave. In my journey to find a great online writing community I have seen quite a few websites that make it difficult to find site features or even to find information or FAQs that highlight what is expected of me as a member. These sites could have a lot of features to offer, but if members can’t find them easily then they are going to leave.
- Social Networking Gone Wrong – There a lot of writers’ who self-publish and that’s a great thing. What isn’t great is when they do little else but post endless blogs which are essentially commercials for their books on writing sites. True, publicity is important to the success of their books, but this kind of publicity does nothing for writing communities as a whole, especially when these writers go from website to websites spamming their publicity like manure on a corn field. Most of these people never read the work of other writers even as they ask others to do exactly that for them. Yes we all want to be read, but just the same spam is spam. If I go out of my way to ignore and delete spam everywhere else online I’m going to do the same on writing sites as well.
So does that mean that there aren’t any online writing sites that are worth joining? Yes there are and perhaps for my next article I’ll list some of them. However, there are some things that all writers need to consider before joining any online writing community. If you’re planning on publishing your work elsewhere make sure that you read through their guidelines since many publications consider work that has been posted online as already being published. Also there is the credibility factor and this is an ugly truth. If you have your work posted on an online writing community that is known for heralding bad writing or one that is a haven for hobbyists, you probably aren’t going to receive a lot of respect from editors and publishers.
So if you choose to join an online writing site take the time to find out about them before posting your work. Many sites allow guests to take a look and learn about site features before becoming a member so take advantage of that option to find out what a writing community has to offer. Do that and hopefully you’ll find an online writing site that will nurture and encourage you to become a better writer.
Top Ten Reasons Most Online Writers’ Sites Suck was originally published in CHUM magazine which is published by Goldfish Press Publications.