If you just want to tell me to shut up, I'll understand...
If you want to tell me I've violated my own guidelines repeatedly - yes, I didn't have a helpful little list like this to clue me in. So I've made mistakes. I'll make more in the future - but if I make a little list, maybe I can avoid some of the more blatant ones?
"It ain't how well they dance, it's that they's dancing at all what amazes me..." an early critical failure
Send your material for critique to WRITERS@mitvma.mit.edu. Include SUB: in the subject line to identify this as material you want someone to look at.
Your subject line should look like (no dash in front)
-Subject: SUB: Hewn in Stone
Many of us also include the broad type of material (poem, short story, horror romance, panting at the bodices...) and if necessary, a warning about the type of contents (Violence and Erotica are the main types I can think of that deserve a warning). So a full subject line might read
-Subject: SUB: Hewn in Stone (Poem) (Erotic Violence)
We do ask that subject lines be readable by children and supervisors, if at all possible. Where necessary, you might put an expurgated version of your title in the subject line and the actual title in the body of the message. This is NOT meant to limit the kinds of materials posted to the list, merely to avoid creating unnecessary problems.
For archival filing, send your material to WFILES@mitvma.mit.edu. It will be filed, but will not be posted. You may want to "advertise" to the list that your piece has been filed. Note: the archives are limited in size, and when full, will be pruned.
You can post to the list and send a copy cc: to wfiles if desired.
Types of material suitable for SUB include fiction of any kind, poetry, essays, journal entries, and similar writing from any genre. Non-fiction also can be submitted. Basically, if you wrote it and you would like help, comments, critique, feel free to SUBmit it.
I suggest that you only submit a few pieces for critique at a time, and that about 8,000 words be the longest single piece submitted.
That means, first, that material posted to it is provided only for review and critique, and that all rights are retained by the original writer. Second, material posted cannot be copied or reproduced in any way without permission from the original writer. Please take special note that this specifically includes forwarding material posted here to other lists and services. Consider how you would like your workshop posting treated - and treat other people's writing at least as well. In short - if you want to copy, print, forward, or otherwise use material people have posted here, ASK THE AUTHOR FIRST. Professional courtesy.
Like most of us, they have other concerns (work, study, sleep.. little things that take up time) and the sometimes overwhelming email from WRITERS. Most of them WANT to see your writing, but they aren't a replacement for doing your own preparation. So.. make your submission as complete and good as you can get it. Finish it, polish it, review it, check spelling, grammar, etc. Act as if you were getting ready to submit it to the editors, or to that dratted professor that hates you and will happily flunk you out of the one required English course you need to graduate...
The idea, plot, character, dialogue, action, setting, format, transitions.. any and all of these or other writing points may be keeping you from finalizing the piece. If so, give us enough material to understand the question, and ask the specific questions you have. Sometimes you will want to present one (or more) fragments of writing to illustrate either the problem or the alternatives you have tried, and that is fine. But help us to help you by making the question(s) as clear as possible.
Even when submitting a finished piece, you may want to specify what kind of critique you want. Either before or after, tell the readers any specific questions you have. If you really just want quick checks, say so. If you want detailed, line-by-line editing, ask for that. And if you don't want rewriting (IMHO one of the most effective ways of demonstrating points in a critique, but some people don't like it), say you do not want rewriting.
Please note that what you ask for is not necessarily what you'll get - but you improve your chances by asking.
If you don't know what you want, go ahead and submit it anyway. However, the critiques you receive will will vary depending on local circumstances.
If you simply want people to enjoy your writing, you are welcome to submit it. You may get critiques anyway - and what you are really looking for in this case is responses. "Is my writing good enough to get a response" is a perfectly legitimate question to ask the group, which will respond much more quickly than you can get this question answered by submitting to editors.
Novels and similar long pieces should not be sent in one block to the list, nor should you simply dump it in a set of pieces. The list only allows 200 messages per day, and many people have trouble with limitations on email (quotas). As a matter of courtesy, longer pieces may be handled by proposal ("My 200,000 word novel is finished, and I will send you a copy IF you request it by email." - plus some hints as to what kind of novel it is, please?) or by submitting parts - a chapter, a significant scene, etc.
When you submit a part, always provide a description of the complete work and where the part fits in the larger work. You need to provide enough background material to let us read the part, so you should consider summarizing any previous sections, following sections, and key plot elements.
If you are considering submitting to publishers, such an outline can be very helpful. You may request that people critique the outline as well as the selection you have submitted.
At times, people submit something in several parts over a period of time. This is fine, but the submissions should use the same heading (perhaps with Part xxx), indicate when (and how many) previous parts were sent, and be relatively self-contained (the archives, unfortunately, are not currently available to everyone, and many of your readers will not spend the time to dig up the previous post). Consider how a serial submission in a magazine contains both references to previous parts and a short background summary.
First, WAIT. Be patient - while some people read and respond very rapidly, others may take several days or even weeks. Don't start griping at the list simply because you haven't seen a response in the first hour after sending it. While you are waiting, you may want to critique some other pieces, start on another piece of writing yourself, or simply participate in some light discussion (it is noticable that number of critiques received increases with participation in the list).
Second, don't jump if you do get a response, and don't fire off an immediate blast at the idiot who posted it. Take time to really think about what they are saying ABOUT YOUR WRITING! In most cases, it is important to thank the critiquers - but you don't need to overdo further explanations. Simply make sure you know why you did something. It is very appropriate, though, to ask for further explanation if you don't understand the critique.
After you have waited, gotten a critique or two.. don't immediately rewrite your piece and fire it back at the list. It is tempting, but changing the wording, fixing the commas, etc. does not justify asking the list to take another look at your piece immediately. Further, you know yourself that if you have just rewritten it, even made large changes, you need to spend some time reviewing and editing it - polishing it - before showing it to anyone, let alone someone who has already seen it once. Besides - having gotten it in such excellent shape, maybe it's time to send it to the real testing ground - submit it to the editors...
Single space. Try to keep the column width under 75 characters. Don't indent the left margin. Put an end mark of some kind at the end of the piece (a line of dashes is fine). Single-space between paragraphs and indent 5 blanks, OR double-space between paragraphs, and leave it flush left. However you do it, try to be consistent in one posting...
Do not use fancy fonts or other special formats which may be available in your local editor. Save the piece as plain ASCII text (almost every editor has a way to do this - see your manual). For _italics_, use an underbar at the beginning and end of the italicized word(s).
While these are not the same specifications you will need for a final piece for an editor, they have been shown to be the most useful for email reading. Remember, your writing will be seen by people using many different systems - the fancy fonts and other tricks of your local system will merely cause your posting to be unreadable in many cases.
Do not "attach", "include" or "enclose" the piece. Depending on the mail system you are using, these commands may result in the list getting a set of numbers, nothing at all, or other strange results. Read your manual, ask local experts, and make sure the text is readable when you send it to the list.
In most cases, saving the file as plain ASCII text, then opening it either in the mail handling system or an editor, selecting all the text, and using copy and paste to put it into a message will result in a readable message.