Critique Circle is a website that gives writers an opportunity to get critiques on their work in exchange for giving other writers critiques on their work. It is free to use, but it also has a premium option that you can pay for in order to unlock special features.
How does it work? In a nutshell, you earn credits by giving critiques of short pieces that have been submitted for review. The number of credits you earn depends on the length of the piece. You can then spend credits in order to submit one of your own pieces for review by others. If you submit a piece, it will be added to a waiting list, and you will have to wait until pieces that were submitted before yours are given their chance to receive critiques first. In my experience, this is typically a few weeks at most.
I think the largest benefit of this system is that it incentivizes its users to give critiques to one another. In other aspects of my life, it has been far too many times that I have taken time to read and edit or give suggestions to a writer friend or an acquaintance, only to struggle to find anyone at all who is willing to do the same when I am looking for a bit of feedback. In general, I do enjoy helping other people with their writing, especially when I feel as though I’ve been able to contribute some high quality insights, but of course it is difficult to improve as a writer if you never receive any feedback on your own work. When I submitted pieces to Critique Circle, I got five or six critiques for each of them, most of them quite detailed and a few that definitely helped me see areas in need of improvement.
The largest drawback is that you never know who is going to be reading and critiquing for you. You could get advice from one of the most helpful and experienced users or you could get it from someone who is a complete amateur. Similarly, you can get critiques that are written in a very positive and friendly way and critiques that are written in a very critical way. This can be difficult to handle if you have thin skin, and it can be frustrating if you feel as though you’ve received a piece of advice that is unhelpful or even wrong.
This leads into the second of the drawbacks that I have personally experienced: when attempting to get feedback on a novel using the free version, you are more than likely to get critiques on your second chapter from users who haven’t read your first. I tried to alleviate this problem by providing a summary of all the events of the first chapter that were directly relevant to the second, but I was frustrated to find critiques from people who complained that they were confused about something that had, in fact, been explained in the summary. To be fair, this may be a larger problem with books that involve a large amount of world building, as opposed to genres that would theoretically be easier to pick up from the middle. I also found that I experienced the problem of people not reading the summary much less once I started getting critiques from more experienced members more often, but it was a large frustration for me in the beginning.
If you become a premium member, though, you can solve this problem by recruiting members to join a group that will focus on your novel specifically. The premium member also has the ability to determine who can join the group, which solves the first problem as well. Premium membership also gives you the ability to give and receive critiques on an entire manuscript rather than on short chunks at a time. The downside to this, of course, is that it costs a monthly fee.
I used the free version for a long time before trying the paid version, and I think both have benefits and drawbacks. The question of whether to pay for it or not comes down to the individual writer and what they are looking to get out of the site. Personally, I would recommend starting with the free version to get a feel for things and also to build relationships with other users. Even if a private queue appeals to you, you’ll have to know who to invite into it. Unless you joined the site with a group of writer friends, how else will you know who gives good critiques except by receiving some in the public queues?
On top of that, there are some features that are friendly to new members, enabling your work to receive critiques more quickly than members who have been around for longer, and I’ve found that really understanding how the system works is a good way to get the most out of it.
My biggest tip to those who plan to use the site? Strive to give good quality critiques to others. Many people will return the favor when it comes to be your turn. Besides that, there is a system in which writers can grade how helpful a critique was to them, and users who critique often and score over a certain average can get special badges that show up next to their names. You can bet that there are people on the site who will choose to give critiques to those who have given good critiques to others! Be a good person: give the best advice that you can give. If you want to be a very good person, go back and read the previous chapter(s) before critiquing the current one. It won’t get you any extra credits, but I’m sure the author will appreciate it. Sites like this work best when everyone involved is kind and generous.
I wish the best of luck to all other aspiring writers out there! Feel free to shoot me a message if you decide to join based on my recommendation. If I like the looks of what you’ve written, I might just give you a crit.