I’ve reviewed the basic features of this website where writers can exchange critiques before, but today I want to look at the features it offers to paying members. What are they? Do they provide a benefit? As someone who’s been a premium member for over a year now, I want to give my thoughts.
As stated in my previous review, the basic setup of Critique Circle is that writers post a small portion of their work for feedback. Those who give critiques receive credits in exchange, which they can then use to post their own work for feedback. On the free version of the site, members will submit their work to be featured during what I’ll call a workshop week. The piece will be listed with all others available to be critiqued during that time, typically according to genre, and other members will decide which of the available pieces to leave critiques on. Any piece that receives no critiques will have credits refunded, but this seems to be a rare scenario in my experience.
It’s important to note that because the pieces submitted for critique can only be viewed by other members who are logged into the website, posting work on this site does not count as publication. The author retains all rights to their work, and pieces can be hidden or deleted after critiques have been received.
So the free version of the site can certainly be used for giving and receiving feedback, and I would recommend that anyone interested start with that. Not only will it give you a feel for what the site can do for you, it will also allow you to make better use of premium features like the following.
This is the big one. Where free users need to submit pieces one by one and either wait a few weeks for them to come up for review or pay extra (and still at least wait for the following week), premium users get their own spot where they can post as much as they want and have it all available for critique at once. It does still cost credits, of course. The system of exchanging feedback wouldn’t work otherwise. But if you have an entire novel that you want to get feedback on, chapter by chapter, this way will certainly save time.
It will also allow you to choose the people you want to critique your work. In the public queues, anyone who wants to critique your work can do so, with a few limited exceptions (like marking your piece mature to ensure you don’t get critiques from members under the age of eighteen). In private queues, your critiques come from the people you invite. This means you can focus on feedback from the members whose advice has been most helpful to you… but only if they agree to join. This is why I would advise you to begin with the free version. It gives you time to find other members you enjoy exchanging feedback with.
There is the option of advertising your private queue, which can help, but in my experience it’s far easier to build critique relationships first and know at least a few people who will be willing to join your private queue before you start one. The area for advertising private queues is most often looked at by those who have their own private queues. This can work out great if for those looking to join a queue in exchange for someone joining theirs (I gained three queue members this way), but the best way to gain non-premium members is to give them valuable critiques in the public queues. You’ll also find that some premium members prefer not to advertise at all but rather to post their first few chapters in the public queues to drum up interest and see who they want to invite to critique the rest. Using this technique or at least being aware of it can be extremely helpful.
Once you have a good group of critiquers, though, your private queue will provide you with consistent feedback, as long as you keep up with giving critiques to the people you’ve invited. Be warned that even if you throw up all your chapters at once, it will take time. Some people will critique one chapter per week. Some more often, some less. For some people, it might depend on how often you’re critiquing in their own private queue. What goes around comes around. But if you’re prepared to put in the work and don’t mind the waiting, this system will work wonders for you.
The Novel System
Many non-premium Critique Circle members get confused about the novel system, often mistaking it for a private queue. The novel system is often used in conjunction with a private queue, but it can also be used separately. What is it? Well, it really just provides a way for you to label your submissions as chapters in a novel and keep them organized. If posting a novel chapter by chapter as a non-premium member, you can title your submissions “Novel X Chapter 1” and “Novel X Chapter 2”, but by using the official novel system, someone reading your chapter two can see a link back to your chapter one, as well as a link forward to your chapter three. They can also click to see a summary of all the previous chapters or a glossary of terms and characters. These features can be incredibly useful in the public queues, where someone might decide to critique your currently available chapter ten without having read the previously available chapters one through nine.
Honestly, though, because of people critiquing over a period of weeks or months even in a private queue, such reminders can be useful no matter where your chapters are being posted. I would recommend using these features if you’re paying for them, as readers who don’t want them can always skip over them.
Beta Read Feedback
Now this is a feature I haven’t personally used, but I did want to mention it because the free version of the site does not offer anything like this. By becoming a premium member, you gain the ability to spend a certain number of credits in order to offer your manuscript up for beta reading feedback instead of detailed chapter-by-chapter feedback. If your manuscript is at a point where you just want people to read through and give some thoughts every several chapters, rather than popping in to suggest line-level edits or suggest changes to paragraphs, this might be the system for you.
When submitting pieces to the public queues, the cost increases if you want to have one piece available per week. Submitting the first piece costs a set amount. Submitting for the subsequent week costs more. The week after that? Even more. This is a system to prevent people from hogging too much space, ensuring everyone gets their turn, but more space is given to those who contribute more to the site. Public members will need to critique more in order to earn credits. Premium members will need to critique only a bit more, since they are paying towards the site’s upkeep (two or three extra credits instead of four, for example).
This can be a useful feature for those saving credits, although I haven’t used it often as a long-time member with a private queue. Most long-time members end up with more credits than they need, simply because they’re returning feedback to all the people they’ve built relationships with. Therefore I would say this feature is the most useful for newer premium members, who may get to the point of having as many credits as they want more quickly as a result.
Revising a Story While it’s in a Queue
This basically means you can make changes to a piece while other people are giving feedback on it. Did your first critique point out a typo? Go ahead and fix it to avoid everyone else repeating the same thing. Did one paragraph come across far differently than you’d intended? Go ahead and fix that too, as long as you’re sure you want to change it before getting any other feedback.
This feature solves a few annoyances in public queues. In private queues, it means you can pay for each chapter of your novel once and always keep it up to date with your most recent edits. If you had three people give critiques on your first few chapters a month ago, you can have the new member you just added read the version you changed based on the feedback of the first three, all without resubmitting. Definitely useful!
There’s a list of other features you can find in Critique Circle’s official write-up of what is offered to premium members, but to me they have smaller or more limited usefulness. The “buddy system” can be helpful for keeping track of what’s going on with your critique partners, and I do make use of it, but I have other ways of keeping track as well. There are features for outlining and character creation that I’ve tried out but don’t personally make use of. And there are features that give you more storage space or let you have a little more say in how the site looks for you. All potentially useful, but I think the features I outlined above are the big-ticket items.
Is Premium Worth It?
In the end, I think this decision depends entirely on what you want to get out of the site and how much disposable income you have. I have a full-time job as a computer programmer. If you’re trying to do writing as your one and only job, your financial situation probably looks entirely different. I can’t advise you on that.
What I can tell you is that I’ve found the premium features useful enough for my purposes. I certainly prefer being able to choose who my critique partners are, thus avoiding feedback from people who are unfortunately suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect (aka overestimating their own writing skills and therefore giving incorrect advice). As someone writing a novel, particularly a fantasy/sci-fi novel with a lot of worldbuilding involved, I also find it invaluable to have feedback only from people who start at chapter one instead of trying to make sense of things after jumping into the middle.
Based on this, I would definitely say the premium version of Critique Circle is serving me better than the free version did, although I am still glad I started with the free version. Is this website the best option for getting feedback on your writing? Well, if you have a circle of writer friends willing to exchange feedback with you for free, I would advise you to use Google Docs instead. In fact, I would advise the same even if you just have a few reader friends willing to do a beta read for free. If you’re self-publishing and feel confident that all you need to do is pay an editor, by all means go and do that. But if you don’t want to hire an editor and don’t have anyone to give you feedback, or if the only people available don’t give you detailed and honest feedback, a site like this might be a thing to try. You shouldn’t go in expecting expert-level feedback, but if you play your cards right, you’ll end up seeing a lot of areas for improvement, in your specific manuscript and perhaps in your writing in general.