As I write this the Triggerstreetlabs.com site (affectionately termed TSL) is still up and running, but by the end of January the site will be no more. TSL opened its doors in 2002. Its intention was to provide a platform for writers to post their work and get feedback from other writers. Help others, Help yourself was TSL’s original motto.
My association with TSL goes back to 2008. I was decorating and I had the radio on. Kevin Spacey was being interviewed about his latest film, but the interview strayed into other areas including TSL. Kevin made a fine pitch for the site so I put down the paint brush and scribbled down the site name. Back then I wanted to write but I knew next to nothing about the writing craft. Every time I tried to write anything I made little progress. I knew I needed help with writing and I had previously tried local writing circles but they just didn’t work for me. I kept going to look at the TSL site, and each time I’d walk away without having joined. Eventually I took the plunge. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Two months after joining I posted a story. The story was ok, but technically it was a mess. It was too slow, the format was all wrong, and there were grammar errors on every page. On the whole constructive criticism rolled in and helped me focus on the elements I needed to improve.
I never looked back. My second story wasn’t perfect but it was a huge step forward, and I continued to post and I continued to learn. I would never have managed to write stories to a standard worthy of publication without TSL.
TSL also taught me how to handle rejection. Not all reviews were constructive some were destructive. These reviews were hard to take, but they also toughened me up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a rejection but I generally just shrug my shoulders and carry on. Night Owls was originally rejected by one publication, so I found another potential market who did publish it.
I also made some great friends on TSL, and I was privileged to meet some very talented writers. So I’m pretty sad to see it go, but I don’t blame Trigger Street Productions for shutting it down. I don’t know why but over the last couple of years a lot of the writing talent on TSL has dwindled away. The standard of reviews and the quality of the writers has dropped significantly. I’m speaking in general terms as there are some incredibly talented writers on that site. It’s a shame but I guess all good things must come to an end. I’m just thankful for everything that the site gave to me. Its memory will be cherished.
I’m going to be honest right up front and say that I’d recommend both of these sites. Which one is best for you is all down to personal preference. Below I’ll run through the main differences between the two sites. But before I do that it’s probably worth imparting some advice and pointing out some general issues that could arise.
I’d recommend that any aspiring writer joining either of these sites sets themselves a personal goal. ‘To be a better writer’ is fine for a bio but far too vague for a personal goal or aim.
When I joined TriggerstreetLabs (TSL) back in 2008 my aim was to:-
Write a tightly focused self-contained two character single location short story. The measure of success that I stipulated was that the story had to be in the top 30. I also had to achieve this within 4 submissions.
Back in 2008 TSL individually ranked stories. Any stories with review credits attached would take the top positions. Once the review credits were gone the story would drop to its true rank. E.g. Aspiring writer posts “A Killer Short Story” and he adds his review credits to the story. The story is in the TSL top ten. All the review credits are used up and “A Killer Short Story” drops to its true rank which could be: ranked 275 of 300 short stories.
I achieved my goal with my second submission: The Proposal. The Proposal had a true rank of 12 of 350+ stories.
Once I’d achieved that goal I set myself a second goal. This time to write a highly ranked multi-character, multi-location short story. This was A Mother’s Child.
I still do the goal setting today. The goals these days have become more and more specific as I’ve managed to tick more off my goals list.
I would advise any aspiring writer to take a similar approach. You will learn quicker. You will get a sense of satisfaction as you start to cross more off your list.
Now we get to the issues! And this applies to both sites just as the advice did.
At some point you will come across the skim reader. The reviewer who only wants a credit for their short story and hasn’t bothered to read or digest your story. Reviews from skim readers can be soul destroying especially if you put effort into your own reviews.
At some point you will be verbally abused. I once had the following written on my TSL comments page: “Thanks Mike, it’s clear you didn’t like my story you @~#$.” At the time it gets to you, but not these days. People who write such comments will never make it. One of the first things you need to develop as a writer is a thick skin. Also, you need to think why people respond in that way. In some cases it is just that they can’t take criticism. In other cases it’s pure bullying so you won’t review their other works, or to intimidate you to say ‘nice’ things. If anyone responds to me in that way I make sure I constructively review their work at every opportunity that comes my way!
The above sounds intimidating I know it does. However, it prepares you. As an aspiring / upcoming writer you will face rejection. Having dealt with the issues that the skim readers and the serial abusers throw your way, a rejection from a publisher suddenly isn’t so hard to take.
Now before I put anyone off let’s get something straight; the skim readers and the serial abusers are in the minority.
I’d recommend both TSL & Zoetrope Studios (ZS) for the following reasons:
I have become a much better writer because of both of these sites.
I would never have been published without these two sites.
I have learnt more by reviewing other writer’s work than I have from reviews of my own work.
I can’t tell you which one to sign up to. I’m a member of both but I prefer TSL. Here are some things to consider.
Zoetrope wins hand down. TriggerstreetLabs covers feature length screenplays, short films, and short stories. Zoetrope covers just about everything: Feature length screenplays, short scripts, flash fiction, short stories, novellas, song writing, short films, poetry & I could go on.
Zoetrope wins. On the whole – not entirely – the reviews on Zoetrope are much more detailed. The reviews are also much more personal. A review on Zoetrope is visible between the reviewer and the author of the work they’re reviewing.
Reviews on TSL are visible to everyone. If work is assigned to you for review you are blocked from seeing the other reviews of that work. However, it’s dead easy to get around this and read the other reviews. This isn’t great because once you’ve read a review it will inevitably influence your own reaction to the work. You may also read a review of someone’s work before it’s assigned to you, and again it does influence your view.
Membership / Activity
Zoetrope wins. Neither site is as active as they used to be but there is more activity on Zoetrope than on TSL. I am speaking predominantly about short stories here. Both seem healthy on the script side.
Back in 2008 when I joined TSL a short story (a 10 to 20 pager) would get about 7 reviews within a week. Back then it was easy to get about 20 to 30 reviews within a month to two months. On TSL now you’d be lucky to get 7-10 reviews in a month. Zoetrope works differently but you’ll get 7 to 10 reviews within a month if you put the effort into reviewing other writers work.
The short story forum on TSL is almost dead. Back in 2008 there were new posts every day. The short story forum on Zoetrope does have new posts every day.
There are far more members on Zoetrope who have had their work published. I guess this is why the reviews are generally better.
Site Design / Interactivity
TSL wins hands down. I hate the site design on Zoetrope to the extent that it limits my use of the site.
Short stories on TSL are submitted via PDFs. This is great because you can format the work exactly as you would if sending it to a publisher e.g. double spaced, indented paragraphs etc. On Zoetrope you paste your story directly onto the site. You can format your story only if you’re familiar with HTML. I for one am not going to learn HTML.
Both sites offer their own email system but again TSL is much better. By using the email system on TSL it will send the email to your own personal email that you’ve registered with. This still gives you privacy because the sender won’t be able to see your email, and of course you then have an opportunity as to whether you respond or not. You can also communicate via a comments section that every member of TSL has on their member page.
Zoetrope has no comments section. It does have an email system (Zmail) but it doesn’t interact with any other email system. Therefore, the only way to see if someone has sent you an email is to logon and check. Very irritating.
TSL has also integrated itself with social media. Every work posted is advertised by TriggerstreetLabs via its twitter feed and its facebook page. Reviewers can recommend works on their own twitter and facebook pages if they like something they read.
There is no such facility on Zoetrope.
Posted work on TSL stays visible for as long as the writer wishes to have it on the site. Work on Zoetrope is only visible for 40 days. It is visible for longer to users who have registered as a publisher. They can search all of the works posted looking for publishable material. How successful this is I don’t know. I prefer a system where work stays permanently visible to all.
There you have it.
In summary I’d recommend any aspiring writer to try both of these sites. Don’t get wrapped up in the internal ranking systems. (I speak as a writer who has had their work spotlighted on TSL. The highest accolade possible.) Set your own personal goals. Rise above any of the issues that arise, turn those situations into positives. Put effort into your reviews because you can often learn more by reviewing other peoples work than by having your own work reviewed.
This article has gone on long enough.
Here are the links:
There are hundreds of websites out there where you can post your work online and get feedback. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were thousands. I’m going to generalise about a specific kind of site, and then I’m going to talk about three of the largest: TriggerstreetLabs, Zoetrope Studios, and Authonomy. This post will cover sites to avoid and Authonomy. No, I'm not saying Authonomy should be avoided. Zoetrope & TriggerstreetLabs will be discussed in a separate post.
Part 1 – The Ones To Avoid
The ones to avoid are very easily identified. All you have to do is read some of the posted reviews which in their entirety read like this:
“Cool story dude.”
“Awesome characters, man. I liked Jessie she was hot.”
“Great fantasy story. If you like fantasy you might wanna check out my story.”
If you’re serious about writing you have no place signing up to such sites. It’s ego boosting, and the one thing an aspiring writer doesn’t need is an inflated ego. Inflated egos don’t cope well with editors asking for revisions.
There’s one other type of site that I’d avoid and that’s paid membership peer review sites. I’ve stumbled across a couple which I’m not going to name. The reason I won’t name them is that they could be excellent but in principle I just don’t get why writers would pay. There are decent free peer review sites so why pay? If anyone does have a positive experience of a paid peer review site let me know. I’ll do a feature on it.
Part 2 – Authonomy
I’ve been a member of Authonomy for a few years but I rarely log on. Before I start sounding too negative let me say straight away that Authonomy is big. It’s run / owned by HarperCollins and ‘YES’ there have been some success stories with authors being published. Some authors have also secured agents by use of the site.
The site is aimed at novelists. You can upload 10,000 words of your novel. Less than 10,000 words is not permitted. This can also be 10,000 words of an unfinished novel.
Members recommend / review other members work and the most highly ranked work gets reviewed by a selection of HarperCollins commissioning editors.
Sound good? Well, in a sense it is good. However, what are they really offering? If you’ve written a novel you can send it to any publisher. All you need to do is a little bit of research. Find out who to address your query letter to. Find out the submission guidelines, and off you go. The John Jarrold literary agency requires you to send in your first three chapters, some details of your writing career if any, and they want you to tell them why your work is relevant to the fantasy genre which is what they specialise in. Comply with their guidelines and somebody who could get your work published will be reading your work. So I ask again…what are they offering?
One answer to that might be ‘peer reviews’. However, the reviews on Authonomy are very, very lightweight. There are one or two members who are exceptions but on the whole the reviews are minimal. It’s more about networking, back slapping, camaraderie. Recommend my book and I’ll recommend yours is a phrase you will hear many times.
If you’ve written a novel, and you’ve had stock rejection letters back then it might be worthwhile if you’re prepared to do some online networking. Otherwise I really don’t know what they’re offering. It’s easy to get your work read if you follow the guidelines laid down by the companies you’re sending your work to. It’s easy to find addresses via resources such as the Writer’s Yearbook.
Here’s a link to Authonomy if anyone is interested: http://authonomy.com/
I’d be happy to hear from anyone with positive or negative feedback on Authonomy. The above is just my opinion.
I’ll cover off Zoetrope and Triggerstreet in a separate post.
As peer review sites have been invaluable to me I thought I’d better post about my experiences.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting my views both good and bad on the following:
The ones to avoid
Enjoy the weekend.
M J Wolfson - That's me.