Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Which Message Board Is The Best?

When I’m asked which writing sites I prefer, I usually send people towards Absolute Write or Zoetrope, which are free, or Write Words, which charges for membership. These places combine writers’ message boards with places to post work, and to give and receive criticism, and are populated by real, professional writers, editors and agents who know about writing and publishing, and who are keen to share their knowledge with others. The criticism can sometimes be strong but it will, generally, be constructive and well-informed and all writers, of all levels, will learn a lot about publishing on the way.

I am wary about sites which are full of writers who are as yet unpublished, or have only self- or vanity-published, as they won’t necessarily have the experience or expertise to help other writers discover where they are going wrong. Many, for example, suggest vanity publishing as a way to go. However, some do offer a unique and nurturing community for the writer to grow in, and so can be worth considering.

It really depends what you’re after. If you want to participate in a fun writers’ site but aren’t particularly interested in commercial publication, then try them all. If you want to get properly published, and perhaps want to make a living as a writer, then you’d be wise to join one of my favourite three. Just be aware of each site’s limitations, consider what you want to get out of your online time, and do your research, and you should find somewhere that suits.


Luc2 said...

I like Absolute Write as well, but one should keep in mind that it is also populated by clueless newcomers like myself, who have no experience with the publishing world, but don't lack opinions. :) Always check you sources!

Jane Smith said...

AW does have its own set of clueless newcomers, Luc, but it also has a great set of talented, published writers, editors and agents who post there regularly. I've yet to see any bad advice there go unchallenged.


Anonymous said...

I visit AW from time to time but I find it a bit large and unwieldy to 'get into' and feel at home. Also, I find it too much American based. I have nothing against anything American (let's forget foreign policy here) but it's often not relevant as their publishers and agents often work differently from here in the UK.

Is there a British free open forum for writers that doesn't dole out bad advice on a regular basis or is peopled exclusively by those who haven't a clue?

Jane Smith said...

Sally, I know what you mean about AW: it is huge. But there are plenty of littler subforums (subfora?) on it where one can generally find a comfortable spot.

AW is mostly American but there are plenty of British posters there too, and most of what you'll read there does not exclude the UK market.

The closest place I've found to it over here is Write Words, which does charge: but it has a good proportion of people who are commercially published, and who know what they're talking about. I've not yet found another UK message board which manages that, despite having checked up on most of them. If anyone else can suggest such a place I'd be grateful.


Anonymous said...

Why don't you start a writing forum HPRW?

With love and roars, BFL xxx


Jane Smith said...

BFL: I think I've met you somewhere. Can't think where, but I'll remember. Give me time.

I'm not going to start a writing forum for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that there are already plenty, run by people who do the job a lot better than I would.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested to find out more about these forums, having joined authonomy as a real novice in such places. I had come across Write Words before now but baulked at the registration fee. I'll certainly check out the others as I would welcome proper constructive criticism and particularly from professionals.

Tricia said...

Youwriteon - run by the Arts Council - a British site, but open to all is a really great place to start. The posting and critiquing is kept separate from the message board which makes it far less unwieldy than others I've looked at. You can join just as a reader as well. The top few pieces each month, based on critique scores get a professional critique too.

Jane Smith said...

Tricia, YouWriteOn is NOT run by the Arts Council.

I believe that some time ago Edward Smith, who runs YouWriteOn, received some funding from the Arts Council but as far as I know that was a one-off thing rather than a continuous grant; and it was made to him, rather than to YWO.

I might well be wrong, and if so I apologise. I have had a look at the Arts Council site to try to find out just how the AC funded YWO but can find no record of any funding at all at the moment, to either YWO or to Edward/Ted Smith. This is probably due to my failure to make Google work for me, rather than there being no record of his grant. I'll see what I can find out next week, when the AC offices are open again, and will report back when I know more.

Meanwhile, I do find it disturbing that YWO encourages people to assume that there's a greater connection between it and the AC than there is.

I have serious reservations about YWO for other reasons, too.

I don't like the fact that YWO runs a vanity publishing scheme via Legend Press (which is, as far as I know, a vanity press whether YWO is involved or not).

I don't like the fact that YWO's site administrators copy work onto their message board from all over the internet without apparently having the appropriate permission to do so. That's sloppy, and at best indicates a lack of respect to the writers who wrote the articles in the first place. At worst, it's blatant copyright infringement. Not a very good stance for a writers' board to take.

I'm doubtful, too, of the standard of advice that I've seen there. Writing reviews are fine if the people commenting on your work know what they're talking about, but if they're still mostly novices you're not going to learn much and might very well learn the wrong things.

To summarise, I'd advise anyone who is serious about improving their work to avoid YWO for now. At least until it's had a few real commercial successes, rather than the vanity- and self-publishing stories which seem to proliferate there. Sorry.


Tricia said...

This is from the About Us section of YWO.
The aim of is to help all new writers develop and to help talented writers get noticed and published. We are funded by Arts Council England.

I believe the arts council funds the professional reviewers too.

I personally have found the site very useful.

Edward Smith certainly comes across as a man of integrity. I'd be interested to know what you dig up...

Anonymous said...

Take a look at Backspace (, you have to pay for membership - though you can sample it for free.

It has a lot of published authors and a very professional approach to the writing business.

Jane Smith said...


I've been Googling a little more since I last posted and the only connections between YWO and the AC that I've managed to dig up are these:

On 14 June 2005, Edward Smith received £29,896 from the Arts Council for a project called Write On, to pay for Training, Development & Other Activities” under the Grants for Individuals scheme.

Find that information here:

In February 2007, Edward Smith/ was awarded £24,000 by the Arts Council.

Find that information here:

In February 2008, Edward Smith/ received a nationwide, non-specific grant of £10,000 from the Arts Council for “A website that allows users to upload chapters of their manuscripts, and, in exchange for reviewing other people's, their own work is read and rated. Its anticipated effect on the professional development of new writers is widespread”.

You can find that information here:

Those links take you to downloads which take a bit of time on dial-up—be warned.

It's clear that Edward Smith and/or YouWriteOn has received Arts Council on three separate occasions, and that I was wrong in thinking that it was a one-off. However, YWO is NOT run by the Arts Council, as you stated in your first message here, which would be a very different thing.

My other reservations about YWO remain. I don't like vanity publishing and am very uncomfortable that YWO offers such a scheme. I'm still concerned that while the people there are well-intentioned, their level of writing expertise is low which is bound to impact on the advice that they give. And I still don't like the way that copyright laws have been interpreted over there.

Having said all of that, YWO seems to be a happy community, on the whole, and with writing being such a solitary occupation some writers might find such communities useful. I'd just be wary about relying on it as a source of consistent, good advice if your intention is to get your writing as good as it can be.


Jane Smith said...

ianb, sorry to ignore you there. I'll have a look at Backspace, and thank you for the link.