The Unofficial Guide to Scribophile

By popular demand (okay, actually just one person, but whatever), I am pleased to present the completely unauthorized guide to Scribophile. I’m not sure what the penalty is if they catch you writing an unauthorized guide to something. Really hoping it doesn’t involve spiders in any fashion.

What is Scribophile, you may ask, and why do I need a guide to it, unofficial or otherwise? Basically, it’s a writing critique community. It’s designed to promote give-and-take between authors about their stories, and to provide a way for writers to find beta-readers. And it’s pretty awesome. I speak from personal experience. If it weren’t for Scribophile, I’d still be the guy with a terabyte of started-but-never-finished novels on his hard drive. I workshopped The Beast of Talesend on the site; and I’m still incredibly grateful for all the helpful feedback I got from the Scribophile community.

That being said, Scribophile can be somewhat overwhelming to new users. I’d hate to think of aspiring writers being scared off by the confusing format, as Scribophile could be exactly what you need to finally make your story happen. So here’s an explanation of how it works, and some tips for making it work even better for you.

Membership

You can sign up to Scribophile for free, but with some limitations. For example, you can only post two works at a time with a basic membership, and you can only store 10 messages in your private inbox. Paid memberships, which offer unlimited posting and a lot of other great benefits, are $9 for a month or $65 for a year. A basic membership is ample for trying out Scribophile, but if you want to get serious about using it, I’d advise paying. It’s worth it if you’re really active on the site.

The Community

Scribophile has all the standard features of a social media/networking site. You can add users to your favorites, get updates when they post new works, and chat with them in a variety of forums. You can also join all kinds of user-created groups, usually revolving around specific genres or aspects of writing. For example, I’m in a Christian writers’ group as well as one for magic systems.

Posting

You can post anything on Scribophile: novels (one reasonably-sized chunk at a time), short stories, poetry, even scripts or plays. The maximum suggested length for posts is 3,000 words, which may require you to split up longer chapters. The site allows you to link together multiple posts into novels so people don’t have trouble following the story.

The Karma System

This is the heart of Scribophile. You get “karma points” for critiquing other writers’ works, and spend them in order to post your own works. You’ll need five points to post something. How many points you get depends on how lengthy a critique you write for a given story, how well it was received by the author and other readers, and what spotlights or bonuses pertain to the writing in question (more on those later). You can write your feedback in three formats: freeform, in which you just say whatever you want; template, in which you answer a specific set of questions; and inline. This one is the option I usually go with. It allows you to highlight parts of the text and write comments within the story itself. This is especially helpful when you’re pointing out typos or remarking on a specific detail of the story.

Spotlights

You earn more karma for critiquing works that are in a spotlight. When you post your own writing, you get to choose which spotlight you want to submit it to. There are five of them:

The Main Spotlight

This spotlight contains 27 works at a time. There’s a queue for it, which is usually pretty long. If you choose to submit a work to this spotlight, you may have to wait quite a while for it to appear there. (Until then, it will still be available to critique; just for less karma.) On the bright side, once a work has three critiques longer than 125 words, it leaves the spotlight. So you can hurry your own stuff into the spotlight by critiquing other stories. The only problem is, on a given day, the main spotlight may not have anything you’re interested in reading. (Adult themes are allowed in Scribophile works, by the way, but such stories are labeled so you can avoid them if you prefer.)

The New Member Spotlight

This is where works from Scribophile’s newest members go. Any new works from them are posted here immediately. There’s no space limit on this spotlight.

The Good Critiquer Spotlight

I’m not going to go into an in-depth explanation of this one to avoid giving you a headache. Long story short, if you write a lot of critiques within one day, you have a better chance of getting your own stories into this spotlight.

The Personal Spotlight

This is the most useful option. When posting a work, you have the option of submitting it to your own personal spotlight. It will appear there immediately—no waiting in line—and stay there until it has six long critiques. Not all Scribophile members will get added karma for critiquing works in this spotlight, however—only ones who have favorited you or who are in a group with you. That generally turns out to be a fairly large number of people once you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on the site, however, which makes the personal spotlight very effective. I use this option exclusively when I post on Scribophile. The only problem is that it’s not available to basic members—yet another reason to cough up the fee for a paid subscription.

The Beta Read Spotlight

This is another option that’s only available to premium members. There’s no karma in the beta read spotlight. It’s basically just a way for people with established groups of beta readers to make use of Scribophile for workshopping purposes without having to navigate the karma system.

That pretty much sums up how the site works. With all that in mind, here are some additional pointers:

  • Don’t be afraid to share your work on Scribophile. The community is really very kind. Honest, but kind. I’ve had people tell me when something needed work, but I’ve never had anyone be unpleasant about it.
  • That being said, don’t necessarily take every criticism of your story to heart. The Scribophile community tends to embrace all the familiar tropes of fiction critique. Prologues are evil. “Destroy all adverbs. Never use the passive voice. Et cetera, et cetera.” If you don’t agree with one or more of these philosophies, you may have to filter out comments along those lines as you read critiques.
  • When writing critiques of other works, you obviously shouldn’t be brutal, but don’t just say “It was wonderful!” either. If there’s a mistake, point it out. The writer didn’t post his story on Scribophile for compliments, he posted it for critique. He wants you to point out mistakes. And if the work is excellent and you don’t have any real critique to offer, Scribophile gives you the option of simply leaving a comment with no associated karma earnings.
  • Use groups to find the kind of writing you want to read and critique. Don’t limit yourself to the main spotlight or you may wind up forcing yourself to read things that aren’t up your alley. I don’t bother critiquing someone’s vampire mermaid romance because I don’t like that genre anyway and won’t be able to offer any constructive criticism. Groups will help you filter out the stories for which you are the intended audience.
  • Be prepared to devote a lot of time to Scribophile if you decide to use it. The reason I’m not very active on the site anymore is because it’s time-consuming. If you need beta-reading and critique, however, the investment of hours is absolutely worth it.

In short, Scribophile is a both an invaluable writing tool and an affirming meeting-place for aspiring authors. I highly recommend it for anyone whose storytelling could use a shot in the arm.

If you have any other questions about the site, share them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Comments (2)

  1. E.B. Dawson May 16, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    I had no idea what this site was about. Thanks for the thorough explanation. It kinda sounds like a secret society with all those rules and all that karma going around. 😉 Can you imagine if real life functioned like that?

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