Guidelines for monthly critique sessions

Supernova holds monthly meetings to critique short stories and other fiction. These are held on the first Sunday of each month (2pm) at someone’s house — typically whoever puts up their hand.

Submissions

Subs are emailed out no less than one week before each meeting. We don’t schedule who submits; it’s usually whoever has something ready and gets in the queue first. However, there’s a natural courtesy among members: people will only sub in consecutive months, for example, if there are still some slots available at the last minute. But we have no hard and fast rules about this.

Nor do we have any specific rules for the maximum number of submissions per month, although four seems to be an unofficial upper limit. (Any more than that leads to very long meetings.)

As far as submission length goes, anything up to 8,000 words is to be expected; longer submissions are OK too, although authors tend to flag them early and provide extra time for members to read and comment. For submissions over about 15,000 words (an arbitrary figure I’m making up) some negotiation might be required to see who has the time to review something of that length. Bottom line: use common sense and courtesy towards fellow members.

When sending out a sub, it’s a good idea to state the word length in the email (it helps others plan), plus let everyone know if there’s anything specific you’re looking for. It’s not uncommon for authors to request a ‘high-level’ critique of pacing, logic, characterisation etc (as opposed to line edits) on longer pieces or novel chapters.

And, yes, novel chapters are OK to submit. We’ve had quite a few first chapters in recent years, but for anyone wanting to workshop progressive chapters that’s perfectly acceptable — although we can’t promise feedback on each chapter will be from the same people.

As stated, we have no rules as to how often you can submit — but just be sensible and sensitive about it.

Similarly, we have no rules about how infrequently you submit. There is no obligation to submit at all, in fact. Some of our members are working on novels they don’t wish to have workshopped, and turn up to meetings for fellowship and the joy of critiquing the work of others. (It’s certainly possible to learn a lot from the critiquing process.)

Critiquing

Supernova is a group of professionals, and we value incisive, detailed and critical review of our work. However, we ask that our members provide constructive feedback at all times. We understand that our art is a subjective one, and often readers respond to the same piece differently. Our mission is to help each other develop our stories/novels to be the best they can be.

It’s worth noting that everyone has different strengths and areas of focus when critiquing. All are valued — whether someone’s focus is line editing, logic, characterisation, language, pacing, motivation etc (or a mix).

During a meeting, subs are typically reviewed in order of submission. Usually whoever says “shall we start?” has to go first, and then we proceed in a circle taking it in turns to provide feedback. Some things to consider here:

  • If it’s a large group (>12) we will probably time comments (2-3 minutes) and refrain from interrupting each other — especially if we have a full quota of subs.
  • The author of the piece is encouraged to remain silent during the critique unless asked a direct question.
  • If it’s a small group (<6) we’re likely to relax the ‘no-interruption’ rule and engage in general discussion about points.
  • Sometimes the Clarion ‘ditto’/’anti-ditto’ technique is used to express agreement/disagreement with a point made by another critiquer — but not everyone likes it.

It’s generally expected that members attending a meeting will have critiqued all (or at least most) of the pieces for that month. Some of us prefer to print out subs and mark-up by hand; others prefer to work electronically, bringing tablets/laptops to meetings and emailing the authors subsequently. Both methods are fine.

There’s no obligation to critique a piece if you’re not attending the meeting — although many kind souls do and email the authors off-list.

Please note it’s considered bad form to only turn up to meetings when you have a piece up for critique.

Sustenance

Meeting and critiquing is thirsty and hungry work! What tends to happen is people attending meetings bring plates of food and bottles of wine (or whatever) to consume during the sparring session. For this reason, travelling by public transport is encouraged where practical.

We are a speculative fiction group

Most of our members are here because they write speculative fiction. It follows that most submissions are SF in some form, and mostly they are prose.

We do not have rules against submitting non-SF or non-prose (ie poetry) or even non-fiction. However, it’s probably fair to say that the level of an individual’s familiarity with these genres will determine the usefulness of their feedback. Not everyone feels equipped to offer useful insights on non-fiction or poetry (or even some forms of high literature) — but we’ll have a go!

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These guidelines to Supernova critique meetings have been put together by Ellen.

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