Alex, thanks for sitting down to interview with us! Let’s dive right in: What inspired you to create Scribophile?
I've always been a big reader and very interested in the writing and publishing industry. I knew I wanted to work in the industry in some capacity, but I wasn't sure how that would happen—especially considering I was a computer guy! Then 2005 or 2006 rolled around, and the web started taking off in the direction of the web as we know it today. They called the web in those days "web 2.0" because all kinds of new technologies were being introduced that changed the way people made and interacted with web sites. Web 2.0 opened up a lot of opportunities for creating rich sites that had functionality nobody had ever seen before. I thought, why not put together a community where writers could meet other writers and exchange feedback, and put it all together in a nice package that took advantage of these new technologies? So I did!
Being users of the site ourselves, we’re very happy that you did. Without the site, we founders of A4A would have never met and we would have never formed. What, in your opinion, is the best thing about the site, or what unique ability does it offer?
The best thing by far is the community we've built. I might be a bit biased but I think the members at Scribophile are the friendliest, most helpful group of people I've seen online. This is something especially difficult to achieve in the context of peer critique, where people are putting their work and their feelings out there in order to improve themselves. There's a lot of opportunity for feelings to potentially get hurt. But despite that, our members write hundreds of thousands of words of critique for each other each day, and everyone comes and goes in the friendly spirit of helping each other succeed. It's really something special.
Our members regularly form long-term friendships, and we've even had a few relationships sprout out of the community too. It's our great community that makes people want to keep coming back.
There definitely is a sense of camaraderie when we’re all working toward the same goal—getting our work to be the best it can be before publishing. Are there any new developments coming for Scrib?
One of my long-term goals is improving groups in general: tweaking the group homepage a little bit, sorting and displaying groups in a clearer way, and improving the tools group leaders have at their disposal. Things like having the ability to have multiple group moderators, that sort of thing. A lot of this will come out bit by bit in the future, it's not something to release all at once.
Another thing on the long-term radar is improving the main homepage, where your various feeds and notifications are. The feeds are overdue for a rethink in how they aggregate and display items, to make them more useful to people. And the homepage itself needs to be organized better for mobile device users.
We’ll be looking out for the updates! Do you have any recommendations for new users?
I always recommend jumping in with a critique right away. Many new members get intimidated because they feel like they don't have the writing chops to give good critiques. But actually it's the other way around—good critiquers don't necessarily need to be good writers, but they do need to be good readers. And almost anyone who's looking at a career of writing is already a pretty good reader by default! So just jump right in—the most basic critique is just telling the author what you, as a reader, think they could have done differently to make the work better. That's all there is to it!
Jump right in—that sounds like good advice for a lot of things in life! I’m sure on the site you get a lot of brand new writers. What advice do you have for them?
I think there are two pieces of advice I would give to new writers. The first is that the best writers are always the most voracious readers. The more good (and bad!) writing you read, the more you start unconsciously picking up what it means to write effective prose. Voluminous reading also goes a long way to improving a writer's vocabulary, and word choice is critical to truly magic prose.
The second is that if you're just starting out, you'll see a lot of discussion about the "rules" of writing. The people on one side of the discussion will tell you that writing is all about rules, while the other side will tell you that it's all about breaking the rules. These two camps are constantly at war. But, I think effective writing lies, like many things in life, somewhere in between those two extremes. As you start your writing career, learning the "rules" is a good way to help shape your prose into something more acceptable than it would have been otherwise. Then, once you've developed a prose style you're comfortable with, you can start breaking those rules in creative and interesting ways. But the key is that it's not possible to break a rule if you never knew the rule in the first place!
That’s really great advice. We want to ask you one last question—well, two—before we let you go: Are you an avid reader? Do you have favorite books or authors?
Yes, I read quite a lot. One of my other projects is a project called Standard Ebooks, at standardebooks.org. Our volunteers take books that are out of copyright in the US and produce commercial-quality ebook editions that are distributed for free. Consequently, I've spent a lot of the last few years reading public domain books. So many of them are really incredible. Some of the favorites I've read for the project are David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.
As far as modern writers go, Dan Simmons' Hyperion books are my favorite sci-fi. I also really like Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series, and I think he's a consistently excellent sci-fi writer outside of that universe too. Nabokov is my favorite fiction writer. I also like Gore Vidal's historical fiction.
That’s a great undertaking, and something we hope gains a lot of traction! Thanks again for sitting down to talk to us! For those who are interested in Scribophile after reading this interview, the site is free to join though you have the option to upgrade to the paid version.
We’re taking a little break for the holidays, and we’ll see you after the new year when we talk about audiobooks!
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