One of the things I missed when I started writing was objective feedback. As I worked full time and any writers' groups I knew of met during the day, any opinion on what I was doing and whether it had any worth was difficult to come by.
I was muchly relieved therefore to discover the online writers group YouWriteOn a few years back. Set up by Edward Smith - with some Arts Council funding - to help budding writers, YWO not only provided feedback but the top-rated titles each month were then passed on to industry professionals (editors, writers etc) for a more comprehensive critique.
The process was simple, you reviewed other writers work (which was assigned to you by the system so as to avoid any favouritism). Each review you provided gave you a credit which you could then assign to your own work thus making it available for critique also. Work was assessed in eight categories, each with a rating of 1 to 5. A daily chart showed the top-ranking titles and these were sent to a number of industry professionals each month and made available to a number of agents that were affiliated to the site.
As with all sites of this nature, some of the reviews tended to be perfunctory or lacking in objective or valuable content but, for the most part, most of the reviews identified what was good and bad about the work under review and presented comprehensive feedback - which was invaluable from my perspective as I had nothing else to go on when I joined the site.
As a result of my association with the site I not only received a positive critique from Michael Legat (a publishing industry eminence grise) but ended up having The Third Pig Detective Agency placed third in the site's 2007 Children's Book of the Year.
Looking back, the critiques I received helped me make my opening chapters so much better but, more importantly, the exposure I received from being on the site opened industry doors that wouldn't have been possible had I had to do it on my own.
Other writers from the site have made breakthroughs also, most notably Doug Jackson whose historical novel Caligula was acquired by Transworld and published earlier this year.
YWO has recently branched into POD in association with Legend Press and are offering to print 5,000 writers free of charge. Understandably this has provoked quite a reaction in the industry (both positive and negative) and it will be interesting to see the outcome of this particluar project and its impact on YWO as a whole.
In terms of what it offers to any budding writer, I'd recommend YWO wholeheartedly as it provides a resource for objective feedback that might not be otherwise available as well as fostering a strong writer's community.
Check it out.