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AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
Full Member
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0
 
New Members Induction Material… Please Help Me Update It!



When a new member joins, they receive the following material. Could you please have a look at it all – it’s quite long – and post below (in this thread) any updates / revisions / clarifications / additions you think we ought to make. Would be deeply appreciated… especially coming from relatively new members.

When making a comment, please could you refer to the (a) the item you’re commenting on (e.g. “Welcome Conversation”) and (b) if necessary the line or sentence you’re making a comment on.

:) p.

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(1) Welcome Conversation

When a new member signs up, they immediately receive the following conversation from me in their inbox


Hello, {name}! I’m delighted to welcome you to the Colony!

This is the first “Conversation” message you’ll receive here in the Colony. It won’t be the last!

You can start a new Conversation with anyone you want. Click on the little “email” symbol next to your name, at the top of the page. Then select “Start a new conversation.”

Start typing your recipient's name. The Colony’s software will automatically give you a few suggestions based on what you type.

Conversations are always private. You can decide who to invite to your Conversation – and who to drop from one if you so wish.

A lot of things here in the Colony are private, because we believe writers need to be in control of their own words. I’ll explain more about this in the coming days.

I’ve just sent an email to the address you supplied when you registered here.

Please check your email inbox now to make sure you’re receiving Colony mail. If it doesn’t seem to be there, your spam filter may have trapped it. Please whitelist our email address, admin@litopia.com.

There’s a host of things I want to tell you about! However, I don’t want to overload you – so for the moment, let me just mention that help is always only a click away. No question is too simple to ask! That’s exactly what our Help Forum is for:


Again – congratulations on joining the net’s first and best writers’ colony. I hope your stay here will be long, profitable and very happy!


Peter Cox, founder

a.k.a. AgentPete



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(2) Welcome Email

In addition to the Welcome Conversation above, new members also immediately receive the following email


Hello, {name}!

Congratulations on joining Litopia.

The Colony will work its magic for you, just as it has done for a great many writers over the years.

But it can be a tad confusing initially, partly because so much is going on. Don't worry. We have a special collection of How-To Guides that will help you settle in.

And if you're confused about anything, please don't hesitate to ask a question in the Help Forum.

OK, so what should you do first?

Do this! Go to the Welcome Forum straight away, and post a short message saying hello. If you're nervous, check out what other new members have written there.

You'll quickly find that other members will welcome you and... you're off! By the way, this is also a great place to ask any preliminary questions you may have.

One thing not to do...

Don't choose a random forum and start posting a hard sell for your latest and greatest oeuvre. That's spamming, and it's a quick way to lose your membership here. We're very keen to help everyone sell their books... but please not by spamming our forums.

Right, next thing. If you're not yet a Full Member, I suggest you upgrade straight away so that you can take advantage of the entire scope and considerable depth of the Colony. We keep the cost of Full Membership very low, because we know that most writers aren’t made of money. The yearly sub works out to a mere $8 a month! Outstanding value when compared to most other sites.

One of the major benefits of Full Membership is the ability to attend our weekly Huddles, where you’ll find me and a goodly crowd of other writers. Huddles are completely confidential. You can discuss and show your work-in-progress or in fact anything else on your mind. Attendees find them very rewarding: there’s nothing else quite like them on the net.

Now for some fun.

I suggest you visit Café Life as soon as you can and see what the literati are gossiping about. Café Life is our main forum for chatting and socialising. But we've also got the Back Room, which is similar but private and not indexed by search engines.

I’m sure you’re dying to know about the business end of Litopia - how do you receive and give manuscript crits?

As you would expect, we have a dedicated area for this, and it’s very good indeed.

It’s called the Workshops. I'll send you a detailed email tomorrow about the Workshops, because – although they’re not complicated to use – you will certainly benefit from some clear instructions. Take my advice: don’t post anything there until you’ve read tomorrow's email.

Finally… you may notice a few members in the Colony with “Guardian” under their name. Guardians ensure that Litopia remains a happy, safe and functional environment for all of us.

If you need help, advice or orientation, ask a Guardian! Also, if a Guardian asks you to change the way you do something, please do it with good grace.

I’ll be sending you a few more emails over the next few days to help you settle in. Please watch out for them and do make sure our email address isn’t being trapped by your spam filter.

Until tomorrow!

AgentPete

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(3) “How To Use The Workshops”

Sent the day after the above


Dear {name},

Yesterday, I promised to give you a detailed guide to the Workshops, the Colony’s main area for giving and receiving critiques. Et voilà, here it is!

First of all, let’s cover the all-important topic of privacy. We fully understand that the last thing any writer wants for their work-in-progress is for it to escape onto the internet. So we’ve given you a set of powerful controls that will ensure your work is only seen by those people you choose. And when the critiquing process is finished, you (and only you) can remove all traces of it from the website.

The next thing to say is that, no matter what privacy setting you choose, the contents of the Workshops are never publicly accessible. To prove this, try logging out of Litopia, then try to access the Workshops – you can’t.

OK, let’s summarize exactly what you can do in the Workshops. You can:

  • Create a new Workshop for your current work-in-progress. Workshops typically cover such things as titles, blurbs, first chapters… even entire manuscripts. You may create several different Workshops for different stages of the same project.
  • You can choose whether the Workshop is visible to other Litopians, or completely private. If it’s visible to other members, you’ll probably attract more interest.
  • You can change the privacy settings of your Workshop at any time. For example, you might initially make it visible to other Litopians, but then change the status to “private” when you’ve got enough people involved.
  • You can invite other members individually to join your Workshop.
  • You can create a Poll that will allow others to vote on questions you ask them (“which title do you prefer?” etc).
  • And of course, you can completely remove the Workshop when it’s served its purpose.
All these controls are carefully explained here. You’ll find it quickly becomes second nature.

Now – I have a serious piece of advice.

Before you rush off to create your first Workshop, I strongly suggest you first take part in someone else’s.

Doing this will give you an excellent idea of how Workshops actually work. But beyond that, helping someone else with their work-in-progress will be an eye-opening experience for you.

You will start to see your own writing very differently. You’ll recognize common mistakes, pitfalls, errors and failings. You’ll become aware of the most common problems that afflict about 80% of the submissions I see.

Helping another writer with their own work-in-progress will make you a better writer.

There’s a detailed guide to the Litopia Method for Giving Critiques here.

And there’s a simple example of how to write your first Workshop brief here.

Lastly, two no-nos.

  • You can't expect to receive a crit if you don't give any. Try to give at least three times as many crits as you request. Be generous with your time here.
  • Don’t blast the Workshops with several pieces in short succession. For example, don’t post daily rewrites of your work-in-progress.
I hope this proves useful to you - watch out for tomorrow’s email!

My best,

AgentPete

---



(4) “The Litopia Ethos Explained”

Sent the day after the above


Dear {name},

Today’s email is very short.

I just wanted to talk to you, for a moment, about the ethos that underpins Litopia.

As you know, Litopia has been around for a very long time. We’ve seen many other websites for writers come and go; most of them offering expensive courses, paid critiques, highly-priced editorial services, and so on.

In recent years, I’ve watched with some alarm as the price of these various offerings has steadily skyrocketed. It’s not unusual, these days, to see writing courses on sale for several thousand dollars or pounds… sometimes even more!

Let me be clear. I don't believe that any writer needs to spend that sort of money to develop their craft.

How did Jane Austen ever manage to write anything without taking an expensive writing course? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or any of the great writers of recent or bygone eras?

The truth is that most writing courses offer rather poor value. They are profit-centres for the people who run them. For most writers, however, they do not represent a good use of your time or money.

Litopia has a different approach; we give you the tools, and then let you get on with it. And we offer the best value on the net, I am certain. The cost of a whole year’s membership ($99.95) is less than many organisations charge for a single writing seminar.

And as you know, the basic level of membership here is entirely free. Once you've been here for a week or two, i do hope that you'll become a Full Member. The cost is modest, and your support allows us to continue to support you.

Litopia is above all collegiate community. A place where writers help other writers to hone their skills and to progress on their own terms. A place where you can develop your own authentic writing voice.

And that can’t be bought at any price.

I’m honoured that you’ve chosen to be part of our wonderful community. More from me tomorrow.

My best,

AgentPete

---



(5) “Seven Deadly Sins”

Sent the day after the above



Dear {name},

I can’t begin to guess how many submissions I have seen over the past few decades as an agent. Whatever the number is – and it must be quite astronomical – it’s striking how many of them share the same common failings.

All of these mistakes are terminal, i.e. they’ll result in an immediate rejection. But all of them are fixable, too.

Mostly, it seems that writers simply don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong.

So here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen. Avoid them – and your work will stand out like a diamond in the dust!

1. Don’t Be Boring!​

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a writer’s primary responsibility to interest the reader. Most submissions fail at this first hurdle. The fact is, the majority of manuscripts and proposals that cross agents’ desks or inboxes are simply not interesting enough to hold one’s attention.

This usually has very little to do with the choice of subject-matter. It’s more commonly a consequence of the writer’s inability to produce compelling prose: writing that excites a deep emotional response.

Sadly, just because you may enjoy writing your manuscript, it doesn’t necessarily follow that others will enjoy reading it.

Today’s reader needs constant encouragement to keep turning the page. It’s your primary duty and professional obligation as a writer to keep the reader doing exactly that. How do you know if you’re succeeding? Simple. Post an extract from your work-in-progress in the Workshops, and you’ll find out!

2. Failure to Understand “Point of View”​

“Point of View” isn’t rocket science. It’s actually a fundamental writing skill, without which you have no claim to be taken seriously as an author. So learn it, use it, move on.

And yet, so many submissions I see blithely ignore POV.

RIP!

3. Don’t Be Derivative​

Far too many proposals and manuscripts are simply variations on a pre-existing theme. While there's certainly a market for genre writing, you’ll never make your reputation as a writer by rehashing a tired old plot formula. Give an agent something that twinkles with the fresh dew of originality, and you might just find that those sparkles turn into diamonds.

4. Don’t Be Afraid Of “The Big Idea”​

This follows on from the previous point. Most successful books have, at their core, a “Big Idea” – a powerful, original, enticing concept capable of seizing the reader’s attention, and engaging their mind and emotions. Big Ideas are sexy! They get the publishing business excited. They open doors for newcomers. And they can make big money!

5. Don’t Neglect Your Craft​

A great concert pianist, at the pinnacle of their success, will typically practice for four hours a day. How much time do you spend honing your craft?

Many writers dangerously assume that they have no need to improve themselves or their skills. What sets a good writer apart from the herd is a confident, controlled, creative and virtuoso use of language… A subtle skill, and one which demands constant practice. Never stop honing your skills. You can always develop, always improve, always learn or create new writing tactics.

6. Don’t Hide Your Talent​

This may sound pretty obvious, yet it’s amazing how often I’ve seen opening chapters that don’t adequately showcase the best of that particular writer’s talent. Sometimes, I’ve even had cover letters saying, “The first few chapters aren’t very good, but it gets better by chapter seven!” What?

If you have a flair for dialogue, show it! If you can bring tears to the reader’s eyes, do it! If you’re a demon at plotting, start plotting from page one!

The industry really does want to discover brilliant new writing talent. If you spend the first three chapters warming up, only to hit your peak by page fifty, don’t expect anyone in a busy office to notice you. It is vital to front-load your talent. Understand where your writing strengths lie, and make sure you put them on full display.

7. Don’t Give Up!​

“Nobody knows anything,” wrote William Goldman in his seminal book Adventures In The Screen Trade. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.”

This is as true of publishing as it is of movies. Publishers and agents basically back their instincts. If they are unsure about a project, the natural tendency is to play safe, and pass. Rejection is the default position for publishers, because it’s safe. No-one was ever sacked for not picking up JK Rowling.

So don’t become discouraged when you encounter rejection. Which you will – a lot. It’s just how the business operates.

Pay serious attention to criticism but never at the cost of ignoring your own inner voice; never lose faith in yourself; challenge yourself to constantly reinvent your writing style; and finally, remember that there’s really only one cardinal rule (perilously ignored by many writers) which is to keep the reader turning the page. Everything else, ultimately, boils down to that one simple dictum.

More tomorrow.

My best,

AgentPete

---



(6) “A Field Guide to Litopia”

Sent the day after the above



Dear {name},

Today I’ve got a little list for you of useful tricks & techniques…

* Tag Me!​

Did you know that you can tag people in your posts? This is incredibly helpful if you want to be sure that the person concerned sees what you’ve written. For example, if you want to tag me, simply type “@AgentPete” and I’ll get an immediate notification that I’ve been mentioned. Actually, you don’t even have to type the full name – just type the “@” symbol and the first letter or two of their name, and our helpful software will provide some suggestions for you to select.

* Turn On Notifications​

You can receive notifications from Litopia when something happens. You are in total control of this. Go to the “Preferences” area in your Account Control Panel. Scroll down, and you’ll see a host of options here. It’s worth spending a few moments fine-tuning this to suit you. Do you want to be notified when someone replies to a thread you’re watching? Would you like to know when someone quotes your words anywhere? All these, and a great deal more, can be turned on and off.

* Install Our Web App​

If you regularly access the Colony from your mobile device, you will find it easier to install our web app. It looks and acts as any other app on your phone or tablet, and means you don't have to bother with bookmarks. It's a nicer experience for you. Full instructions here.

* Use The Back Room​

As you know, we’re very privacy-aware in the Colony. While our main discussion area, Cafe Life, is publicly-viewable (although only members can post) we also have an offshoot of Cafe Life called the Back Room that is completely private. It’s not indexed by search engines nor is it viewable by non-members. It’s a good place to speak confidentially, to ask for the candid views of your fellow members and sometimes to vent a bit of angst… which all writers need to do sometimes! You can delete your own posts and threads here too. Full access to The Back Room is one of the many benefits of Full Membership.

* Use The Huddles​

Huddles are live events that take place on Saturdays. They are VERY private! You can bring anything along… your first chapter, your blurb, your ideas for titles, your draft cover letter… and of course any questions… we’ll tackle them all. The golden rule is – what happens in the Huddle stays in the Huddle. They last about 2 hours, and must be booked in advance.

This is the last daily email I'll send you - I do hope that you're finding your feet in the Colony - and please remember, we're here for you to answer any questions you may have and to generally support you.

See you in the Colony!

My best,

AgentPete

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Hannah F

Full Member
LV
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Awards
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1) Welcome Conversation

After "There's a host of things I want to tell you," it might be a good idea to let them know that, for the next five days, they will receive a new email with new how-to information.
"However, I don't want to overload you . . . "

That way, the newcomer won't get worried that they're going to receive an email every day ad infinitum and bow out before they get to number 6 that tells them it's the last one.

That's my only comment. I think they're great and should definitely make a newcomer feel like they're in helpful hands (which they most certainly are).
 

E G Logan

Full Member
LV
0
 
I agree with Hannah, but...
Sorry, this is a bit nit-picking, but these emails are someone's introduction to Litopia, so it's important they are right.

Day 5, Don't Neglect Your Craft
"will typically practice for four hours". Practise, the verb, has an 's' (in English-English). It's the noun that has a 'c'.
 

Hannah F

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
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I agree with Hannah, but...
Sorry, this is a bit nit-picking, but these emails are someone's introduction to Litopia, so it's important they are right.

Day 5, Don't Neglect Your Craft
"will typically practice for four hours". Practise, the verb, has an 's' (in English-English). It's the noun that has a 'c'.
Though in American English, they both have a c.
 

Peyton Stafford

Full Member
LV
0
 
I agree with Hannah, but...
Sorry, this is a bit nit-picking, but these emails are someone's introduction to Litopia, so it's important they are right.

Day 5, Don't Neglect Your Craft
"will typically practice for four hours". Practise, the verb, has an 's' (in English-English). It's the noun that has a 'c'.
Setting a daily time requirement may make sense to those of us who structure our days around writing, but it may discourage people who struggle to fit writing into their lives. Never mind the spelling. OMG, I wish we could all agree to use English English spelling. Dialects are wonderful, but why must we in the USA suffer from Ben Franklin's print shop problems from hundred of years ago?
 
Last edited:

James Charles

"The hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd."
Full Member
LV
0
 
Setting a daily time requirement may make sense to those of us who structure our days around writing, but it may discourage people who struggle to fit writing into their lives. Never mind the spelling. OMG, I wish we could all agree to use English English spelling. Dialects are wonderful, but why must we in the USA suffer from Ben Franklin's print shop problems from hundred of years ago?
Yes, speak the Queen's bloody English, already!
 

James Charles

"The hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd."
Full Member
LV
0
 
This is comprehensive and clear. Serious writers will take the time to digest, and learn. As is always the case, it takes time to teach old dogs new tricks; I guess that includes me...
 

RG Worsey

Basic
LV
3
 
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New Members Induction Material… Please Help Me Update It!
I recall getting this series of emails and recall feeling surprised that I had one a day, though I read them all and found them useful. It would be a good idea to mention in email one that there will be four more on consecutive days, then the member will get occasional (monthly?) ones.

You can start a new Conversation with anyone you want. Click on the little “email” symbol next to your name, at the top of the page. Then select “Start a new conversation.”

Start typing your recipient's name. The Colony’s software will automatically give you a few suggestions based on what you type.

Conversations are always private. You can decide who to invite to your Conversation – and who to drop from one if you so wish.
Might be an idea to add a line explaining the difference between a "conversation" (private messaging) and sending a message, which opens up a chat room. I found that really confusing, at first, because most online media refers to PM or DMing someone, not starting a conversation.

A lot of things here in the Colony are private, because we believe writers need to be in control of their own words. I’ll explain more about this in the coming days.

I’ve just sent an email to the address you supplied when you registered here.

Please check your email inbox now to make sure you’re receiving Colony mail. If it doesn’t seem to be there, your spam filter may have trapped it. Please whitelist our email address, admin@litopia.com.

There’s a host of things I want to tell you about! However, I don’t want to overload you – so for the moment, let me just mention that help is always only a click away. No question is too simple to ask! That’s exactly what our Help Forum is for:
This is great. Clear and friendly.

But it can be a tad confusing initially, partly because so much is going on. Don't worry. We have a special collection of How-To Guides that will help you settle in.
One of my pet hates is people starting a sentence with "But". It's very poor English.

And if you're confused about anything, please don't hesitate to ask a question in the Help Forum.

OK, so what should you do first?

Do this! Go to the Welcome Forum straight away, and post a short message saying hello. If you're nervous, check out what other new members have written there.
Perhaps make this more of a suggestion than an instruction. Some people react badly to "should", "straight away" and "Do this!"

You'll quickly find that other members will welcome you and... you're off! By the way, this is also a great place to ask any preliminary questions you may have.

One thing not to do...

Don't choose a random forum and start posting a hard sell for your latest and greatest oeuvre. That's spamming, and it's a quick way to lose your membership here. We're very keen to help everyone sell their books... but please not by spamming our forums.
Mention the Marketplace, so new members know that there is an appropriate way to promote their work. I suggest mentioning this first. By following this with the explanation about spamming, new members can't later claim that they didn't know.

The next part is a bit waffly. I suggest writing it more as bullet points. These are the extra things you can do as a full member...

(3) “How To Use The Workshops”

Sent the day after the above

OK, let’s summarize exactly what you can do in the Workshops. You can:
There's both British and American English spellings in this. I don't have a problem with that, though it's worth pointing out.

Now – I have a serious piece of advice.

Before you rush off to create your first Workshop, I strongly suggest you first take part in someone else’s.

Doing this will give you an excellent idea of how Workshops actually work. But beyond that, helping someone else with their work-in-progress will be an eye-opening experience for you.
Back in the day, before Radio Litopia and all that, I'm pretty sure there was a rule that new members crit three people's work before submitting their own. Excuse me if my memory is playing tricks on me. Perhaps that was seen as too rigid, and discarded? Would it be a good idea to ask (though not police it) for new members to take part in two existing workshops, before starting their own? I hate vagueness, and the concept of helping two others before seeking help myself is much more solid than this vague, "...strongly suggest...".

You will start to see your own writing very differently. You’ll recognize common mistakes, pitfalls, errors and failings. You’ll become aware of the most common problems that afflict about 80% of the submissions I see.
What's the big problem with the other 20%? Go on, tell us. That's an idea for a seminar, actually.

Helping another writer with their own work-in-progress will make you a better writer.
All the rest of this is great, and just the right length.

---



(4) “The Litopia Ethos Explained”

Sent the day after the above


Dear {name},

Today’s email is very short.

I just wanted to talk to you, for a moment, about the ethos that underpins Litopia.

As you know, Litopia has been around for a very long time. We’ve seen many other websites for writers come and go; most of them offering expensive courses, paid critiques, highly-priced editorial services, and so on.

In recent years, I’ve watched with some alarm as the price of these various offerings has steadily skyrocketed. It’s not unusual, these days, to see writing courses on sale for several thousand dollars or pounds… sometimes even more!

Let me be clear. I don't believe that any No writer needs to spend that sort of money to develop their craft.
There are some filler words and waffly bits that dilute the essential message. I've made them bold. This is a really important message, that would be stronger with a sense of thrust.

How did Jane Austen ever manage to write anything without taking an expensive writing course? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or any of the great writers of recent or bygone eras?
They were rich and didn't have day jobs. Or they had wealthy patrons. Just saying...

The truth is that most writing courses offer rather poor value.
The bit that follows about profit centres is great. It's critical, without being libellous.

Litopia has a different approach; we give you the tools, and then let you get on with it. And we offer the best value on the net, I am certain. The cost of a whole year’s membership ($99.95) is less than many organisations charge for a single writing seminar.

And as you know, the basic level of membership here is entirely free. Once you've been here for a week or two, i do hope that you'll become a Full Member. The cost is modest, and your support allows us to continue to support you.

Litopia is above all collegiate community. A place where writers help other writers to hone their skills and to progress on their own terms. A place where you can develop your own authentic writing voice.
All good.

And that can’t be bought at any price.
This is a contradiction. Do you want paying members, or not?

Dear {name},

I can’t begin to guess how many submissions I have seen over the past few decades as an agent. Whatever the number is – and it must be quite astronomical – it’s striking how many of them share the same common failings.

All of these mistakes are terminal, i.e. they’ll result in an immediate rejection. But all of them are fixable, too.

Mostly, it seems that writers simply don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong.

So here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen. Avoid them – and your work will stand out like a diamond in the dust!

1. Don’t Be Boring!​

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a writer’s primary responsibility to interest the reader. Most submissions fail at this first hurdle. The fact is, the majority of manuscripts and proposals that cross agents’ desks or inboxes are simply not interesting enough to hold one’s attention.
It can't be obvious. If it's obvious, it wouldn't be one of the most common mistakes.

2. Failure to Understand “Point of View”​

“Point of View” isn’t rocket science. It’s actually a fundamental writing skill, without which you have no claim to be taken seriously as an author. So learn it, use it, move on.

And yet, so many submissions I see blithely ignore POV.
I think it's worth adding a line to explain first person, second person (shudder), third person limited, third person omni.

3. Don’t Be Derivative​

Far too many proposals and manuscripts are simply variations on a pre-existing theme. While there's certainly a market for genre writing, you’ll never make your reputation as a writer by rehashing a tired old plot formula. Give an agent something that twinkles with the fresh dew of originality, and you might just find that those sparkles turn into diamonds.
The issue with this suggestion is that TV and cinemas keep rehashing the same franchises and there isn't much that's new. If agents truly are looking for new concepts and fresh stories, perhaps this point should be expanded a bit? Give a few examples? I'm not sure what to suggest. We, as writers, keep getting the opposite impression.

5. Don’t Neglect Your Craft​

A great concert pianist, at the pinnacle of their success, will typically practice for four hours a day. How much time do you spend honing your craft?

Many writers dangerously assume that they have no need to improve themselves or their skills. What sets a good writer apart from the herd is a confident, controlled, creative and virtuoso use of language… A subtle skill, and one which demands constant practice. Never stop honing your skills. You can always develop, always improve, always learn or create new writing tactics.
Perhaps add that writers need to read a lot. By joining Litopia, they get to beta read great novels for free.

(6) “A Field Guide to Litopia”

Sent the day after the above
No comments on the rest. All very clear.
 

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
Full Member
LV
0
 
Thanks Ronnie, very helpful.

I recall getting this series of emails and recall feeling surprised that I had one a day, though I read them all and found them useful. It would be a good idea to mention in email one that there will be four more on consecutive days, then the member will get occasional (monthly?) ones.
Will do.

Might be an idea to add a line explaining the difference between a "conversation" (private messaging) and sending a message, which opens up a chat room. I found that really confusing, at first, because most online media refers to PM or DMing someone, not starting a conversation.
Yep, and to add to the confusion, we used to refer to them as PMs here, too. Then the programmers changed the nomenclature.


This is great. Clear and friendly.


One of my pet hates is people starting a sentence with "But". It's very poor English.
But... really? :)

Back in the day, before Radio Litopia and all that, I'm pretty sure there was a rule that new members crit three people's work before submitting their own. Excuse me if my memory is playing tricks on me. Perhaps that was seen as too rigid, and discarded? Would it be a good idea to ask (though not police it) for new members to take part in two existing workshops, before starting their own? I hate vagueness, and the concept of helping two others before seeking help myself is much more solid than this vague, "...strongly suggest...".
Indeed, there were various iterations of that sort of rule, yes. We abandoned it for several reasons… the most practical being that our software doesn’t allow a non-customised way to keep tally.

What's the big problem with the other 20%? Go on, tell us. That's an idea for a seminar, actually.
Great question! Actually, there’s no one factor. It is surprising how the majority of submissions share the same set of flaws. As far as the other 20% is concerned, some (a smaller percentage) will actually be pretty good. After that, you get into strange territory. For example, don’t deliver your submission to the agent in a fully-masked NBC warfare suit (I’ve had that, it’s bloody scary). Don’t send a large glass-framed picture of yourself through the post (ditto). Don’t send a topless shot of yourself (ditto). Need I go on…? :)

They were rich and didn't have day jobs. Or they had wealthy patrons. Just saying...
Well, yeah to some… I suppose writing has indeed largely been a middle-class activity, with many notable exceptions… but that’s not addressing my point about the relative newness of the Writing Course Industry. I believe the first writing courses of the modern era were created Malcolm Bradbury of the UEA, well within living memory… I actually used to employ one of his first graduates, Clive Sinclair, as a part-time copywriter. I think Bradbury himself would be a bit dismayed by the industry he spawned...!

Thanks again, all great feedback.
 

RG Worsey

Basic
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Awards
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Ah, so the point is that the writing course industry is new. I misunderstood.

I reckon that's worth putting bells and whistles on. These expensive courses and seminars are a new trend.

When I think about it like that, as a trend, I get indignant. People are getting ripped off - not because something important is being offered at a price that's too high. They're being ripped off by a trend.
 

Barbara

Full Member
Emeritus
LV
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Awards
1
Can't see how else to do it, tho. There's a lot to explain. Maybe spread it out over more days...?
Or some weeding out. My suggestions below (a few more fillers like 'very' which could go):

***




Hello, {name}! I’m delighted to welcome you to the Colony!

This is the first “Conversation” message you’ll receive here in the Colony. It won’t be the last!

You can start a new Conversation with anyone you want. Click on the little “email” symbol next to your name, at the top of the page. Then select “Start a new conversation.”

Start typing your recipient's name. The Colony’s software will automatically give you a few suggestions based on what you type.

Conversations are always private. You can decide who to invite to your Conversation – and who to drop from one if you so wish.

A lot of things here Much in the Colony is private. because we believe Writers need to be in control of their own words. I’ll explain more about this in the coming days.

I’ve just sent an email to the address you supplied when you registered here.

Please check your email inbox now to make sure you’re receiving Colony mail. If it doesn’t seem to be there, your spam filter may have trapped it. Please whitelist our email address, admin@litopia.com.

There’s a host of things I want to tell you about! However, I don’t want to overload you – so for the moment, let me just mention that help is always only a click away. No question is too simple to ask! That’s exactly what our Help Forum is for:

Help & Suggestions

Need Help? Ask Away!
colony.litopia.com

Again – congratulations on joining the net’s first and best writers’ colony. I hope your stay here will be long, profitable and very happy!


Peter Cox, founder

a.k.a. AgentPete



---



(2) Welcome Email

In addition to the Welcome Conversation above, new members also immediately receive the following email


Hello, {name}!

Congratulations on joining Litopia.

The Colony will work its magic for you, just as it has done for a great many writers over the years.

But it can be a tad confusing initially, partly because so much is going on. Don't worry. We have a special collection of How-To Guides that will help you settle in.

And if you're confused about anything, please don't hesitate to ask a question in the Help Forum.

OK, so what should you do first?

Do this! Go to the Welcome Forum straight away, and post a short message saying hello. If you're nervous, check out what other new members have written there.

You'll quickly find that other members will welcome you and... you're off! By the way, this is also a great place to ask any preliminary questions you may have.

One thing not to do...

Don't choose a random forum and start posting a hard sell for your latest and greatest oeuvre. That's spamming, and it's a quick way to lose your membership here. We're very keen to help everyone sell their books... but please not by spamming our forums.

One thing you should do: If you're not yet a Full Member, I suggest you upgrade straight away so that you can take advantage of the entire scope and considerable depth of the Colony. We keep the cost of Full Membership very low, because we know that most writers aren’t made of money. The yearly sub works out to a mere $8 a month! Outstanding value when compared to most other sites.

One of the major benefits of Full Membership is the ability to attend our weekly Huddles, where you’ll find me and a goodly crowd of other writers. Huddles are completely confidential. You can discuss and show your work-in-progress or in fact anything else on your mind. Attendees find them very rewarding: there’s nothing else quite like them on the net.

Now for some fun.

I suggest you visit Café Life as soon as you can and see what the literati are gossiping about. Café Life is our main forum for chatting and socialising. But we've also got the Back Room, which is similar but private and not indexed by search engines.

I’m sure you’re dying to know about the business end of Litopia - how do you receive and give manuscript crits?

As you would expect, we have a dedicated area for this, and it’s very good indeed.

It’s called the Workshops. I'll send you a detailed email tomorrow about the Workshops, because – although they’re not complicated to use – you will certainly benefit from some clear instructions. Take my advice: don’t post anything there until you’ve read tomorrow's email.

Finally… you may notice a few members in the Colony with “Guardian” under their name. Guardians ensure that Litopia remains a happy, safe and functional environment for all of us.

If you need help, advice or orientation, ask a Guardian! Also, if a Guardian asks you to change the way you do something, please do it with good grace.

I’ll be sending you a few more emails over the next few days to help you settle in. Please watch out for them and do make sure our email address isn’t being trapped by your spam filter.

Until tomorrow!

AgentPete

---



(3) “How To Use The Workshops”

Sent the day after the above


Dear {name},

Yesterday, I promised to give you a detailed guide to the Workshops, the Colony’s main area for giving and receiving critiques. Et voilà, here it is!

First of all, let’s cover the all-important topic of privacy. We fully understand that the last thing any writer wants for their work-in-progress is for it to escape onto the internet. So we’ve given you a set of powerful controls that will ensure your work is only seen by those people you choose. And when the critiquing process is finished, you (and only you) can remove all traces of it from the website.

The next thing to say is that, no matter what privacy setting you choose, the contents of the Workshops are never publicly accessible. To prove this, try logging out of Litopia, then try to access the Workshops – you can’t.

OK, let’s summarize exactly what you can do in the Workshops. You can:

  • Create a new Workshop for your current work-in-progress. Workshops typically cover such things as titles, blurbs, first chapters… even entire manuscripts. You may create several different Workshops for different stages of the same project.
  • You can choose whether the Workshop is visible to other Litopians, or completely private. If it’s visible to other members, you’ll probably attract more interest.
  • You can change the privacy settings of your Workshop at any time. For example, you might initially make it visible to other Litopians, but then change the status to “private” when you’ve got enough people involved.
  • You can invite other members individually to join your Workshop.
  • You can create a Poll that will allow others to vote on questions you ask them (“which title do you prefer?” etc).
  • And of course, you can completely remove the Workshop when it’s served its purpose.
All these controls are carefully explained here. You’ll find it quickly becomes second nature.

Now – I have a serious piece of advice.

Before you rush off to create your first Workshop, I strongly suggest you first take part in someone else’s.

Doing this will give you an excellent idea of how Workshops actually work. But beyond that, helping someone else with their work-in-progress will be an eye-opening experience for you.

You will start to see your own writing very differently. You’ll recognize common mistakes, pitfalls, errors and failings. You’ll become aware of the most common problems that afflict about 80% of the submissions I see.

Helping another writer with their own work-in-progress will make you a better writer.

There’s a detailed guide to the Litopia Method for Giving Critiques here.

And there’s a simple example of how to write your first Workshop brief here.

Lastly, two no-nos.

  • You can't expect to receive a crit if you don't give any. Try to give at least three times as many crits as you request. Be generous with your time here.
  • Don’t blast the Workshops with several pieces in short succession. For example, don’t post daily rewrites of your work-in-progress.
I hope this proves useful to you - watch out for tomorrow’s email!

My best,

AgentPete

---



(4) “The Litopia Ethos Explained”

Sent the day after the above


Dear {name},

Today’s email is very short.

I just wanted to talk to you, for a moment, about the ethos that underpins Litopia.

As you know, Litopia has been around for a very long time. We’ve seen many other websites for writers come and go; most of them offering expensive courses, paid critiques, highly-priced editorial services, and so on.

In recent years, I’ve watched with some alarm as the price of these various offerings has steadily skyrocketed. It’s not unusual, these days, to see writing courses on sale for several thousand dollars or pounds… sometimes even more!

Let me be clear.
I don't believe that any writer needs to spend that sort of money to develop their craft.

How did Jane Austen ever manage to write anything without taking an expensive writing course? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or any of the great writers of recent or bygone eras?

The truth is that most writing courses offer rather poor value. They are profit-centres for the people who run them. For most writers, however, they do not represent a good use of your time or money.

Litopia has a different approach; we give you the tools, and then let you get on with it. And we offer the best value on the net, I am certain. The cost of a whole year’s membership ($99.95) is less than many organisations charge for a single writing seminar.

And as you know, the basic level of membership here is entirely free. Once you've been here for a week or two, i do hope that you'll become a Full Member. The cost is modest, and your support allows us to continue to support you.

Litopia is above all collegiate community. A place where writers help other writers to hone their skills and to progress on their own terms. A place where you can develop your own authentic writing voice.

And that can’t be bought at any price.

I’m honoured that you’ve chosen to be part of our wonderful community. More from me tomorrow.

My best,

AgentPete

---



(5) “Seven Deadly Sins”

Sent the day after the above



Dear {name},

I can’t begin to guess how many submissions I have seen over the past few decades as an agent. Whatever the number is – and it must be quite astronomical – it’s striking how many of them share the same common failings.

All of these mistakes are terminal, i.e. they’ll result in an immediate rejection. But all of them are fixable, too.

Mostly, it seems that writers simply don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong.

So here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen. Avoid them – and your work will stand out like a diamond in the dust!

1. Don’t Be Boring!​

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a writer’s primary responsibility to interest the reader. Most submissions fail at this first hurdle. The fact is, the majority of manuscripts and proposals that cross agents’ desks or inboxes are simply not interesting enough to hold one’s attention.

This usually has very little to do with the choice of subject-matter. It’s more commonly a consequence of the writer’s inability to produce compelling prose: writing that excites a deep emotional response.

Sadly, just because you may enjoy writing your manuscript, it doesn’t necessarily follow that others will enjoy reading it.

Today’s reader needs constant encouragement to keep turning the page. It’s your primary duty and professional obligation as a writer to keep the reader doing exactly that. How do you know if you’re succeeding? Simple. Post an extract from your work-in-progress in the Workshops, and you’ll find out!

2. Failure to Understand “Point of View”​

“Point of View” isn’t rocket science. It’s actually a fundamental writing skill, without which you have no claim to be taken seriously as an author. So learn it, use it, move on.

And yet, so many submissions I see blithely ignore POV.

RIP!

3. Don’t Be Derivative​

Far too many proposals and manuscripts are simply variations on a pre-existing theme. While there's certainly a market for genre writing, you’ll never make your reputation as a writer by rehashing a tired old plot formula. Give an agent something that twinkles with the fresh dew of originality, and you might just find that those sparkles turn into diamonds.

4. Don’t Be Afraid Of “The Big Idea”​

This follows on from the previous point. Most successful books have, at their core, a “Big Idea” – a powerful, original, enticing concept capable of seizing the reader’s attention, and engaging their mind and emotions. Big Ideas are sexy! They get the publishing business excited. They open doors for newcomers. And they can make big money!

5. Don’t Neglect Your Craft​

A great concert pianist, at the pinnacle of their success, will typically practice for four hours a day. How much time do you spend honing your craft?

Many writers dangerously assume that they have no need to improve themselves or their skills. What sets a good writer apart from the herd is a confident, controlled, creative and virtuoso use of language… A subtle skill, and one which demands constant practice. Never stop honing your skills. You can always develop, always improve, always learn or create new writing tactics.

6. Don’t Hide Your Talent​

This may sound pretty obvious, yet it’s amazing how often I’ve seen opening chapters that don’t adequately showcase the best of that particular writer’s talent. Sometimes, I’ve even had cover letters saying, “The first few chapters aren’t very good, but it gets better by chapter seven!” What?

If you have a flair for dialogue, show it! If you can bring tears to the reader’s eyes, do it! If you’re a demon at plotting, start plotting from page one!

The industry really does want to discover brilliant new writing talent. If you spend the first three chapters warming up, only to hit your peak by page fifty, don’t expect anyone in a busy office to notice you. It is vital to front-load your talent. Understand where your writing strengths lie, and make sure you put them on full display.

7. Don’t Give Up!​

“Nobody knows anything,” wrote William Goldman in his seminal book Adventures In The Screen Trade. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.”

This is as true of publishing as it is of movies. Publishers and agents basically back their instincts. If they are unsure about a project, the natural tendency is to play safe, and pass. Rejection is the default position for publishers, because it’s safe. No-one was ever sacked for not picking up JK Rowling.

So don’t become discouraged when you encounter rejection. Which you will – a lot. It’s just how the business operates.

Pay serious attention to criticism but never at the cost of ignoring your own inner voice; never lose faith in yourself; challenge yourself to constantly reinvent your writing style; and finally, remember that there’s really only one cardinal rule (perilously ignored by many writers) which is to keep the reader turning the page. Everything else, ultimately, boils down to that one simple dictum.

More tomorrow.

My best,

AgentPete

---



(6) “A Field Guide to Litopia”

Sent the day after the above



Dear {name},

Today I’ve got a little list for you of useful tricks & techniques…

* Tag Me!​

Did you know that you can tag people in your posts? This is incredibly helpful if you want to be sure that the person concerned sees what you’ve written. For example, if you want to tag me, simply type “@AgentPete” and I’ll get an immediate notification that I’ve been mentioned. Actually, you don’t even have to type the full name – just type the “@” symbol and the first letter or two of their name, and our helpful software will provide some suggestions for you to select.

* Turn On Notifications​

You can receive notifications from Litopia when something happens. You are in total control of this. Go to the “Preferences” area in your Account Control Panel. Scroll down, and you’ll see a host of options here. It’s worth spending a few moments fine-tuning this to suit you. Do you want to be notified when someone replies to a thread you’re watching? Would you like to know when someone quotes your words anywhere? All these, and a great deal more, can be turned on and off.

* Install Our Web App​

If you regularly access the Colony from your mobile device, you will find it easier to install our web app. It looks and acts as any other app on your phone or tablet, and means you don't have to bother with bookmarks. It's a nicer experience for you. Full instructions here.

* Use The Back Room​

As you know, we’re very privacy-aware in the Colony. While our main discussion area, Cafe Life, is publicly-viewable (although only members can post) we also have an offshoot of Cafe Life called the Back Room that is completely private. It’s not indexed by search engines nor is it viewable by non-members. It’s a good place to speak confidentially, to ask for the candid views of your fellow members and sometimes to vent a bit of angst… which all writers need to do sometimes! You can delete your own posts and threads here too. Full access to The Back Room is one of the many benefits of Full Membership.

* Use The Huddles​

Huddles are live events that take place on Saturdays. They are VERY private! You can bring anything along… your first chapter, your blurb, your ideas for titles, your draft cover letter… and of course any questions… we’ll tackle them all. The golden rule is – what happens in the Huddle stays in the Huddle. They last about 2 hours, and must be booked in advance.

This is the last daily email I'll send you - I do hope that you're finding your feet in the Colony - and please remember, we're here for you to answer any questions you may have and to generally support you.

See you in the Colony!

My best,

AgentPete
 

Peyton Stafford

Full Member
LV
0
 
After some thought, my suggestions:

1. Send the instructions as a series of brief emails, but begin with an introductory message that lets the new member know to expect more messages. This will work for many. But also point co to a compilation of the messages so those of us who prefer banquets to snacks can digest the feast at once.
2. Do not place any requirements on new members. As we members welcome them, some express fear about showing their work. Asking someone who is afraid to show cos work to critique the work of a more experienced writer will do nothing but further intimidate co.
3. Consider creating a Newbie Cove--call it what you want--a safe place for new members to meet, bond, and gain confidence. Not everyone needs this, but being welcomed into a creche rather than thrown to the wolves could make the difference some wonderful writer needs.
4. Focus all the initial marketing and guidance on accepting and valuing the new member. @RK Capps is wonderful for welcoming new members and mentoring them. @Jonny same. Forgive me if I left out others.

Just as in fiction, it's all about emotion, so it is in marketing. New members come looking for affirmation of their writing and of themselves. They need friends. They need hugs. They need cuddling. Let's give it to them. On a personal note, Litopia welcomed me, hugged me, cuddled me, and is my best literary friend and lover. This should be the same for every new member. Let's embrace every new member as the lovable, brilliant, talented writer co is.
 

Mel L

Full Member
LV
0
 
Setting a daily time requirement may make sense to those of us who structure our days around writing, but it may discourage people who struggle to fit writing into their lives. Never mind the spelling. OMG, I wish we could all agree to use English English spelling. Dialects are wonderful, but why must we in the USA suffer from Ben Franklin's print shop problems from hundred of years ago?
As a Canadian (hybrid US/GB) who lives in Europe but also grew up the US, I struggle with this every day. Let's set a global trend and evolve to one standard English rather than this global mashup of s's and z's. :rolleyes:
 

Rich.

Full Member
Emeritus
LV
0
 
[playing devil's advocate] I rather like the global mashup. Here in Spain, and in many other countries, we have an institution (the Real Academia Española) that safeguards what a small group of establishment-types consider correct language usage. A lot of language is officially prescribed and a lot is proscribed. In practice this means that there is a deeply conservative institution utterly out of touch with actual usage, an institution that admits change at a glacial rate and frowns on the demonstrable reality that language is an ever-changing mirror of humanity. No such institution exists for English.

The global mashup is an aspect of global diversity. In an age where indigenous languages are being lost at a terrifying rate, along with all their associated cultural substance, I would hate to see English become even more standardized. I would hate to see the multi-coloured flames of Englishes around the world doused by cold convenience. Learn the differences, embrace the dialects, write differently in different situations. It will make us better people.

Innit?
 

Mel L

Full Member
LV
0
 
I would say as a relatively new member that all of this is super helpful!
One thing though: all that information in a series of emails coming in quick succession is a lot to absorb. In my case, as it took me some time to get active on the platform, so it was only later that the tips would have been truly helpful.
I realize that you have a 'how to' intro embedded in each of the sections on the website. But what would work better for me would be a top-level navigation section with everything in one place that was included in the emails. Something like, 'Member Resources'.
Or perhaps this already exists and I'm missing it?
 

Mel L

Full Member
LV
0
 
[playing devil's advocate] I rather like the global mashup. Here in Spain, and in many other countries, we have an institution (the Real Academia Española) that safeguards what a small group of establishment-types consider correct language usage. A lot of language is officially prescribed and a lot is proscribed. In practice this means that there is a deeply conservative institution utterly out of touch with actual usage, an institution that admits change at a glacial rate and frowns on the demonstrable reality that language is an ever-changing mirror of humanity. No such institution exists for English.

The global mashup is an aspect of global diversity. In an age where indigenous languages are being lost at a terrifying rate, along with all their associated cultural substance, I would hate to see English become even more standardized. I would hate to see the multi-coloured flames of Englishes around the world doused by cold convenience. Learn the differences, embrace the dialects, write differently in different situations. It will make us better people.

Innit?
This is a very big topic and an interesting one! On a personal level I love the richness and diversity of English usage. In France we have the Académie Française, which is mostly perceived as a bunch of old farts in a dusty cupboard completely out of touch with reality...but they are the official guarantors of the French language.
I would not advocate for any such body in the English-speaking world (heaven help us if we tried! :p ) but, that said, the practicalities of working in a language where so much varies from one country and continent to another can lead to a lot of head-banging. I have clients who insist on American or British English, and as a copywriter, the key thing is consistency. But the lines are blurring. For example, spell check in Word no longer flags z-words like 'publicize' as a mistake even if GB English is the default language. On a different level, working with many non-native English speakers in France and Switzerland, you can end up with imprecise use of terms (often originating in false friends from other languages). So some sort of standard reference for English is essential. BTW, I have no idea how the translators and interpreters at the UN or EU keep their sanity.
 

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