Miss Snark is Morally Offensive!

As the Founder of theNextBigWriter, I was content to sit this one out. That is, until I read the latest posts, which are potentially illegal if not morally offensive. So here's a different perspective on all of this. Thank you Elizabeth Raye btw for one informed opinion.

theNextBigWriter lists its benefits and fees for all to see. There is no gimmick, no surprises (In fact, I ran the idea by Victoria Strauss before the site was even launched and she had no objections). We have many paying members (many of whom have come from free sites) who enjoy the mix of services that the site provides.

In return for $39.95 for a yearly membership or $4.95 for a monthly membership you receive:

Unlimited posting of your poems, short stories, and novels

Guaranteed feedback

A site rank which provides one data point on how your work compares to your peers

Access to several competitions including one that provides short story and poetry writers with an opportunity to be published (we just published our first round of stories last week). The top novel on June 7 also receives $5,000. Now, you can argue with the methodology, but it's consistent for all writers.

The potential of receiving reviews from Star Reviewers, including Pulitzer nominated reviewers, award winning poets, and other successful professionals (Star Reviewers are given to the top writers but we are expanding them to others shortly).

Access to a friendly, helpful community.

Is the site perfect, no. But we're only three months old and getting better every day.In addition, you do retain all rights to your work and our membership policy is the best on the web at ensuring this.

Some of the free forums mentioned above do not even have a policy that spells out how the rights to your work are protected. I checked out the free services, have nothing against them and have used other free sites before, but they just don't offer the same level of benefits and service. In fact, two of the free services posted above are limited to 25 members. So how does that help anyone?

I also wanted to make it clear that we are not a showcase site. If editors or agents want to come and pay a visit, fine. But that is not the goal of the site and nowhere on theNextBigWriter will you see the word agent or editor mentioned in that context. Which is why Jo Bourne's comments were so off-the-mark.

Nevermind that without permission she took it upon herself to lift an excerpt from two novels-in-progress and publicly critique them totally out of context (an argument can be made that her actions were a breach of the fair use doctrine of copyright law). Both stories (in my humble opinion) happen to be excellent work but both are still, as she would have known if she had spent any time on the site, works in progress.

Using feedback from the site, the authors alone will determine when they are ready to be sent out, not Jo Bourne. After all, theNextBigWriter is a tool to help writers achieve their potential. It doesn't promise perfection in the work posted. So Jo, if you truly want to be helpful, why don't you join the site as a free reviewer, actually read the stories, and then provide some real feedback.

Lastly, I want to talk about the oft quoted line that "money should flow towards the writer." This is a true if a writer is giving up the rights to their finished work. It is valid because someone expects to make money off the writer's work But it is perfectly acceptable to offer writers the choice to purchase services that will advance their writing career. MFA programs, writing schools, writing software, Blog subscriptions, writing magazines all charge writers. theNextBigWriter provides another choice for writers. Whether you decide to exercise that choice is totally up to you.

Regards, Sol Nasisi
Founder and Director

So, it's morally offensive to critique work thats posted on the web?
Is it morally offensive to critique Miss Snark's comments trail?

If it is, Miss Snark joins the offensive line. You post stuff on the web in a public space, don't bellyache to me if you don't like what people say about it. You want limited access, make it members only.

Suck it up fella.


Voix said...

No, no -- you're offending their morale, not their morals. . .

His panties in quite a twist there, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, buddy, what Miss Snark says...as I stand behind her giving Mr Morals a raspberry.

archer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
archer said...

The potential of receiving reviews from Star Reviewers, including Pulitzer nominated reviewers

I got a better idea. If you come up with an actual Pulitzer winner to actually review me, you can potentially get my money.

Pixel Faerie said...

I second Archer in a way. Where are these prize winning authors?

On the website, it says: Post your writing to receive exposure and feedback.

As most writers don't want to expose their writing, posting it all over the web. How in the world will you get it back when some company buys it? What publishing company would want a novel that's been posted for free everywhere on the Internet?

Saundra Mitchell said...

What kills me is that s/he name drops Victoria Strauss, who had this to say about display sites, including NextBigWriter by name. The short version? But manuscript display sites aren't a Big New Idea. In fact, they're a pretty old idea. And not a very good one.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a bit pleading to me. Honestly, the message lost me at the "potentially illegal and morally offensive" line.

You wanna get published?
Write a good book.

You wanna run a respectable website?
Be respectable and don't waste everyone's time begging for a tip of the hat.

What a bedwetter.

Bernita said...

Sounds like the

Elektra said...

I don't know--to me, whenever someone starts out with things like 'potentially illegal', or 'possible libel' or whatnot, just for a bad review, it means they've got nothing to defend their site and they know it. They can't give a satifactory retort, so they're just going to try to shut you up with threats. It certainly doesn't make them seem like lovely people to do business with.

Anonymous said...

What kills me is, I wish I had thought of this! What a way to make some dough without doing much work.

Anonymous said...

I looked at the site a week ago, decided it wasn't for me. But sheesh, what's the uproar about? I see no snake oil salesman here. If it isn't worth the money to you, don't join. Why slam it, though?

I admit I resist pack mentality, especially when there's a scent of blood in the air, but I kind of feel for the founder. Yeah, he was defensive in his response, but I suppose he felt attacked. I would, too.

lisa e said...

Pulitzer NOMINATED means nothing. Any published writer is allowed to nominate his or her own work for the prize. (Usually the publication does, but the individual can apply too.) The proof that it's meaningless? I'm technically qualified to be a Pulitzer nominee this year, even though I've written only two freelance journalism pieces for the local paper this year.

Pulitzer FINALIST actually means something -- that the work was among the three or so best pieces submitted.

Pulitzer WINNER, of course, means something even better.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Miss Snark is not morally offensive.

Jo Bourne said...

Miss Snark, I am sorry to have embroiled you in controversy.
I do apologize.

With your permission, may I reply here to the message posted by Sol Nasisi?

>>>an argument can be made that her actions were a breach of the fair use doctrine of copyright law<<<<<

An argument may certainly be made.
It would be a specious argument, however.

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as "fair use".
The first of these activities is explicitly set forth as -- "quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment."

The statute (17 U.S.C. 1. Sec 107) lists four criteria for evaluating whether the use made in any particular case is 'fair use'.

Looking at the quotation in the light of those criteria -- the tiny fraction of the work quoted, the lack of detrimental effect on future commercial use, and of course, the noncommercial intent of the quotation combine to make this quotation transparently, 'fair use'.

>>>> without permission she took it upon herself to lift an excerpt from two novels-in-progress <<<<<

When I quote from a copyrighted work under 'fair use' it is not necessary for me to ask permission. It is required by neither custom nor good manners.

>>>>> wanted to make it clear that we are not a showcase site. ... . Which is why Jo Bourne's comments were so off-the-mark. <<<<<<

My closing comment -- that a publishing professional would find little of immediate interest at the site, was not directed to the intent of the site, but an assessment of the print-readiness of the top ranked offerings.

>>>>she would have known if she had spent any time on the site, [these are] works in progress. <<<<<<

I did realize they were works in progress.

I was responding to an earlier comment on the literary merit of the works. Literary merit is always a matter of opinion.

But my assessment also addressed the question of whether the site's ranking system is effective and fair. The quality of the top ranked novels rather directly speaks to the effectiveness of the ranking system.

>>>So Jo, if you truly want to be helpful, why don't you join the site as a free reviewer<<<<<

Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Nasisi.

I would not wish to encourage such open posting sites. I believe private, longterm critique groups, on or off the net, are a more useful alternative.

I remain puzzled at the words 'morally offensive', I admit.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to Jo Bourne! That was a note-perfect response to Mr. Nasisi's comments.

I also appreciated the comments of Elektra (respond to criticisms with a defense, not a threat) and Miss Snark (if you post a work publicly, you have no right to complain about opinions of the work being posted publicly as well).

Anonymous said...

But didn't Jo do exactly what the site wants? The works were posted for the sole purpose of being reviewed. Jo did just that, and not anonymously either. Why the moral outrage? Because it was done on Miss Snark's blog instead of their site? Because she didn't agree with the site reviewers that these works are fabu?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

To the Twit:
1. Your comments are a temper tantrum, not a defense.
2. I don't let my children call names. So knock it off buster! I won't tolerate it from you either.
3 Minimal editing before you e-mailed Miss Snark would have made your comments more readable. I hate deciphering sentence fragments.
4. It is morally repugnant to involve Victoria Strauss in your scheme. Victoria is supportive and helpful to newbie writers. I've only dealt with her through e-mails, but I don't see her endorsing stupidity. Bite him Victoria!

Oh and Hi Ann! You bite him too!

My final word: If your going to sulk go to your room until you get over it!

Simon Haynes said...

MFA programs, writing schools, writing software, Blog subscriptions, writing magazines all charge writers.

No they don't. My writing software is free for all, and I'm a programmer with 20 years experience (and a published novelist to boot.)
I'm not providing a link because this isn't the place for it, my point is that you can't say 'everyone else charges - charging is okay' when it's not true in all cases.

Sol said...


All I can say is that theNextBigWriter is not a public site. So, if no one sees the problem with coming into a private site, taking unpublished work, citiquing it publicly, and...hey, why bother, you've already made up your minds. Well, no further posts for me. Carry on. Make hay. Have fun. Oh, Miss Snark, are you going to delete this post also?


Sol Nasisi

Stacy said...

If I said this was an interesting discussion, I would be lying. Why is Mr. Nasisi so upset? Somebody thinks his site is stupid - so what? Part of life, and it won't be the last time. Ignore the criticism and carry on, as you were, nothing to see here.

People on the internet are so sensitive.

Miss Snark said...

Sol, honey, I posted your comment ON the blog so everyone could see it. I don't think that's called "deleting it".

Or did you come back and post that anonymous comment that basically said someone was full of crap. Cause you can say I'm full of crap, but you gotta do more than say "cause I said so".

Carry on indeed. Carrying on appears to be your strong suit.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jo,

And here I was thinking perhaps you actually critiqued the work, only to find you gave an opinion of its quality, instead. I love your critiques!

What a rip off that site is!

Jarsto said...

First a little more on the pulitzer thing. Like any good Snarkling knows fact-checking is everything.

The only place on the pulitzer prize website one finds the term "Nominated" is with the "Nominated Finalists". A search for "Brown-Davidson" among these nominated finalists turns up nothing. Even though the archives for those names go back to 1980 and the nomination was supposedly in 2002 (see this bio). All that is required for something to be an entry is sending the work in before the dealine and (to quote the rules):

"4. All entries should include biographies and pictures of entrants and each entry in journalism, letters and music must be accompanied by a handling fee of $50 made payable to Columbia University/Pulitzer Prizes. Winning entries will be included on The Pulitzer Prize archival Web site (www.pulitzer.org)."

As others have said being "nominated" in this sense is no real indicator of accomplishment at all. The work might still be good, or it might be terrible. But a lot of people who see "Pulitzer Prize Nominated" will assume this was the result of a rigorous screening like the one applied to nominated finalists.

Now to a different subject. I did some browsing on the site, looking at the FAQs and found some information about the "publishing competition". Where they offer publish works by the highest ranked writers once every three months. One major alarm bell that set ringing for me was "is there any distribution system in place?"

I'll admit that all I know about this sort of thing is from hanging out at various useful places online, but without proper distribution getting it to bookstore shelves and proper marketing support I don't think any book, regardless of quality has much chance of success. Unless everyone on the site rushes to their computers to order it from amazon.

When reading the FAQs about this I also noticed the following sentence: "On the site, everyone, regardless of connections, background, country of origin, or story idea, has a chance to be published." The implication of which seems to be that all those things matter to getting published elsewhere. From what I hear however of the items listed only story idea really has any influence on whether one is published normally, and that's largely because some story ideas just don't make commercially viable fiction right now.

The site does seem to mean well with the competition, and the paid to the winners seems to be reasonably fair (though I'm by no means an expert), but I for one wouldn't enter it without knowing a lot more about what sort of distribution is in place. What's being done to market the work etc.

Kim Smith said...

Ack... I think nextbigwriter just got free advertising... Sol knows this blog gets a LOT of attention(I luv you Snarky mama)so he posted-- ALL his business info so those interested would KNOW he is out there... and got a ton of comments -- doesn't all that get Google's clickers in an uproar? Well, I could name drop my writer's website too, but I won't.

Bernita said...

My impression too,Kaycee.
A deliberate agenda there.
Imitate Bookner. Stir up a little action. Snag a few fish.

Jo Bourne said...

Hi Allene -

I am less concerned with the quality of the top ranked manuscripts,
per se,
than by what this level of quality says about the effectiveness and integrity of the ranking process itself.

That the top ranked manuscripts seem to consistently belong
to the folks most active in providing reviews
strikes me as
statistically unlikely.

None of this is of any importance so long as no money is involved.

If money IS ever awarded to the top-ranked manuscripts,
the ranking process becomes,
in effect, a contest,
and the cost of joining the site, a 'contest fee'.
The process by which contest winners are determined might then be subject to scrutiny.

Verbum sat and all that.

I would say also ...
the webworld is quite filled to the brim with
'check the box to agree to conditions of use'.

Usage policies more strict than the requirement of copyright law are so common, in fact,
as to invite the assumption that ordinary copyright privacy is sufficient where special usage policies are not set in effect.


Victoria Strauss said...

Since I'm referenced in Mr. Nasisi's post, I thought I'd respond here.

Mr. Nasisi contacted me last April as a kind of scamwatch pre-empt, to let me know about the concept for his site and also about a contest he planned to run. I told him that both the site and the contest sounded fine--which they did, for what he was planning to do.

However, "fine, you're not a scam" isn't the same as "fine, this is a great idea," and to use my comment to suggest that I was providing some sort of seal of approval for his venture is disingenuous. I also told him this:

"I'll be honest with you. I think it's very doubtful you'll be able to persuade successful agents and publishers to participate--they are drowning in submissions, and have no need to look for more...Of course, there are marginal agents and publishers who would be interested--and fee-chargers and scammers will jump at the chance to acquire a new paying customer--but these kinds of agents and publishers are not worth having, and you would not be doing your authors any favors by hooking up with such people."

I offered to chat with him further about his ideas, and to vet the agents and publishers who used the site, but I never heard from him again.

So there you have it. Not exactly a seal of approval.

Anonymous said...

But as Mr. Nasisi explained in the other relevant comment trail, his site is not in the business of connecting writers to agents and publishers: "I also wanted to make it clear that we are not a showcase site. If editors or agents want to come and pay a visit, fine. But that is not the goal of the site and nowhere on theNextBigWriter will you see the word agent or editor mentioned in that context." So Ms. Strauss's objections to the site on those grounds aren't relevant.

I honestly don't see why people have been attacking the site with such venom. If you want to pay to have your work in progress workshopped, then it's worth it for you to join; if you don't want that kind of input, you don't join. But there's no scam involved here. Why the virulent response to the site? I mean, the first comment, I believe, came from Miss Write, who wrote: "I saw it once on my swimming around on the web, and nearly choked on my coffee. Looks like a great idea----not. Just another rip off that plays on the desperation of hopeful writers." This makes it sound like Nasisi's a snake-oil salesman. I can understand why he was annoyed.

Victoria Strauss said...

In Mr. Nasisi's original conception, the site was to be a showcase site, and the contest prize was to be representation by a reputable agent or publication by a reputable publisher. That's the context in which my comments were made. If my comments are no longer relevant, given the site's change in focus (and the site does still describe itself as "promoting the best undiscovered writing talent"), Mr. Nasisi's reference to his contact with me isn't relevant either--since I was commenting on a different version of the site.

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that if it's posted publicly, it's considered published, therefore you lose the ability to sell first rights.