A Message from Jeanne Cavelos, Director, about Critique Services:
To further our mission of helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work, the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, provides writers of all levels, from beginners to successful pros, in-depth, insightful, professional-level critiques on their work.
One of the most effective methods of improving your writing is to discover how others experience your work. A critique that explains the reader’s experience, why the reader had that experience, and how that experience can be strengthened, helps the author gain perspective and provides valuable direction for revision.
The Odyssey Critique Service provides an honest assessment of your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are then explored in depth, so you see very specifically which elements aren’t working well, why they aren’t, and how they might work better. The critique is also instructional, explaining concepts and techniques relevant to your work as needed.
How in-depth are the critiques?
You’ll receive your manuscript back with significant line edits and marginal comments written on it. This will be accompanied by the critique. Critiques average over 8,000 words each.
How much of my work can I submit?
The Odyssey Critique Service offers three options:
• Short story writers may submit up to three stories, with a total word count of no more than 20,000 words.
• Novelists may submit the opening chapters of their novel, and if they want, a synopsis of the remainder. The synopsis can be no more than 1500 words, and the total of excerpt and synopsis can be no more than 20,000 words. The chapters should be consecutive.
• Writers can submit more material if they want, up to an entire novel.
All material must be submitted at once.
What is the procedure?
1. Print out the stories or chapters/synopsis. Make sure that your work is in standard manuscript format. This provides the critiquer room to write comments.
2. Calculate the appropriate fee, or contact me for help. The fee for the first two options listed above is $300. If you are submitting more than 20,000 words, the cost is $15 per 1,000 words. So, for example, if you are submitting a novel of 80,000 words, the cost would be $15 x 80 = $1,200.
3. Make your payment. You may pay via US personal check, bank draft in US dollars, or PayPal, a service that allows you to charge the cost to a credit card.
4. Mail the following four items to this address:
Odyssey Critique Service
P. O. Box 75
Mont Vernon, NH 03057
- The printed copy of your submission.
- If you are paying via check or bank draft, include that in your package.
- An unaddressed envelope large enough to hold your submission, with $7.50 postage on it. We will use this envelope to mail your submission to your specific critiquer. Those outside the U.S. should simply add $15.00 U.S. to the critiquing fee. This will cover the $7.50 postage as well as the additional postage cost involved in returning your edited manuscript to you.
- Your regular address, email address, and phone number.
5. We will email you to let you know the date we received your package and who will be critiquing your work.
6. If you have submitted 20,000 words or less, you will receive your critique within 60 days. If you have submitted a longer work, we may need up to 90 days. Once we’ve received your work and identified an available critiquer, we can let you know whether this extra time will be required. You will receive via regular mail the critique and your original manuscript marked with line edits, comments, and suggestions.
7. After reviewing your critique, if you have any questions for your critiquer, you may send one follow-up email with those questions. Email your questions to me, and I will relay them to your critiquer. The critiquer will respond as her schedule allows.
Can I email my submission instead?
Scientific studies have shown that revising or critiquing on an electronic document discourages major re-conceptualizing of a text. The author or critiquer sees only narrow windows of the text rather than the whole. While this can allow for very useful line edits and minor comments, it hampers the ability to compare distant passages of text or to consider big-picture issues, such as whether a scene is necessary, whether a character or plot is developing in a strong arc, or whether a change in the order of scenes might benefit the story. We work on print documents to maximize the help and insight we can offer to you.
If exceptional circumstances require electronic transmission of your manuscript, or require that you receive line edits and marginal comments within an electronic document, contact me.
If a critiquer makes an edit or a suggestion, can I use it, or is that suggestion the property of the critiquer?
You are the author, and whatever changes you make to your work, including ideas or wording suggested by the critiquer, are yours. Our critiquers operate very much like editors at publishing houses function, suggesting ways to make the work stronger. Those suggestions are for you and belong to you, just as the original work you submitted belongs to you. An editor at a magazine or publishing house doesn’t own any part of the copyright of a work that she edits; your Odyssey critiquer doesn’t either.
Is the Odyssey Critique Service a substitute for the Odyssey Writing Workshop?
Unfortunately, no. The Odyssey Writing Workshop is a unique and powerful experience. Getting away from your “real life” and focusing only on your writing for six weeks allows you to make progress at a much accelerated rate.
The Odyssey Critique Service can’t substitute for that experience. But it can provide you with key insights that will help you see your work in a new light and make major steps toward improving it. The feedback you receive will give you a clear sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and it will provide you with direction. You will know where to focus your efforts to make the greatest improvement and conquer your greatest problems.
Will using the Odyssey Critique Service guarantee that I'll be admitted to the Odyssey Writing Workshop or to one of Odyssey's Online Classes?
No. Using the critique service can certainly help you to improve, but how much you improve depends on how you use the feedback you receive. For years, I dismissed all the criticism I received on my writing, thinking, These people just aren’t smart enough to understand my work. That made me feel better, but it didn’t help my writing at all. Only after many wasted years did I finally begin to listen, and learn, and improve. Even so, it sometimes takes me months or even years to understand the underlying problem in my work and how to solve that problem.
While using the Odyssey Critique Service in no way guarantees admission to one of Odyssey’s programs, one of the reasons I wanted to start the service was to help applicants. Many writers apply year after year. Some of them improve each year and are ultimately admitted to the workshop. Others struggle, their skills remaining the same. I’m unable to give more than a few sentences of personalized feedback when I respond to applicants. I’ve often thought that if I could give a full critique of each application story, perhaps I could help the writer. But time doesn’t allow that. With the critique service, though, a writer can receive assistance.
The journey to become the best writer you can be is an unending one, and it’s not easy—that’s why I chose the name Odyssey. How much a writer will improve and how quickly he will improve are different for each person. We’ve set up the critique service to be as helpful as possible. I hope it will help you to make significant progress down that road toward making your work as vivid, powerful, and moving as it can be.
MEET THE CRITIQUERS
Bestselling author Carrie Vaughn graduated from Odyssey in 1998 (the year Harlan Ellison was Writer-in- Residence). She returned in 2009 as Odyssey’s Writer-in-Residence and in 2020 as a guest lecturer.
Her latest novels include the post-apocalyptic murder mystery, Bannerless, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, and its sequel, The Wild Dead. She wrote the New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, along with several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, and upwards of 80 short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She’s a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado. Visit her at www.carrievaughn.com.
Carrie’s been in various critique groups almost continuously for over ten years, where she’s critiqued novels and short stories across all genres. She’s critiqued beginning, unpublished writers, as well as award winners.
Barbara Campbell has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for her compelling characters and her “emotional, heartfelt” storytelling. Her background as a professional actress, lyricist, and librettist has helped her delve deeply into character and explore the complexities of human nature on the stage as well as on the page. Her musical adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd has been optioned for Broadway.
Barbara’s first published series was the dark fantasy trilogy Trickster’s Game (written as Barbara Campbell). Published by DAW Books, Trickster’s Game was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society’s 2010 Fantasy Award for adult literature.
She drew on her musical theatre roots for her second novel series (written as Barbara Ashford), the award-winning Spellcast and its sequel Spellcrossed, set in a magical summer stock theatre. DAW Books released the two novels in an omnibus edition: Spells at the Crossroads.
A 2000 graduate of the Odyssey workshop, Barbara has taught eight online courses for Odyssey and has served on the staff of the Odyssey Critique Service for more than a decade. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.
Barbara believes that thoughtful, in-depth critiques are vital to becoming a better writer. “It’s hard to get enough distance from your work to view it critically. Whether it’s a scene that provokes a response you weren’t expecting or prose that muddies the impact you’re trying to achieve, the critique process can highlight strengths as well as weaknesses, and provide insight into aspects of your writing that may be interfering with your story-telling.”
Lane Robins is a 1999 Odyssey graduate who has her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. She is the author of Maledicte (Del Rey) and its sequel, Kings and Assassins. Under the name Lyn Benedict, she wrote the Shadows Inquiries series, which includes the novels Sins & Shadows, Ghosts & Echoes, Gods & Monsters, and Lies & Omens. She attributes much of her success to critiquing. Critiquing allows the writer to have new eyes on a manuscript, highlighting that often crucial gap between what the writer intends and what’s actually on the page. Critiquing can be an extremely useful diagnostic tool that has the potential to expose rough spots in a writer’s repertoire beyond the needs of a single story or manuscript, that improves not only the critiqued manuscript but the ones that come after. Visit her website at authorlanerobins.com.
Elaine Isaak writes knowledge-inspired adventure fiction, including The Dark Apostle series about medieval surgery (as E.C. Ambrose), The Singer’s Legacy fantasy series (as Elaine Isaak), and the Bone Guard international thrillers (as E. Chris Ambrose). In the process of researching her books, Elaine learned how to hunt with a falcon, clear a building of possible assailants, and pull traction on a broken limb. Her short stories have appeared in Fireside, Warrior Women, and Fantasy for the Throne, among many others, and she has edited several volumes of New Hampshire Pulp Fiction. A 1997 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Elaine has returned there to teach, as well as at conventions and writer’s groups across the country. She has judged writing competitions from New Hampshire Literary Idol to the World Fantasy Award.
Elaine dropped out of art school to found her own business. A former professional costumer and soft sculpture creator, Elaine now works as a part-time adventure guide. In addition to writing, Elaine creates wearable art employing weaving, dyeing, and felting into her unique garments. To learn about all of her writing, check out RocinanteBooks.com.
A founding member of the Poet’s Unbound workshop, Elaine also belongs to the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Professional Authors’ Network of Romance Writers of America, and Novelists, Inc. She has run an invitational genre critique group locally and worked with teen writers as part of the Young Writers’ Conference. Writers at all points in their careers benefit from thoughtful and timely critique of their works in progress, geared toward the needs of the writer and the goals of the work. While there are many public writer’s groups and on-line resources, it can be hard to get the sort of in-depth reading that can help to advance your work to the next level. Aside from the direct benefit to the work at hand, receiving an insightful critique helps to train the mind of the writer—transitioning from reading for pure pleasure, to reading with an understanding of the tools and techniques that top authors use to win your attention and earn your loyalty.
Eric James Stone
A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award finalist, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had dozens of stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. His first novel was released by Baen in 2016.
One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke.
While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah.
In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. From 2009-2014 Eric was an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show.
In addition to attending critique-based workshops, Eric has actively participated in several critique groups since 2003 and believes they are extremely helpful in getting his work ready for publication. He says a good critique is not just about finding mistakes and weaknesses in a manuscript—it’s about understanding what story the author is trying to tell, so that the manuscript can be improved to best convey that story to the reader.
Visit his website at www.ericjamesstone.com.
Barbara Barnett-Stewart (or Barbara A. Barnett, as you’ll usually find her credited) is a Philadelphia-area writer, musician, and orchestra librarian. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and has had over 60 short stories published in magazines and anthologies such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Fantasy Magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Black Static, and Wilde Stories: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction.
Barbara earned her Bachelor of Arts in music and English literature from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Library and Information Science from Rutgers University. A 2007 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, she currently serves as managing editor of the workshop’s blog and spent several years as Resident Supervisor for The Never-Ending Odyssey (TNEO), a workshop exclusively for Odyssey graduates.
Since 2005, Barbara has participated in both online and in-person critique groups. She has found critiques—giving them as well receiving them—to be an invaluable part of her growth as a writer. She values critiques that are truthful yet constructive, detailed yet not prescriptive, that recognize what kind of story the author wants to tell and what tools might help them get there, and that acknowledge what the author is doing well, not just what needs improvement.
You can find Barbara online at babarnett.com.
Amazing. Terrific. Invaluable. Gut-wrenching, but that was to be expected.
“I really appreciate what I think of as the mini-lessons—reminders or introductions to concepts, such as how to evaluate a scene, pacing, secondary characters, and structure, and then an analysis of these in relation to my manuscript. The report is invaluable not just for this novel but also for my future novels.
“The most important element is that I received feedback on what is wrong that is expert and well-considered. It’s very valuable, too, to know what has worked (so I don’t end up removing it, not realizing it’s fine) and I’m glad to have received that feedback, too. Other services are not as knowledgeable or rigorous.”
The critique I received from Odyssey was very clear and thorough and identified problems in my writing that I always ‘felt’ but couldn’t quite identify. Worth every penny.”
A great job—the feedback I received was perceptive and helpful. The critiquer identified specific issues with my manuscript, and general issues that I need to work on as a writer; and they were able to suggest practical solutions that I can apply immediately.”
I recommend the Odyssey Critique Service to all beginning writers who have broken the ice by taking one or two writing classes and have started a novel. Beginning writer courses are like kindergarten writer school, where the not-so-good writers criticize a few paragraphs of your bad writing. The best result of Odyssey’s service is that I have a much better sense of how far I have to go to become a great writer.”
I certainly would recommend and have recommended the Odyssey Critique Service to other writers.”
—Lee Wee Leng
I thought I would be receiving a critique of my work; what I got was a life-changing experience. Not only has the Odyssey Critique Service nailed down my weaknesses as a writer, but it has also given me invaluable tools for improvement that I never could have found on my own. I am eternally grateful.”
I don’t know that I have anything to add that the previous authors have not said. This is a good thing. It means Odyssey consistently provides authors with strong, detailed, and helpful reviews. Even if an author has tried another service, they should try Odyssey—it can only make his work better.”
If you have put in the work to write an entire novel, don’t stop there; use the Odyssey Critique Service to hone that novel to the best it can be. It’s a double whammy—you get both overall evaluations and recommendations (i.e. big picture), and line edits and other line-by-line suggestions (i.e. small picture). The feedback is clear, concise, detailed, and helpful. It will also point out your strengths and weaknesses as a reader, which you can use both in the novel and in future writing.”
The feedback I received from Elaine was professional, concise, and absolutely priceless. I now have the tools to take my writing to the next level which is exactly what I was looking for. I have specific areas which I understand are weak, why they are weak, and, equally important, I know how to go about fixing them. She didn’t just say what was wrong but also what I need to do to make the necessary improvements. She obviously spent quality time and thought on my writing and it shows in the quantity and quality of her feedback. This is a great service. Do it!”
The critique exceeded my expectations. It was clear, comprehensive, and helpful.”
Carrie Vaughn’s in-depth critique plus substantial line edits delivered a lethal one-two to the flaws in my manuscript. . . . Worth the investment and more.”
—C. R. Steevens
I must have read my manuscript a dozen times. But I felt something was off so I had gone to an independent editor that was recommended by Preditors and Editors and Literary Marketplace. His edit was completely shallow, giving me no input on character or plot development. This lead me to search for another source. And that was Odyssey. The line by line edits were fantastic, giving me insight from an outside reader. This helped illuminate potential problems, opening my eyes to the rest of my manuscript. The summary critique was also fantastic, focusing on both character and plot development issues—issues that I can now focus on correcting. She [Lane] stated the strengths of my story, which only helped me focus the story further. Thank you.”
I’m a technician by trade, not a writer. This is my first attempt at anything creative. The editor was extremely helpful; she pointed out my weaknesses, strengths, gave suggestions and was very encouraging. I have a lot of work to do, but this pointed me in the right direction. When the revisions are done, I’ll be sending it back for another look. Thanks for the help!”
The feedback I received on my young adult fantasy manuscript from the Odyssey Critique Service exceeded my expectations. The comments were truthful yet constructive, helping me see the weaknesses in my story and suggesting ways to improve them. The explanations were clear, detailed, and showed the professional experience and expertise of the editor. I would highly recommend the Odyssey Critique Service to other science fiction and fantasy writers!”
—Suzanne Y. Truong
The Odyssey Critique Service is of the same high standard as the Odyssey courses. The advice is clear and helpful. I would certainly recommend it to other writers.”
The Odyssey Critique Service gave me more helpful insight than all of the other combined years of writing workshops in which I’ve participated. I’ll never be able to thank the Odyssey Critique Service enough, and if I ever do make it as a writer it will be largely due to their help. I don’t know anywhere else that a writer can get feedback from a successful author for such a bargain-basement price. The critique both enlightened and inspired me!”
It was excellent! Carrie picked up immediately on . . . what was wrong (and right) in the text. I was very impressed with her skill, and her suggestions are very valuable. I think that I can come at this work now, with new eyes, new ideas and insight. I feel that I have a much CLEARER understanding of my strengths and particularly my weaknesses and definitely a greater sense of how to improve!”
I submitted my first attempt at fiction (three short stories) to the Odyssey Critique Service. I’ve read many books on writing and believed I understood the basics of storytelling. I discovered the enormous difference between reading about writing and putting words on a page.
“I received an incredibly comprehensive critique. Everything in my stories, from concept, character and plot, to grammar and punctuation, was thoroughly examined. The Odyssey Critique Service is a wonderful resource: I will use it again.”
I’m inclined to believe that Lane Robins spent hours and HOURS analyzing my story. Based on her honest critique, I came to realize I’d better try harder to carry my brains between my ears, and not elsewhere, when it comes to presenting information (exposition) within my story. I’m very happy with the professional critique I received from the Odyssey Critique Service.”
I would certainly recommend the Odyssey Critique Service to anyone who has a finished manuscript. Compared to similar services found online, the feedback provided through this service is highly specific and provides excellent guidance for what may be changed to make the story even better. Whether you are an Odyssey graduate or are looking to become one, this service can provide the objective critique needed to bring your story to the next level.”
Elaine provided a detailed, diplomatic and honest critique. She nailed my weaknesses and gave praise to my strengths. Since one of my weaknesses was plot, I know it must have been a challenge to read—more than once—and yet she clearly treated my writing with respect. The typed critique (twenty eight pages!) and the hand-written manuscript notes complemented each other perfectly. I now have a clear direction, several things to work on improving, and I am eager to get started! I know I wouldn’t be at this point if not for this service. I would definitely recommend this service and I would not hesitate to use it again myself in the future.”
EXTREMELY HELPFUL!!! I’ve been working on this novel for over 10 years. The critique I received through this service was the best I’ve ever had—hands down. . . . The service is worth every penny.”
This was absolutely the best, most useful feedback I’ve ever received on my writing. It was clear that Barbara [Campbell] had not only read my manuscript, but read it twice, and tailored her feedback to help me identify what she saw as my strengths and weaknesses. Her comments were useful and specific. She challenged some of the basic assumptions of my plot and characters. She didn’t allow me to get away with any shortcuts as a writer.”
I have already recommended the service to another writer. . . .
“Many services say they critique fantasy but after investigation they really don’t know fantasy. Odyssey knows fantasy and has the reputation to back it up. The service did provide me with a very thorough genre critique.”
This critique provided a valuable counterpoint to my critique group’s opinions, in that it was a ‘cold’ look at 20,000 words, not a continually evolving and ‘contaminated’ set of opinions on a work my group has read before. My reviewer gave me invaluable insights to what the manuscript is now, as opposed to what it has been, and picked up things that only a fresh pair of eyes could see. My critique group is very good, but this is just the kind of thing I needed to resolve issues of continuity, world building, and where and when and how much exposition is needed as I try to keep the plot moving. Big things, little things. Excellent advice.
“Well worth the price! I will definitely use this service again.”
I honestly didn’t know what I had when I finished my novel. I was too close to it, and I needed someone with fresh and clear eyes to see it. The Odyssey Critique Service provided me with that person. She read, analyzed, and reported on my novel to a degree that let me see it clearly again. I hope I can get the book published, but at least I know it’s better. And that’s exactly what I paid for.”
—P. Matt Kimme
I just want to thank Barbara Campbell for taking the time to review my work. I appreciate all of her comments, suggestions, and edits. I am very fortunate to have stumbled upon the Odyssey website, as this critique service will certainly enhance my writing. I will undoubtedly be submitting future works, not only for the professional level of editing, but also to monitor my level of improvement.”
I was seeking an honest evaluation of my novel. The Odyssey critique provided this and much more. Other services have sometimes been more laudatory than helpful. Which not to say the critique did not praise my strengths, just that, as in the Odyssey Workshop, the emphasis was more on improving the manuscript, and subsequently, the writer’s skill set than on pleasing the author’s ego. The notes written throughout the manuscript gave me constant insight into what a reader would feel at that point in the story and questions she might have. The critiquer’s expertise in genre fiction alone made her evaluation worth the fee. It was refreshing to be reviewed by a professional who understood the tropes of both the mystery and fantasy genres. Her analysis was thorough, tactful, detailed, and clear. She not only highlighted problem areas but also recommended solutions for them. I expect to send another manuscript to the Odyssey Critique Service this year.”
Odyssey provided me with an exceptionally useful critique. The critique was exactly what I wanted and more importantly what I needed, i.e., honest and specific criticism with tips and recommendations on how to productively resolve identified problem areas and improve the weak aspects of my writing. There are many types of critiques available out there but Odyssey’s (from Barbara Campbell) is the only one that provided me with an exceptionally beneficial critique that included suggestions, methodologies/tools, resources, and exercises that I could complete to identify my own problem areas in the future and improve my writing. YES! AWESOME!”
I found this to be a very valuable service. The detailed review of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer that I received was very professional and sensitive at the same time. Thank you.”
The critique I received from Odyssey was a well-thought-out analysis of my stories. My critiquer pointed out weaknesses and flaws in my writing with line-edited suggestions on improvement. Essentially it provided me with the external insight needed to bring my writing to the next level. I would recommend this service to any writers interested in improving their craft.”
Detailed and balanced. Very helpful.”
Theodora [Goss] identified both strengths and weaknesses in my writing, and suggested clear and specific ways to improve. The difference between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions, once her feedback had been incorporated, was pretty significant—I’d definitely recommend the critique service to anyone trying to improve.”
Odyssey Critique Service was instrumental in showing me the faults I was blind to in my story and showing me ways to fix them. I am currently reworking the story, and I look forward to using Odyssey Critique Service again in the future. The critique of my novel, 27 pages long, was filled with advice and comments on my characters, plot, and theme. It also gave advice on my style, tone and pacing.
“The critique broke my story down into manageable bites so I could digest all the information and start to work on my story to make it stronger, to make it publishable as a work of fiction.
“The line edits, and I am sorry to Barbara Campbell for this, were throughout the novel and were instructive. They showed me the faults I was blind to in my writing, showing me how to tighten up the scenes and sequences I had while giving wonderful, truthful feedback. And that is a rarity.
“Try getting this kind of feedback from a community college or even a four-year college. It won’t happen.”