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Welcome to Reading Excuses


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The guidelines listed here are still current as of January 2021.

What is Reading Excuses?

Reading Excuses is an online critique group and a spin-off of the popular podcast Writing Excuses (note: we are a fan group and not affiliated with the Writing Excuses podcast). In other words, we read each others' fiction to provide constructive criticism that will help improve your work.

Reading Excuses is open to anyone. To join, send a PM to both Silk and Robinski with the email address that you'd like to receive submissions at, and one of us will add that email address to the group's email list. Discussion threads happen here on the forum; submissions are sent out by email each week.

I will always respond to your request to join the group. I try to be reasonably prompt about doing so, and usually respond to requests in a couple of days. I do miss things sometimes, though, so if you haven't heard from me within a week, feel free to re-send the request.

This group is meant for writers of all levels who intend their work for publication. Writers of any genre are welcome to join, but we're primarily science fiction and fantasy writers, so if you're writing outside of SFF you may find that we're not the audience you're looking for.

The posts below tell you how the group operates. Please read the "How Do I Submit" and "Code of Conduct and Critiquing Guidelines" sections before submitting or critiquing.

How Do I Submit?

  • Formatting Submissions
  • Length Guidelines
  • Content Tags
  • Naming Conventions
  • How to Submit
  • When to Submit
  • FAQs

Code of Conduct and Critiquing Guidelines

  • Code of Conduct
  • Critiquing Guidelines
  • Receiving Critiques
  • How Often Do I Need to Critique?
  • Sharing Work From RE

Other Resources

  • RE Administravia
  • Extra Credit
  • Your opinion ...
  • The Writing World
Edited by Silk
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How Do I Submit?

Please ensure that your submission adheres to these guidelines. They may seem stringent, but they're designed to make things as easy as possible for everyone in the group.

Formatting Submissions:

Please don't simply post your work on the forums, as absolutely anyone can view content posted here. Instead, send your submissions as an email attachment in .docx, .rtf, or .pdf format.

Manuscripts should be double-spaced and in a legible font and font size. Courier and Times New Roman, at 10- and 12-point font respectively, are manuscript standard. Sans serif fonts are best for accessibility.

Length Guidelines:

Individual submissions should be no longer than about 5000 words. This doesn't have to be exact, but please stick as close to the limit as possible. For submissions that are significantly over the word limit, split your submission. With 5 submissions, even a little adds up quickly.

There is no minimum length.

Content Tags:

We're not interested in censoring content, but we do expect all of our writers to be considerate of others when submitting potentially difficult content. It's your responsibility to be aware of the kind of content you're submitting, and, when applicable, tag it using the following labels: L (language), V (violence), G (gore), S (sexual or suggestive content), SA (sexual assault), and D (drug or substance abuse).

You know your content better than we do. If there's something in your submission that isn't adequately covered under these labels, or you'd like to emphasize the nature of the submission's content more than the label allows, please include a warning in the body of your email. The goal is not to provide a plot summary, but to give other readers enough information to decide whether they're willing and able to effectively critique the content you're submitting.

Finally, be aware that such submissions will sometimes evoke some strong responses. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if the feedback you're receiving is negative, but it's something you should be prepared for. Receive critiques of this kind of content the same way you would for anything else: be polite, don't get defensive, and listen. If people do react strongly to something you wrote, that's valuable information.

Naming Conventions:

We have specific naming conventions for submission emails, attachments, and forum threads. This allows people to filter their emails in a way that they find convenient, makes it easier to keep track of who is submitting what, and saves everyone from downloading and renaming half a dozen files named "Chapter One" every week.

Please format the email subject line like this: "Reading Excuses - [date] - [username] - [title] (Content tags)", where "username" is your 17th Shard username. Just glance at any of the existing submission threads for an example.

Follow the same format for forum topic and file name, but you can omit the "Reading Excuses" prefix, which is just there for email filtering purposes. Please make sure you have your username on the file attachment! It is extremely hard to tell who's submission is whose when you have multiple submissions. The username really makes a difference.

How to Submit:

1. Once you're sure that your submission complies with the guidelines above, send your submission to: all[at]readingexcuses[dot]com
2. If you are submitting something other than the beginning of a story (the later half of short story or novelette, or Chapter 2 or later of a novel) please include a 1-2 sentence summary of the previous material in the body of the email. This will make it easier for people who haven't read the previous material to critique your most recent submissions.
3. Post a topic on here on the Reading Excuses forum so that people can comment on your work.

        When to Submit:

Our submission date is every Monday. Please note that you will not have the opportunity to submit every week. We allow five people to submit per week. That's the maximum amount we can handle while ensuring that everybody gets feedback.

To request to submit, post to the Email List and Submission Dates thread prior to your target submission date and let me know you're interested. I post a list of confirmed submitters every week by Sunday. When the group is busy, those who have had the opportunity to submit frequently may be asked to delay to make way for other submitters. I will also give priority to people writing to a submission deadline, within reason.


What happens if I ask to submit but don't get a slot?

This happens rarely, but it does happen. If I have to ask you NOT to submit for a week, I'll let you know at the same time as I post the list of confirmed submitters. I'll then place you on the list tentatively for the following week (although please do post a request again the next week so I have a reminder/confirmation) but if the next week is also quite busy I may still ask you not to submit.  I do attempt to ensure that everyone gets a slot within two weeks of their original request, even during busier times, and so far I haven't had a problem making this happen.

If you feel badly because you've "bumped" someone out of a slot for this week, don't! This is how the group is supposed to function, to make sure everyone gets a chance to have their work read, and everyone in this group is wonderfully gracious about deferring their submissions when required.

Can I request a slot more than one week in advance?

Yes, but it's best if you repost your request during the appropriate week, to confirm that you are still interested in submitting and to make sure your request doesn't accidentally get overlooked.

Please refrain from requesting a submission date more than 2 weeks in advance as such a request is almost guaranteed to get lost in the shuffle.

Do I have to submit right away?

You definitely do not have to submit immediately upon joining, and in fact, we recommend that new members read and critique for at least week or two before submitting, to get a feel for how things work around here and the kind of feedback you're likely to get. There's no rush to get that first submission in.

On the flip side, if you're a new member with a piece that you're eager to submit, you're certainly welcome to request a spot in the queue. If you choose this route, we definitely recommend that you read some of the older threads here to get an idea of how the group works and make sure that this is really for you. Once you've done that, if you're still comfortable submitting, make sure you follow the request and submission process outlined here.

The roster isn't full, can I take up more than one 5000-word "slot"?

Generally speaking, no. We occasionally make exceptions to this rule when someone has an imminent professional deadline upcoming (i.e. professional contests, submissions deadlines for an agent or publisher).

If you're hoping to get a whole manuscript read more quickly than the weekly submission limits allow, you can always check out the Alpha Readers Thread to see if anyone has the ability to do a full read-through. Just remember that it's a voluntary 'extra'!

I didn't get any of this week's submissions/I didn't get all of this week's submissions.

We have had recent issues where some members aren't receiving all of the submissions in any given week. If this is you, there are a couple quick things you can try:

  • Check your Spam folder. Email verification is enabled, so nobody's subs should be landing in Spam, but it does happen occasionally.
  • If you're using a Gmail account, check your Promotions tab. For some reason, some people have been finding that Gmail files some (but not all) RE emails there. 
  • Do a quick search of your email client to see if you can find the email of the submission you're looking for. As noted in the above bullet, we've been finding lately that email clients have been filing group emails in odd places.

If none of those work, let me know and I'll see if there's anything I can do on my end to help.

Edited by Silk
Added content tags for sexual assault, gore; font accessibility suggestions; Sept 2017 added new FAQ
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Code of Conduct and Critiquing Guidelines

Code of Conduct

Joining Reading Excuses means joining the larger 17th Shard community. Please review and respect the forum rules.

The nature of online forums means that you're interacting with people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds, often without knowing what those backgrounds are. Don't make assumptions about someone else's background; if you find yourself doing so while responding to someone on the forum, revise your comment accordingly.

Personal attacks or attack, mocking, or disparagement of another person's identity, including race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, ability, and religious belief, will not be tolerated under any circumstance.

Critiquing Guidelines:

First of all, don't worry too much about the length of your critique or whether your comments are "good enough." Some of us have gotten into the habit of detailed line-by-line commentary, but that's not an expectation by any means. Overviews, general impressions, and reader reactions are all completely fine. Similarly, don't worry if your comments are very similar to (or different than) others in the group. It is always useful for an author to know whether or not different people have reacted in the same way to the same story, scene or beat, and getting multiple reactions to the same piece is a feature of the group, not a bug.

That said, please keep the below points top of mind when providing critiques on the forum. Hopefully they also serve as a useful place to start.

  • Please abbreviate character names and other unique "author-created" names (place names might be one example) when critiquing. Should a work submitted for critique here ultimately be published, this helps ensure that fans searching for the book don't accidentally stumble on the material in this forum instead of the finished product.
  • For the same reason, please be careful about quoting people's work. It's not possible to avoid this altogether, but try  to quote as little as possible to make your point. A page number or quoting the first and last bits of a particularly long sentence can both be helpful in helping the author find the line you're talking about. 
  • In general, be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Tell the author how you reacted to their work, rather than what you think they should do to fix it. Your vision of where you think the story's going may not match the author's vision.
  • Include positive as well as negative reactions. It's just as important for the author to know what works as it is for them to know what doesn't.
  • Be mindful of the stage the work is at. If it's a first draft, all sorts of things will probably change. A critique of line-level prose or pointing out grammatical errors may not be terribly valuable if the author is still working on character, plot, pacing. Most of the time, you'll probably want to focus on big-picture things.
  • Be mindful of what the author is looking for. They may be very interested in a line-level critique, or have specific questions they're hoping you can answer.
  • Be willing to adapt the style and tone of your critique to meet the needs of the author you're critiquing.

    At the receiving end of every critique you give is a person with feelings, and it can be very difficult to put your work out there, especially when you're new to a group and/or new to writing in general.

    RE has had writers at all levels of skill and experience, from completely new writers to published authors. Everyone should be able to expect a fair and honest critique of their work here, but that doesn't necessitate listing every flaw or opportunity for improvement. Some writers may find that very valuable; others may find it frustrating or discouraging, at which point it becomes not very valuable at all. Similarly, keep an eye on the tone of your critiques. Some people don't mind very blunt critiques; others find them discouraging. If you know you're critiquing a new author or someone who doesn't find much value in very blunt or very detailed critiques, write your critique accordingly. If they're new to the group or you're just not sure, err on the side of caution.

    Receiving critiques is a skill, just as providing them is, as is writing itself. These things take time and practice. Part of our job on this forum is to provide a welcoming space for new writers to do just that.

It's been on my wish-list for a long time to expand the guideline for providing and receiving critiques into something more complete, and I'd welcome any suggestions for items to include in the in-house guidelines, or external resources that can be linked to. In the meantime, there's this podcast you could listen to on the subject of writing groups, by some folks you might have heard of.

Receiving Critiques

Receiving critiques is a skill, though we don't always think of it this way. Here are some guidelines for how to do it effectively.

  • First and foremost, listen. Resist the urge to defend or explain your work. Maybe someone has found a flaw on page 27, or maybe that thing on page 27 is actually addressed perfectly on page 86. Either way, they're giving you valuable information about how they're experiencing your story right now.
  • That being said, don't be afraid to ask a critiquer to expand or clarify, or to ask others in the group if they found the same thing. Knowing whether others in the group had similar or different experiences can be very instructive.
  • You're not obligated to incorporate every piece of feedback you use. Don't feel badly when you discard someone's comments; you haven't wasted their time if you decide to go in a different direction. Now you have a better idea of how that scene, that line, etc. is going to affect some people in your audience.
  • On a similar note: you're going to be getting feedback from a lot of different people. Inevitably, some of it will conflict. This can feel extremely frustrating. But again, knowing that different people react differently to the same scene can be useful. Maybe there is a solution that can make everyone in the audience happy, or maybe you just need to decide that the story needs to go somewhere that doesn't work for some people. It happens. Either way, once you know how different people react to the same scene, you're ahead of the game.
  • If there are specific aspects of your story you'd like feedback on, ask!

How Often Do I Need to Critique?

This group functions by trading critiques. The more you're able to participate and critique others' work, the better the group works for everyone (and the more likely you are to get a good response rate from your peers when you submit). That said, we realise that everyone is busy, and that a good critique takes time. At minimum, you are required to provide 1 critique for every 1 item you submit to the group.

If you want to jump into critiquing someone's ongoing project--for example, you want to critique Chapter 3, but haven't read Chapters 1 and 2--you can use the summary that each submitter provides in the body of their email to help get up to speed--just be aware that this will affect the perceptions of their story.

Alternatively, you can ask the author in question to simply send you the earlier part of the work. Nobody is obligated to do this, but people are generally happy to.

         Sharing Work From RE:


All work submitted to RE remains the property of the original author and is protected by the copyright law of the author's country of origin. You may not, under any circumstances excepting the explicit permission of the author(s), re-post or otherwise share material that is submitted to this group. Anyone who shares another author's work without permission will be removed from the group's mailing list and reported to the site administrators.

Edited by Silk
revised code of conduct, critiquing guidelines
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Other Resources:

Because it's not necessarily feasible to pin every thread that might be useful, I'm going to put a list of links up to other non-critique threads on RE that we might want to keep track of. So, if you're looking for a thread on this forum that's buried under a mountain of critiques, this is probably a good place for it.

RE Administravia

Extra Credit

  • Lounge - A place for general discussions.
  • Alpha Readers Thread - Some of our members also participate in an informal alpha reading group. This may be especially interesting to those of you who already have finished novels. Thanks to JamesW for setting this up.
  • RE Does Write About Dragons - an informal group for those wanting to take Brandon Sanderson's online course Write About Dragons. Details at the link.

Your Opinion...

...is important to us. Here are links to some ongoing discussions of different RE-related topics.

  • Critiquing Guide - A detailed critiquing guide is a work-in-process. What would you like to see in the finished product?
  • Workshopping Outlines? - Interested in submitting or critiquing outlines? Let us know your thoughts.
  • Submission formats - At least a few people are critiquing on e-readers these days. (Those people are jerks, by the way. Wait, what are you talking about? I'm not jealous.) Is a .doc file format still the best way to go? Do you have other preferences?

The Writing World

Edited by Silk
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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 5 months later...

You can't edit your title post. I say that needs to be fixed. I posted a story post and couldn't add a date. Why not?

I have no idea, actually--must have something to do with the way permissions work on this forum? That's something that I would have to bounce to the admins.

I'm just noticing this now (I'm on top of things clearly) but I just checked the forum permissions and you should definitely be able to edit a topic's title. Is this still an issue or did it get magically resolved?

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As far as I can recall I've always been able to edit the titles of posts, I assumed because I'm a moderator of the forum. Thoughts, everyone?

I just realized, too, that modifying titles is a bit counter-intuitive: you can't modify the title of a topic by opening the topic and editing the post; you have to modify the title from the main forum.

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I've figured out the misconception. If you are the topic's creator, you click Edit on the initial post there. Now, on the in-line editor you won't see an option to edit the topic title, but if you click "Use Full Editor", it will be there.

This probably made a lot more intuitive sense on older versions of the forum that did not have such an in-line editor.

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  • 2 years later...

Update: I recently got a question about offensive content, and I've expanded the "Content Tags"  section accordingly. Nothing that will come as a surprise to anyone, I don't think, but worth the clarification. 


Maybe I should finally get around to that how to give/get critiques guide that I threatened to write three years ago...

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  • 2 years later...

Is there any chance we could get a content tag for sexual assault? Using a combination of S and V can sort of give the impression that the story has sex and violence but not sexual violence, and S alone would fail to address a case of, eg, non-violent sexual assault. There's circumstances in which I can deal with with encountering sexual assault in a work (eg, not in a short, not in a prologue), but in any case where it occurs I very much wish to be informed beforehand, either so I can prepare myself or take a pass.

Edited by neongrey
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  • 1 month later...

Might as well bring this up. It's relatively easy to set up a self-forwarding system on an email that's already included in the group email for only email from the Reading Excuses address. Meaning, any newcomers can be included within the group if they contact someone within the group already.

That means that if you haven't joined because of not getting on the email list, that won't be a problem.

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  • 2 months later...
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  • 1 year later...

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