#IWSG June 2015 – The Problem with Sixfold, and How It Should Work

This isn't just about not getting my own submissions to Sixfold published, I swear.


This is about a wonderful idea that should work  – the idea of an all-writer-voted, open-to-all writing journal for fiction.

Sixfold.org handles this in a way which sounds wonderful at first. Everybody who participates in each submission contest is tasked with critiquing 6 other pieces of work, and rating them on a scale of 1 to 6. After each round, the slush pile is reduced to the top third. After 3 rounds, the top 3 submissions win money, and the top 15 are featured in the journal.

Sounds cool, right?

Sure, if you are already a very, very good author, or at least a very popular one!

Chances are pretty high you’ll be out after the first round. You won’t know it, though – the process does not let you know when you’re tossed out. You are still expected to give 18 critiques over the 3 rounds.

At the end, you’ll likely find that you didn’t even get 6 critiques. In my case, only 3 of the people who saw my story even made some kind of comment, and only 2 of those offered any usable criticism (the remainder was nigh-incomprehensible). The others who saw my story left a rating only, a meaningless number that does not help me improve.

IF you are lucky or skilled enough to make round two, you’ll get a maximum of 12 ratings and maybe 12 critiques. IF you are extremely lucky or skilled and make the third round, you might get one critique for every critique you gave.

But you won’t need them as badly! Your story would already be damn good if it got that far!

A little cost-benefit analysis here:

What are you most likely to end up with?

6 ratings, and a few useful comments, if you’re lucky.

What do you put in?

If you’re like me and appreciate the spirit of the venture, you put in 18 thoughtful critiques along with rankings.

What do most people put in?

A number, plus comments that come break down to either “Sorry, didn’t like it” or “Hey, this is kind of good, but the others were better”. Or no comment at all.

Making it better.

The basic system of a vote-based submission process is wonderful. There has to be more incentive, though. If I give 18 critiques, then I want to get some good thoughts back from others. Here’s what I’d like to see in a Sixfold-like system:

  1. Throw out the lowest 1/3, but only after the first round. This (should) remove the stuff that nobody wants to waste time considering seriously.
  2. Let people know their entries didn’t make the top 2/3. They need to spend more time learning to write, and can thus be excused from further critiquing.
  3. Keep the remaining 2/3 through Round 2 and 3. This lets a variety of readers see each work, meaning there’s a much better chance that authors get good feedback.
  4.  The final rating for each story comes from the results of 3 rounds. The top 15 stories make the publication, but every story that survived the first round has 18 ratings.
  5. Folks who consistently leave good critiques, rather than just leaving a number, need to be recognized. I admit – I’m not sure how to make this happen!

Other thoughts? Has anybody seen a vote-based system like Sixfold’s that worked well? Would love to hear the Insecure Writers Support Group‘s thoughts on this!