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Odyssey Critique Service

A Message from Jeanne Cavelos, Director:


Since the Odyssey Writing Workshop began, we have been inundated with requests for help from writers unable to attend the six-week program. Some feel they aren't yet ready to attend Odyssey; some have applied but haven't been admitted; some are unable to attend due to work, family, or finances; some are searching for a taste of the Odyssey experience so they can decide whether it's right for them. People have asked for critiques on their application stories so they can improve them for next year; they've asked to come for part of the workshop; they've asked us to create a shorter workshop; they've asked to participate in the workshop via the Internet--in short, they've asked for some way to get help with their writing.

The mission of Odyssey is to help developing writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work. I've been searching for the best way to extend that help beyond the sixteen people who attend Odyssey each summer. To that end, we've created the Odyssey Critique Service.

The Odyssey Critique Service provides authors a method of receiving professional-level feedback done in accordance with Odyssey principles and with the thoroughness and depth for which Odyssey is known.

What are the Odyssey critique principles?

There are only two, and we follow them both at the workshop and in the critique service: All critiques should be both truthful and helpful.

Isn't that what you want from a critique? It seems simple enough, but many workshops and critiques do not adhere to these principles.

Truthful means that a critiquer won't say, "I really liked your story," unless she really liked it. It also means a critiquer won't use your story as a target for cheap shots meant to make her look superior. For the critiquer, the responsibility to be honest with you about your work is a sacred trust.

Helpful does not mean nice. Helpful means being specific, identifying problems as precisely as possible so the author has an idea how to improve the story. If a critiquer says, "This story sucks," it may be truthful, but it certainly isn't helpful. What does the author take away from such a critique? "Ah, yes, of course, I see it now. All I need to do is remove the suckiness, and I'll have a winner!" The author is left with no direction. If, instead, the critiquer says, "Your characters are unbelievable, and your plot has no suspense," at least the author has some idea of what to focus on in a revision. The more specific the feedback, the more helpful it is. At Odyssey, we try to give feedback that is specific, detailed, and thorough, and that explores the work in depth.

What distinguishes the Odyssey Critique Service from other editing, workshopping, or critiquing services?

Aside from the quality of the feedback, the main element that distinguishes the Odyssey Critique Service is the "big picture" overview of your skills that you will receive in addition to the detailed, in-depth critiques.

We thought very carefully about how to structure this service, and we settled on a structure that parallels the beginning of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Applicants to Odyssey submit one piece of their writing with their application. If they are admitted, they must submit a second piece before the workshop begins. They then submit a third piece during the opening week of the workshop. I critique all three of these pieces. This practice has proved incredibly successful in quickly revealing recurring patterns, tendencies, and stylistic tics. With a clear sense of the author's strengths and weaknesses, I meet with him during the first week of the workshop to discuss those and suggest ways that he begin to address the most serious weaknesses. This starts us on our Odyssey.

Similarly, with the Odyssey Critique Service, you will submit several pieces of your writing. The critiquer will not only provide feedback on each individual piece, but will also provide an overall assessment of your writing, including specific strengths and weaknesses that appear repeatedly in your work, and suggestions for improving those weak areas.

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. Fees are calculated on a case-by-case basis. Those interested should send me a description of the material to be critiqued along with the word count.
All material must be submitted at once.

Who provides the critiques?

Your work will be read by one of the critiquers listed below. They have all graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop and know its critique principles well. Since Odyssey, they have all become successful professional writers. I handpicked these authors for their outstanding critiquing skills.

What is the process?

It's simple.

  1. If you have any questions before you begin, contact me at jcavelos@sff.net.

  2. Print out the stories or chapters/synopsis. Make sure that your work is in standard manuscript format (http://www.sff.net/odyssey/cfaq.html).

  3. Mail the following four items:

    • The printed copy of your submission.

    • A check or money order for $275 made out to Odyssey. (You may also pay through PayPal [www.paypal.com], an Internet service that allows you to charge the cost to a credit card. You will need to set up an account with them, which doesn't take long. Payment should be made to jcavelos@sff.net.) Those outside the U.S. should pay by International Money Order in U.S. Dollars.

    • An unaddressed envelope large enough to hold your submission, with $6.05 of postage on it. We will use this envelope to mail your submission to your specific critiquer. Those outside the U.S. should simply add $12.00 U.S. to the critiquing fee. This will cover the $6.05 of postage as well as the additional postage cost involved in returning your edited manuscript to you.

    • Your email address.

    To this address:

    Odyssey Critique Service
    P. O. Box 75
    Mont Vernon, NH 03057

  4. We will email you to let you know the date we received your package. We will also let you know who will be critiquing your work.

  5. Within 60 days of our receipt of your submission, you will receive via regular mail typed, in-depth critiques of your pieces, along with an overview of your writing. You will also receive your original manuscripts marked with thorough line edits, comments, and suggestions.

  6. If you have any questions for your critiquer, you may send one follow-up email with those questions. Please send that email to me at jcavelos@sff.net, and I will relay it to your critiquer. The critiquer will respond as her schedule allows.

Why don't you allow submissions and critiques to be emailed back and forth?

It would be much easier to do this by email, to give your work a quick read and fire back a brief critique. But that is not the type of feedback that will help you have major insights into your work and make significant improvements. If all you want is a quick reaction, there are many places on the Internet that can provide one. We offer something different.

Working on a hard copy of the manuscript allows the critiquer to make more line edits. While some line edits and marginal comments can be made with word processing software such as Microsoft Word, these systems work best when the edits are minimal. As the number of edits and comments increases, they become very difficult to read and untangle. Working on a printed copy of the manuscript allows line edits and comments to remain clear even when they are extensive.

The line edits, comments, questions, and suggestions handwritten on your manuscripts are a critical part of the feedback you will receive. For beginning writers with weak skills, line edits and marginal comments are often critical to conveying basic, pervasive weaknesses that must be conquered before the author can advance. For more advanced writers, the devil is often in the details, so close line edits and marginal comments can be incredibly helpful.

Is the Odyssey Critique Service a substitute for Odyssey?

Unfortunately, no. The Odyssey Writing Workshop is a unique and powerful experience, which I would bottle if I could, but I can't. 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. Listening to the extensive lectures, doing the journal entries, producing new stories, revising old ones, critiquing classmates' work, receiving feedback from me, the guests, and your classmates, and working in this challenging environment all help sharpen your critical faculties, give you insights into your strengths and weaknesses, provide tools and techniques to improve your writing, force you to break bad habits and form better ones, open new worlds of possibility, and often lead to dramatic breakthroughs. Discussing all this with your classmates can lead to the formation of great friendships that will provide a supportive network to keep you writing once you get home.

The Odyssey Critique Service can't provide all that. 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. As I described above, the service parallels the actions we take at the beginning of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, which kick-start students' progress. 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 Odyssey?

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 to figure out how to solve that problem.

While using the Odyssey Critique Service in no way guarantees admission to the workshop, one of the reasons I wanted to start the service was to help applicants. Many writers apply year after year. I see some of them improving each year and ultimately being admitted to the workshop. I see others struggling, their skills remaining the same. I'm unable to give more than a sentence or two of personalized feedback when I respond to applicants, which I know cannot be much help. 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. 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.

Will the fee I pay to the critique service help to support the Odyssey Writing Workshop?

Yes. We try very hard to keep the tuition for Odyssey as low as possible. Most years, the tuition just manages to cover the expenses. Some years, we lose money.

A portion of your fee to the Odyssey Critique Service will go to support Odyssey, helping to keep the workshop alive and to keep tuition costs down for current and future students. We very much appreciate your business and support, as do those attending the workshop. And when you're ready to attend Odyssey, it will be easier for you to afford it.



Carrie graduated from Odyssey in 1998 (the year Harlan Ellison was Writer-in- Residence). She returned in 2009 as Odyssey's Writer-in-Residence. An Air Force brat, she's managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado. She has a Masters in English Lit and is the bestselling author of the Kitty Norville series of novels, about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio advice show for supernatural creatures. She also writes young adult novels (Voices of Dragons (2010), Steel (2011)) and contemporary fantasy novels (Discord's Apple (2010), After the Golden Age (2011)). Her short stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Talebones, Paradox, Polyphony, and various anthologies. Read some of her work at www.carrievaughn.com. She writes novels and short stories across the genre, from science fiction to traditional fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera, horror, and paranormal.

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 attended Odyssey in 2000. She is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy Trickster's Game (Heartwood, Bloodstone, Foxfire). Published by DAW Books, it was a finalist for the 2010 Mythopoeic Society's Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Her fourth novel—a contemporary fantasy—will be published by DAW in 2011. A lyricist and librettist as well as a novelist, Barbara has had her musicals showcased in such venues as the Edinburgh International Festival and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Learn more at her Website: www.barbara-campbell.com.

A regular participant in The Never-Ending Odyssey (for graduates of the workshop), 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 soon-to-be-released sequel, Kings & Assassins. Under the name Lyn Benedict, she has Book 1 of the Shadows Inquiries, Sins & Shadows, coming out in May 2009 from Ace. 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 Web site at www.maledicte.com.


Much to the dismay of her relatives, Elaine Isaak withdrew from art school to pursue her own ends in business and writing. In 1997, she attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Without the careful critiques of Jeanne and her Odyssey classmates, her first novel, The Singer's Crown (Eos, 2005) might never have been published. The sequel, The Eunuch's Heir, appeared in 2006, with The Bastard Queen due out at the beginning of 2010. In addition to her fantasy novels, she has written about ballet, love letters, and business profiles for the local newspapers, and articles for The Writer magazine and Linn's Stamp News. Her bi-monthly fantasy writing column, Lady Blade, appears on-line at AlienSkinmag.com. Visit her Web site at www.ElaineIsaak.com to find out why you do not want to be her hero.

A founding member of the Poet's Unbound workshop, still meeting after almost twelve years, 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.


One of Eric James Stone's earliest memories is of an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. Thanks to his father's collection of old science fiction, Eric grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke.

In addition to attending Odyssey in 2007, Eric is also a graduate of Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp. A Writers of the Future winner, his stories have appeared in Year's Best SF 15, Analog Science Fiction, and the Blood Lite anthologies, among other venues. Some of his stories have been translated into Russian, Hebrew, and Polish. Since 2009, Eric has been 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.


"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!"
--Ronald Kaiser

"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."
--Erik Bundy

"I certainly would recommend and have recommended the Odyssey Critique Service to other writers."
--Lee Wee Leng

"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!"
--Sylvia Saxon

"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."
--Walt Mutschler

"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."
--Jay Doolittle

"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!"
--Michael Kessinger

"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."
--James Breyfogle

"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."
--Steven Wheelock

"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."
--Larisa Walk

"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."
--Larry Hodges

"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."
--Thompson Parker

"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."
--John Iovine

"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!"
--Karen Lacey

"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."
--Zoe Zygmunt

"Detailed and balanced. Very helpful."
--Steve Thomas

"The critique exceeded my expectations. It was clear, comprehensive, and helpful."
--Keith Sen

"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."
--Marques Dillard

"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."
--Steve Clancey

"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

"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."
--Josh Roberts

"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."
--Joe Hanzlik

"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."
--Jimmy Ng

"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."
--Cheryl Carter

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