Online Writing Critiques

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The Pen Factor is a new platform that hosts the American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent for writers.

I’m delighted to present the founder of The Pen Factor, Clarissa Horwood, who was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions about this exciting new showdown for aspiring authors.

First of all, Clarissa, would you be so kind as to tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Thank you, Christa. It’s a pleasure to be part of My Sweet Delirium. You’ve created a great community of writers!

(Thank you)

I grew up in Oxford, surrounded by a family of academics, writers and entrepreneurs. My French mother and English father ran a language school in our Oxfordshire home and every summer it was filled with students from all over the world. As such, I’ve never really considered myself to be one nationality – but rather an amalgamation of various cultures. A few years ago, I wrote my first book, The Hummingbird’s Whisper, and realized not only how hard it is to write, but how difficult it is to get noticed as a writer.

In your video, you mention you’re an aspiring writer. In which genre do you write? Are you working on anything right now?

I love realismo mágico. It was a genre I discovered in my last years at school, thanks to my wonderful Spanish teacher. I adore Latin American literature and one of my prized possessions is a copy of Como Agua Para Chocolate. The film version, in my opinion, is equally beautiful.

I love writing in that genre, as there’s poetic license to delve into the surreal, while living a conventional existence on earth.

Am I working on anything at the moment? Well, yes and no. When I am not working on the website, I write for Tasmania’s magazine 40 Degrees South, which means I don’t always meet my daily writing quota of 1000 words.

We’ve just welcomed our third child into the world – so life is busy! No doubt, there are plenty of mums in the same boat.

You come from a long line of literature lovers from Oxford. Now you live in Tasmania. How did you end up there?

That’s correct, we moved to Hobart in 2013 and are now enjoying island living down under. My husband is an actuary who specializes in pensions – so you can imagine just how riveting our conversations are! Jesting aside, it seemed futile to remain in a culture that now undermines the importance of saving, so when he was offered a position in Hobart, we agreed we’d start a new life overseas. We love it here.

Who are your favorite writers? What is your favorite genre?

Laura Esquivel, la Comtesse de Ségur, Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen. I’ve just realized that my list is compiled solely of female voices – it wasn’t deliberate! I recently read Alex by the French crime writer Pierre Lemaitre. I enjoyed his work.

I don’t tend to read one specific genre. If a book grabs me, I’ll read it irrespective of its placement in a bookshop.

Now, about The Pen Factor. Could you explain to us briefly step by step how The Pen Factor will work?

Anyone with a passion for writing, anywhere in the world, can submit work. Submit a first chapter or short story (max 1500 words) and within a few days you’ll receive three pieces of structured feedback from co-writers.

The Pen Factor’s own in-house actuary (yes, the same actuary mentioned above) designed an algorithm that takes all these reviews, strips out the excessive optimists and pessimists, and identifies the most interesting submissions. We are thrilled with how well this is working! We’ve already received some fantastic work from around the world.

The top 25% are promoted on our leaderboard and from these we select finalists and winners with the help of our celebrity guest judges. The current competition ends 21st June and The Pen Factor winner will be announced shortly after.

How did the idea of The Pen Factor first come to you?

Ah, good question! I remember receiving one particular agent’s pre-printed rejection note and feeling crestfallen. The agent’s message was economical and manufactured: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, this is not for us.

Alarm bells rang. I pondered the dehumanization of the publishing industry, from the perspective of agents, publishers and writers. If only we could revert to the days of old, where writers would receive more feedback, and could therefore understand the reasons behind the rejection (I can picture certain eyes rolling at my nostalgia).

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be hearing the term ‘slush pile’ but ‘manuscript-in-progress pile’. Ok, same difference? Actually, no. Each and every manuscript represents a story, a life. A life filled with hopes and dreams. Surely each life deserves some form of dignified recognition?

I was suddenly determined to create a platform where writers could receive acknowledgement and encouragement – irrespective of their writing experience.

Thus The Pen Factor was born….

How often will the contest be held?

There will be two to three writing competitions a year. The current competition is free to enter and writers can even submit anonymously if they like.

Will there be a fee in the future?

Yes, there will be. The Pen Factor is essentially a business with an investor and a passionate team. The website is incredibly technical and requires a dedicated developer. It simply won’t survive without its submission fee!

I am looking to donate a percentage of the submission fee to a charity helping underprivileged youngsters with reading and literacy. I have a shortlist of suitable charities that I’m considering and will announce this in the near future.

What prizes can writers receive?

The winner of the current competition will receive a full manuscript assessment with an established London consultancy and the opportunity of being talent spotted. They will receive feedback from our celebrity author judge and plenty of publicity.

We are currently in the process of agreeing an even larger prize (and publicity opportunities) for our next competition.

Who will judge the contests?

The prize-winning novelist, Nicholas Shakespeare, is our guest judge in June. We are honoured to welcome him aboard our judging panel!

We will announce future guest judges in due course.

What role could The Pen Factor play in an aspiring writer’s career?

The Pen Factor gives writers feedback, encouragement and opportunity.

It is the ultimate online writing tool. When you feel you’re ready to test something you’ve written, you can submit it online and promptly receive three pieces of independent feedback.

Our ultimate goal is to uncover a steady stream of sensational writers, and help them on their journey to becoming an e-book sensation or winning a publishing contract.

What vision do you see for The Pen Factor in the future?

Where do I begin, Christa! We are steadily growing and developing the website, and each phase creates a plethora of new visions and ideas. It’s a good problem to have.

In the future, we might even allow writers the chance to submit a full manuscript, which will give them an opportunity to shine. I’m also planning to recruit a number of established writers to mentor some of our contestants.

I also want to support the community of writers who want to develop their writing through peer review and constructive feedback. Our job is to create a helpful culture and foster an environment where aspiring writers feel encouraged to keep on writing!

Thanks so much to Clarissa Horwood for joining us today.

Clarissa Horwood founder of The Pen Factor


Please leave your questions or comments about The Pen Factor below, and don’t forget to submit your writing here.

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