Writers’ Workshop

  • contact:  workshop@wiscon.net
  • WisCon 41 deadline for applications:  April 25, 2017

WisCon is a great place to take some time to focus on your writing with our Friday morning Writers’ Workshop sessions.  Scheduled before the convention starts, you won’t have to worry about missing any panels.  And all workshops are open to any registered member of the convention.

Jump to: Submission details | Critiquing | Resources

Regular sections

The regular workshop sessions focus on critique of original fiction — ranging from short stories to novels — in a collegial, small group environment of only four people.  Participants submit their material (details below) to the workshop coordinator ahead of the convention.  The coordinator groups everyone into workshop sections led by an established writer currently active in the field.  Each member of the workshop group gets a copy of everyone’s submitted material and writes a critique to present during the workshop.  Friday morning of the convention the groups meet for about two hours to discuss and critique everyone’s work under the guidance of the workshop leader.  Each participant leaves the workshop with the notes and critiques on their manuscript from all their fellow workshoppers.

We announce  our slate of workshop leaders each spring so that you can request a specific workshop when you send in your submission.  Keep an eye on our blog for the announcement!

Will this be your first time offering a critique on someone else’s writing?  The resources section at the bottom of this page provides links where you can read up on the fine art of critiquing or try out an online critique group to get your feet wet.

Special sections

We also strive to offer a variety of special workshop sections.  Sometimes these sections follow the same workshop format as our regular sections but with a special focus on a certain area — poetry, for example, or romance/erotica.  Other times, these sections move away from the critique format to present material in a different way or to cover more ground — we’ve had special sections about comics and video games that covered the overall process.  As with our regular workshop sections, all special workshops are led by established writers currently working in their area.

Special sections tend to change every year depending upon availability of workshop leaders, and they may have special submission requirements.  We announce our slate of special workshop sections, leaders, and submission details each spring.  Keep an eye on our blog for the announcement!

Are you interested in leading a special workshop?  We would love to hear from you!  Please contact our workshop coordinator at the email address at the top of the page.  It’s best if we hear from you by March 31 so that we can finalize our sections well in advance of the convention.

Interested in writing workshops for teens?  When we’re able to offer those, they’re coordinated through our Children’s and Teens’ Programming.  Please visit that page to check for information on the current convention!

Submission details for regular workshop sections

Joining the Writers’ Workshop is as simple as emailing your submission to the workshop coordinator by the deadline advertised at the top of the page.  Our workshop welcomes any material that you would submit to a typical speculative fiction market.  Your work need not be explicitly feminist.  However, your work is unlikely to receive an ideal response if it is misogynist or otherwise offensive in its content or execution.

Your submission should include:

  1. Cover letter. The letter will be shared with everyone in your workshop group including the workshop leader.  Your letter should include: a thumbnail description of your manuscript (e.g.: lesbian vampire novel, slipstream space opera story, et cetera), any particular elements of the manuscript that you want your fellow group members to pay attention to during the critique, any preference you have for a workshop leader, a brief statement of your writing credits if any, and any other information that will help us get to know you.  The cover letter should be no more than one page.
  1. Your manuscript. You may submit a work up to 10,000 words in length — either a short story or the first few chapters of a novel.  More detailed discussions on length are below.  Please follow standard manuscript format guidelines when preparing your material.  You can find guidance for formatting your manuscript in the resources section at the bottom of this page.

Your materials must be submitted as attachments to your email — please do not copy/paste your submission into the email itself.  Attachments should be either RTF or MS Word documents.  Once you’ve been assigned to a workshop group, you will receive materials to critique in similar email attachment format, so we strongly encourage you to use an email address for the workshop that can accept large attachments without filling up your inbox.

In the email itself, please confirm that you are registered for WisCon.  If you are not registered for the convention by the deadline for workshop submissions, you will not be eligible to participate in the workshop.

  • Novels

You will be submitting the first chapter (or more) of your novel.  Do not submit chapters out of sequence — it’s difficult for people to critique a later chapter of a work they’ve never seen.  Your total manuscript should be no longer than 10,000 words.

If your chapters are short, you may submit more than one, but the total word count should not exceed 10,000 words.  If your first chapter is longer than the word limit, you may submit the whole thing, but your group members are responsible for critiquing only the first 10,000 words.  Do not submit the whole novel.

You may also submit a synopsis (not part of the 10,000-word limit).  However, the synopsis is an optional read for the members of your group.  They will not be expected to critique this portion of your submission.

  • Short stories

You will be submitting a short story manuscript.  The story must be a complete draft, with an ending.  Your manuscript should be no longer than 10,000 words.

If you have a novellette or novella which is longer than 10,000 words, you may submit the whole thing, but your fellow group members are responsible for critiquing only the first 10,000 words.

If your manuscript is longer than 50,000 words, look at the guidelines above for novels.

  • Flash fiction

If you wish to submit flash fiction (complete stories under 1000 words), you may submit more than one.

The total word count must be no more than 7,500 words.  Do keep that it can often be more work to critique multiple short pieces so the word limit is more stringent.

The critique — before and during the workshop

Our Writers’ Workshop is built around the idea that everyone critiques everyone’s work.  Your critique should be ready when the workshop starts, so be sure you can set aside some time before the convention to read and comment on the manuscripts from your fellow workshoppers!  During the workshop itself you’ll give a five-minute summation of your critique on each manuscript.

  • Before the workshop

You must do a complete read and critique of each manuscript in your workshop group before the convention.  The author may ask you to look at particular elements of the manuscript; this will be noted in the cover letter.  At minimum, critiques should focus on “hook,” characterization, and plot/pacing.

Prepare a summary or overall critique for each manuscript.  The clearest critiques are typed and use complete sentences — this makes it easiest for authors to review and consider your critique after post-workshop.  You will bring printed copies of your critiques to the workshop to give to each of your fellow authors.  Printers are available in the Concourse’s business center if you would like to print your critiques once you arrive at the convention.

If you like, you may also make comments in the body of the manuscript — either electronically or on hard copy (i.e., a printout with handwritten notes).  If you do make comments directly in the manuscript, you must return the manuscript with commentary to the author along with your summary critique.

If this is your first time offering a critique on someone else’s writing, the resources section at the bottom of this page provides links where you can read up on the fine art of critiquing.

  • During the workshop

Workshops typically last about two hours, although they may run longer at the discretion of the workshop leader.  Usually groups critique each author’s work in turn — everyone offers their five-minute critique, with the workshop leader going last.  At the end of this, the author may offer a short response of about five minutes.  Then the group moves on to the next member’s manuscript, and so on.

Each workshopper should walk away with a marked-up manuscript, a bruised-but-optimistic ego, several useful new contacts for their professional network, and copious notes on how to improve their work.

  • After the workshop

A small, casual reception follows the Writers’ Workshop (more information will be provided in your workshop section).  Relax, let your mind stop thinking about your manuscript for a little while, and spend a few minutes making friends and networking with your fellow workshoppers!


The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website features many resources on critiquing, standard manuscript preparation, synopsis writing, and more.

Critters is an online writing workshop that contains many articles on how to critique. Also great practice if you’ve never participated in a crit workshop before!

The Online Writing Workshop is another place to get critique practice ahead of WisCon. A small fee is required for participation.