We all know there are certain types of feedback we get about our WIPs and unfortunately, not much of it is helpful feedback about your writing.
I completely understand how difficult it can be to give someone else your writing and ask for their opinion. Honest and helpful feedback about your writing is a rarity that all writers need. Personally, I’ve only sent my writing to two people who weren’t close friends or relatives and their own writing is AMAZING. So naturally, I was a wreck. I was so anxious and nervous to get their feedback that I was actually sweating (attractive, I know).
But that’s understandable because writing is personal and intimate. Allowing someone to read what you’ve written is a vulnerable process and quite frankly, it’s terrifying (even though you eventually plan to have LOTS of people read it when the book is published).
But in order to become a better writer, you need criticism.
Not asshole criticism. Constructive criticism. You need to have people give you their honest opinion about what you’ve written so you can use that knowledge to make it better.
But getting honest and helpful feedback isn’t as easy as it sounds.
You can ask your friends and family, but they’re likely to be biased and they won’t want to hurt your feelings. Their feedback about your writing will be something along the lines of, “This is great! I like it a lot!” Then you’ll ask them to elaborate on what exactly is so great about it (because you should always ask for details) and it’ll be nothing more than, “I just liked it! It was cool.”
That’s not helpful and it won’t help you become a better writer.
That’s why you need a system for getting honest, helpful feedback. Here’s my system for getting real, honest feedback about my writing.
1. The beta reading process
You need to have a beta reading process before editing and publication. The way you conduct your beta reading process is also super important. You need to make sure you’re asking people to elaborate on their responses. If someone says, “This chapter was rather boring and I found myself not wanting to read on,” you need to ask them why they felt this way. Ask them what part made them want to put the book down specifically.
For those of you who aren’t sure what the beta reading process is, it’s when you enlist a large number of people (20 minimum) to read your manuscript well before it’s published (and even edited) from the perspective of just a reader. Then you ask them a series of questions that will help you understand if the elements in your book are coming across as intended.
For example, you could ask things like:
- What was your favorite scene and why?
- What are your thoughts on this character?
- Do you have any predictions?
- Did you find anything offensive?
You’ll be able to clear up any confusing parts and get a feel for how your audience will interpret the story.
You can find beta readers from a number of different places including:
- Friends of friends/family
You also don’t want to enlist all of the same types of readers, though. You’ll want a variety of ages, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, etc. This way, you’ll get a broad range of feedback about your writing from different perspectives. One person may catch something another didn’t even think about or is even not relevant to them.
2. Ask strangers for help
This doesn’t necessarily mean you walk up to some random person on the street and ask them to read your book. That would be a horrible idea. And you would seem very creepy.
By strangers, I mean people who have no direct relationship with you. Like I said above, this can be done via the beta reading process by recruiting people from social media.
The great thing about asking people you don’t know for help is that they don’t usually care about crushing your feelings. And that means their feedback will be honest and you won’t have to worry about them lying to protect your feelings.
3. Join online critique groups
There are plenty of groups online (mostly Facebook) where other authors get together and trade chapters for critiques. This is really helpful if you want a large number of opinions that are honest because you don’t usually form close relationships with others in the group so they don’t often feel the need to lie.
The issue with this method is that you might not get very good feedback about your writing. Meaning, there are a lot of aspiring authors. There are tons of people who want to write books that have no idea what a great book actually consists of. Meaning, they’re not good. And that means you can get some pretty crappy feedback that won’t actually help you.
The trick here is to critique a lot of other writers and if you find certain ones you think are particularly great, make a note and work with them the most.
Another tricky part about this is that it’ll take a lot of time to find good writers to work with.
4. Pay for a critique from a reputable author
Not all authors do this. However, there are some great authors who offer critiques for a reasonable rate. If you do go this route, make sure you’ve actually read some of their work.
You never want to pay for a critique service from an author when you have no idea whether or not they’re actually a good writer. Some “authors” try to scam aspiring writers by talking up their services and their “published” work that’s just a quick piece of work that’s slopped together and not even professionally edited. Do your research and read their work so you don’t waste your time or money.
5. Find a great, reliable critique partner
Every writer should have a critique partner (says the girl who doesn’t actually have one – yet). A critique partner is another writer who reads your book as it’s progressing. And more likely than not, they’re also a friend. You write a chapter or two (or however much you want), then ship it off to your critique partner to get their feedback.
They critique everything from the storyline to characterization to the structure. They give you constructive criticism about the entire thing but they also tell you when you’ve done something great or when you’ve provoked a powerful emotion within them.
Basically, they give you an entire overview of everything; the good, the bad, and even the boring.
The benefits of having a critique partner are pretty extensive.
- You get another set of writer eyes on your piece
- They can point out inconsistencies from a plot perspective
- They know how structuring a book works
- They help you see your weaknesses so you can actually improve
Qualities a great critique partner should have:
- They should be at the same writing talent level as you – or very close
- They should also be a writer (you can’t have a non-writer critique your manuscript – they’d be clueless)
- They should be very reliable – if someone takes weeks and months to critique a chapter, they’re not worth it
- They should be able to give you great feedback about your writing in a constructive way
But where can you find critique partners?
You can find these types of people in a magical place called….the internet. I’m assuming you don’t have real life friends who are also writers (I don’t know any writers in my life). If you do, great! Most people don’t and so they end up making writing friends online and those friends end up becoming critique partners.
There are tons of writers all over social media so you can honestly just search hashtags like:
- #amwriting – Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr
- #writer – any platforms
- #writersofig – Instagram
- #writeblr or #writblr – Tumblr
Just remember that having a critique partner is not a one-way street, hence the word partners. You are expected to be just as involved in their writing as they are in yours.
Bonus tip: Trust what people are telling you
I know how writers are. We believe all of the bad shit people tell us about our writing but we don’t believe the good things. You need to trust what people are telling you – no matter what it is.
Yes, there will be those occasional dick-wads who just want to put you down (usually this is because they’re jealous or just terrible people), but the majority of the time, people will be honest. Most people aren’t shitheads (or so I’d like to believe). So trust when they say your writing is great and address the concerns they mention.
Getting honest feedback about your writing will only help you. However, getting that real, helpful feedback can be difficult if you don’t know where to get it. These are some of my personal methods for getting feedback about your writing that will actually help you in the long run.