Writing a book can be a lonely experience, and you don’t want to completely isolate yourself during the writing process. It’s important to get feedback, especially while you’re developing an idea. Not only does this help motivate you, it also helps you catch issues and address concerns on the front end rather than trying to overhaul a manuscript after it’s already complete.
It’s not difficult to find people to provide regular feedback. Here are a few ways of locating people willing to give you critiques:
1. Start by asking fellow authors. Though it’s nice to get a variety of opinions, authors within your genre are best. Not only do they know who the competitors are, they also have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t within your genre.
2. Put out an all-call on social media. Put out a post asking for people to read your work. You’ll be surprised at how many will respond!
3. Ask colleagues. Ask people at work or others in your industry. This is especially good for nonfiction authors, as people in your industry represent your reader.
4. Locate a formal writers’ group. There are many writers’ groups already established by genre and location. Check with local groups such as the Writers’ League of Texas or with genre-specific groups such as Sisters in Crime—or go to Writer’s Digest and other forums to find groups in your area.
But getting someone to read your work is only the beginning. In order for the feedback to be useful, you need to keep the following in mind:
1. Distance yourself. It’s not a critique of you. It’s an honest opinion about your work, so don’t take it as a personal affront to you or your abilities as a writer.
2. Maintain veto power. You don’t have to accept every suggestion or change made. It is ultimately your work, and it should reflect you and be something you are proud of. If you truly want to keep something, then keep it, but do consider the reader’s reasons for suggesting changes.
3. Recognize patterns. If more than one person says the same thing about your work, take notice. If on every critique you hear that your characters are flat, you may have to accept that your characters are flat and strive to correct it. If several people say a passage is confusing, you may want to consider rewriting it. The point here is to improve as a writer.
4. Respect their opinions. Show the one who critiqued you the same respect you expect by acknowledging and thanking them for their time and feedback.
5. Have them focus on the big picture: Most readers are apprehensive about critiquing because they feel you want a complete copyedit. Unless they’re an editor, ease your readers by instructing them to focus on feedback related to the overall feel and goal of the book. Have them point out what works and what doesn’t work in relation to plot, narrative arc, usefulness of information, and style rather than addressing issues such as misplaced commas and word usage.
Remember, you don’t want to write in a vacuum. Despite all of your genius, in order to truly understand what your readers want and how to give it to them, you need to engage them from the beginning. Not only will it make you a better writer, your advance readers will have a vested interest in the final project and will do everything they can to help you succeed.
Shennandoah Diaz is the Business Development Assistant at Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor supporting independent authors and small presses. Diaz develops educational materials for authors in addition to managing Greenleaf’s social media, writing case studies and white papers on the publishing industry, and coordinating Austin Publishing University.