You desperately want your stories to be read and loved.
But showing your work to someone to critique can be terrifying.
This is the paradox every writer faces.
“Tell me what you think,” you say as you hand over the manuscript. “Be brutally honest.”
You then spend the next few hours / days either hovering over your friend’s shoulder or waiting by the phone imagining their possible responses, ranging from a glowing review to an ego-crushing put-down. Maybe they’ll say it’s going to be a bestseller — or that you’re a complete hack.
Nerve-wracking though it is to expose yourself and your writing to critique, it’s necessary to develop your skills and produce a finished work that will sell, that will allow you to reach the readers who will love your book.
It’s not always easy to get people outside your immediate circle of friends and family to read your work. If you can’t find someone to review your work for free, try bartering. You could offer your reviewer a service in exchange for their critique.
Why writers need ongoing feedback and critique
1. General feedback – Is the plot any good? Does it make sense? Are the characters believable? Was it confusing when the mother went to the grocery store to buy avocados but left with pickles?
Although most writers believe their plot development is logical, they become so engrossed in their ideas that they forget the reader’s perspective. Have others read your work to discover where plot-holes exist. You can even offer a list of revisions to consider.
2. Suggestions – All writers get stuck at one point or another. Maybe you’re not sure how two characters should meet, or you’re slogging through a particularly difficult part of the story that doesn’t need to exist at all. Sometimes, the writer is unable to see simple plot solutions which are obvious to others.
3. Editing – Even if you think your grammar is flawless, it’s essential to have someone — preferably more than one person — review your work for errors. Grammatical errors and misspelled words are distracting and frustrating to readers. If you want to present yourself as a professional, your work must be grammatically sound.
7 kinds of reviewers
If you can’t learn to embrace suggestions and criticism, you’ll never grow as a writer.
When asking others to read your work, make your goals clear, so your reviewer knows what to look for. Are you unsure about a scene? Would you like them to choose between two different treatments of a subject? To receive constructive suggestions, you must ask for the specific kind of feedback you want.
In my experience, seven types of people offer constructive criticism.
1. The Expert:
Are you writing sci-fi? Find someone who knows the genre inside out, and can provide feedback on how your book fits in the category.
2. The Editor:
Experienced editors are invaluable when it comes to fine-tuning your masterpiece. Ideally, you’d look for 3 different people to serve in this role: a developmental editor who can examine the narrative arc, character development, and other high-level elements, a copy editor to refine your prose, and, when your manuscript is ready, a proofreader to do a final sweep for misspelled words or poor punctuation.
3. The Outsider:
My dad is currently reading a book about Exxon Mobil, and insists on relaying its contents to me. Normally, I would never read a book on the company, but because of my dad’s stories, I can’t wait to borrow it. The author has written a book that appeals even to those who have no interest in the subject. Show your book to someone who’s not typically interested in your topic to see if it garners attention from people outside your niche.
4. The Stranger:
You need reviews from people with no agenda— someone who can give you honest feedback. Online communities such as Scribophile, Foboko, or My Writers Circle provide you with a platform to post an excerpt of your book and receive feedback from other members. The experience is eye-opening and gives you great insight on how people view your work.
5. The Friend:
Every writer needs a well-wisher (your mom, a friend or a co-worker) who will stand in your corner and encourage you to keep going when times get tough. This person can read your book and remind you of your strengths as a writer, giving you reasons to persevere.
6. The Critic:
Are you writing a book about how humans have contributed to global warming? Show it to someone with an opposing view. They might have a few solid counterpoints, which will give you a chance to plug any holes in your argument, prior to publication.
7. The Marketer:
The last word of your book isn’t its end. You still need to get people to buy and read it. Find a marketing professional to advise you on how to give your book commercial appeal. This could include everything from evaluating your cover design to refining your book description to ensuring your author branding is consistent across all touch-points.
Getting the most from critiques
If you want to put out the best possible book, it’s important to seek out different individuals for their unique point of view.
But remember: not all feedback is equally effective. To get the most meaningful critique, consider carefully why you’re asking a specific person to review your writing. Do you need their skills as editor, or are you looking for comments on the ending?
You should also know when to dismiss advice. People love giving feedback, but that doesn’t always mean they’re right. You are the author, after all, and you should maintain your artistic vision.
It’s normal to feel nervous and vulnerable when sharing your work, but it’s an essential part of being a writer. Start with a trusted friend and gradually branch out as you build confidence.
Stop procrastinating. Share your work with someone today. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
How have critiques helped you improve your writing? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below!