Every writer has a different process. Some like to outline; some discovery-write. Others prefer having music when typing away, while some write in total silence. However, there are non-negotiables for being a writer—like coffee, or getting feedback on your writing.
But, I hear you say, my work is sparkling perfection! Why should I subject it to those who may not understand my vision? Why should I let my work be sullied by the opinions of — dare I even say it — those who may not like it?
Well, that’s the point. If you plan on releasing your book, you will have to contend with readers who have different opinions. You want your work to become the best possible version of itself before publication, and getting feedback from other writers and readers is an excellent way to improve your writing and creative skills.
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How does writing feedback work
Getting feedback is a fairly straightforward process: you give your work to someone, they give their thoughts about your work. Writers usually have two groups of readers who help assess their books during the editing process: alpha readers and beta readers.
Alpha readers are the ones that get your work hot and fresh off the oven. They get to see it before edits and polishes are made or before it’s even finished. The group usually consists of close family, friends, and mentors, people with whom you have mutual trust and respect and have no issues being vulnerable around (getting your work critiqued can be an intense experience the first few times.) Alpha readers give feedback on the core elements of your book, like concepts, themes, and content.
Beta readers are the ones that get your work after polishes have been made. They’re usually friends, other writers, members of a writing group, or an online forum. If you have problems differentiating the two, you can look at it this way: alpha readers help bring your story to fruition, while beta readers help with improving your work to make it more readable.
Oh, and side note: not everyone wants feedback on their writing. Some writers are very open to accepting feedback, while others don’t like having their work critiqued.
Why other people don’t like getting feedback on their writing
There are a few reasons why only some people like receiving feedback. The first thing that comes to mind is the fear of rejection. Other people might say that they don’t like your work or that it’s a waste of time (ouch). Some writers, especially newbies and those used to writing in echo chambers, either don’t know how to or whom to ask. Some people have also gotten unhelpful advice in the past, making them wary of the whole deal. It’s also entirely possible that their personality is the reason for their aversion to critique.
Regardless of the reason, not getting feedback is inadvisable. You’re leaving a lot of potential improvement on the table if you choose to do it solo. If that’s not enough to convince you, here’s a handful of more reasons.
Reasons to get feedback
A little preview of audience response
Having a feedback group that closely reflects your target audience is a godsend. They can provide valuable insight into how the general audience will react to your work. They can also give you an idea of what the typical reader expects from their books.
Getting different perspectives on your work
Stephen King once said, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Writers tend to grow close to their work (it’s their baby, after all.) But despite having accomplished the great feat of writing a book, you are still just one person. Your opinion is limited to your singular experiences filtered through your pre-existing values and beliefs, and it usually shows in your writing. Getting feedback from people of different backgrounds, viewpoints, and expertise with your target audience can open your eyes to others’ points of view and strengthen your writing.
Error correction and all-around improvement
There’s no such thing as a perfect writer. We all make mistakes, whether it’s in grammar, word choice, plotting, or pacing. Having a source of constructive criticism can help you identify these areas for improvement and help you spot errors early on.
Getting acquainted with your problems
Receiving feedback for your writing means having it checked in both the creative and technical aspects. Your alpha and beta readers can help spot issues, but you can give them a heads up about things to look out for when they critique your work. For example, I have this issue when I’m excited to write where I tend to type sentences fast and accidentally leave words out. Then, when I come back for proofing after a short break, I don’t read the sentence as it’s written on the document; I still read it just as how I came up with it in my head. Now I’m on the lookout for that issue whenever I write, and so are my feedback readers.
Good ol’ motivation
There’s no shame in admitting that we feel good when we’re told we did a good job. Validation in any form can help boost your confidence. It also helps you to generate momentum for continuing or starting another writing project. Getting constructive (i.e., negative) feedback can still help you become a better writer, even though it doesn’t feel quite as nice.
Best places to get writing feedback online
There are a lot of online communities that give user feedback for submitted works. Some are offered as a service or subscription. I don’t have anything against paid critique — whatever works for you works — but I’d prefer to know my free options before spending money. So here are the best free websites where you can get feedback for your writing.
A lot of people say that there’s a subreddit for everything. While not strictly true, we’re only here for the ones where we can get feedback on their writing. There is r/writers, one of the oldest subreddits for authors, with about 162,000 members and hundreds of people online at any given time. There are also smaller communities like r/writingadvice and r/writinghelp. You can also browse through writing subreddits by genre to get more specific advice.
I bet you’re surprised to find Facebook on the list. It’s actually a good place to look for writing and critique groups — and believe me, there are a lot of them. You have to find the group or groups that best fit your genre and writing style. Just remember that communities like these can have strict guidelines on how feedback is requested and provided, so be sure to read and understand them before joining up.
ABCTales is a critique website for authors, by authors. The site offers any writer the chance to give and receive feedback, all for free. As of today, the site has 20,000 authors and 130,000 stories. Written works are categorized by label so you can easily get feedback from people interested in your category, essentially making them analogs for your target audience. You can also follow authors, get recommendations, and join competitions.
This site is both a critique community and a self-publishing platform. For those wanting to try the critique community, you have the choice of joining different groups with different specialties. The most popular ones are about mysteries, mythology, and poetry, and there’s also what they call Writer’s Radio Station with playlists and song recommendations for other authors.
The website is one of the longest-running writing communities out there. Membership is free, but you’d need to give a couple of feedback to others first before having enough credits to submit a work of your own. There is a subscription service, but that’s entirely optional. Submitted stories are also not indexed on search engines, and you can manage their accessibility.
The Pen Factor
Headed by Clarissa Horwood, The Pen Factor is a free feedback and discovery site for writers. It has similar features to the previous entries on the list, with the exception that this site has rankings for submitted stories. Overall story winners are given a professional manuscript review, getting authors one step closer to being published.
This is a no-frills site where members provide feedback for different types of written works. There is space to write magazines, online articles, tutorials, stories, and poetry. There’s also a community forum where users can have open discussions about anything connected to writing.
Speaking of free resources, go ahead and check our blog for more writing advice.
Best places to get writing feedback offline
As I mentioned earlier, friends, family, mentors, and close associates are your ideal critique group. But there are times when that’s not possible to arrange. For example, some of my friends and family don’t share the same interests as me, so I don’t ask them for feedback on my writing. It’s also hard to ask other people to read your work when you know they don’t have the time.
I suggest asking around your area for any writing groups. You can also sign up for classes that line up with your availability. I know people who prefer getting feedback face-to-face for real-time interaction. If you’re one of them, then this is the way to go.
How to give feedback to other writers
As a writer, I like to help other writers as much as I can. It’s my way of giving back to the community that has provided me with tons of advice on how to be better. Providing constructive feedback is a great way to help, but you have to know there is a right way to do it. Here are things that you need to keep in mind:
Start positive (with or without a sandwich)
There’s an old technique used for giving feedback called the Sandwich Method. You start with something positive, follow it up with negative criticism, then end with something positive or some words of encouragement. It’s a great way to deliver negative feedback without hurting anyone’s feelings.
However, a lot of people believe that this is no longer an effective way of giving criticism. In that case, you can resort to being straightforward but diplomatic with your feedback.
Know why you’re giving writing feedback in the first place
Veteran writers with longstanding relationships with their alpha and beta readers usually have a checklist of things they want to receive feedback on. As a critic, you should do the same and always ask what aspects of the work the writer wants feedback on and how they like it delivered. It could be grammar, story, or just the overall feel of the book. This is a great way to streamline the feedback and editing process.
Tailor-fit your feedback according to the writer’s (and your) level
Everyone has to start somewhere. Inexperienced writers may not have your level of understanding of the craft, so suggestions about things like pacing and symbolism may not resonate as well as you’d like. It’s better to start with basic principles when giving advice to newbies, then crank it up for experienced writers. And remember: don’t try to sound smart by giving feedback on things you don’t fully understand.
Be considerate and thoughtful
Remember that you are giving feedback to improve a writer’s work, not to put them down. Extremely negative statements won’t help anyone in this scenario. Neither will criticizing the author personally. We also tend to be critical of things belonging to genres or categories immediately we don’t like, so be aware of that and try to be as objective as possible.
You need to provide clear, actionable criticisms that include suggestions on improving the person’s writing. Saying things like, “I don’t like this,” without giving context as to why you feel that way is just wasted time and opportunity. That said, don’t sugarcoat your feedback. Deliver them kindly but in a straightforward and emphatic manner that leaves no room for misinterpretation.
Arrange writing feedback according to priority
Start with feedback on big-picture concepts like themes, organization, evidence provided to support the claim, and how clear and effective the message is coming across. Then move down to grammar and technical aspects like sentence structure, style, punctuation, and spelling.
Always remember that feedback is not a bad thing. Everyone wants to be better, and listening to advice from fellow authors is one of the best ways to improve.
And if you’re serious about knowing how to get and receive feedback, then congratulations! It shows your dedication to improving your craft. You’re already on your way to becoming a great writer.