Getting the right feedback at the right time can be the difference between a half-finished novel at the back of a drawer, and a novel flying off the shelves in bookshops. But not all feedback is the same – different parts of the writing process need different types of response.
Before you ever get to the stage of tinkering with your adverbs or checking your spelling, think about whether you could make some of these people part of your critique team:
1 When you’re working on your first draft, look for cheerleading. Writing a first draft can feel like a thankless slog. If you’re the type of person who finds outside encouragement motivating, see if you can get a friend you trust to read sections of your manuscript as you write it. Choose someone positive and ask them specifically to only tell you about what they’re enjoying and why. Not only will this spur you on, it’ll help you to figure out which aspects of your writing are already working well and make sure to keep doing them! There’s plenty of time for more balanced feedback later on.
2 When you finish your first draft, look for ruthlessness. You’ll almost certainly still want some feedback in the “you’re a genius!” vein once you’ve actually finished your draft, and you should definitely spend a little time basking in the glow of your accomplishment, but once you’ve done that, see if you can find someone who will be brutally honest with you about what could be improved. Pick someone who will tell you which parts are cliched, boring, or don’t ring true, and encourage them to be as mean as you can stand. Once they give you their feedback, allow yourself a brief window of time to hate their guts, have a good cry, and then reflect on what they’ve said and decide whether you want to make any changes to your next draft based on their impressions. (If you really disagree with their conclusions, that’s ok, but it’s a good idea to have a think about why you disagree!)
3 Recruit a reader who can ask perceptive questions about your story and world. That friend who complains about minor inconsistencies in the latest episode of Game of Thrones? Who always figures out who the murderer is about twenty pages in? Who asks questions like “but who does the laundry on the Death Star?” That person is your secret weapon when it comes to making sure that your plot and worldbuilding hang together perfectly. Once you think you have the basic points of your story pinned down, ask them to read your project and point out every place where something didn’t make sense or where they wanted more information.
4 Find someone who’ll just listen to you talk. This isn’t exactly feedback in the strictest sense of the word, but it’s just as important. If you’re struggling with a knotty writing problem – plot threads you can’t reconcile, motivations that don’t make sense, scenes that won’t fit together right – find a friend who will just listen to you explain the problem, and maybe make encouraging noises or ask the odd question. Sometimes just talking through it aloud will unlock new possibilities. (Proof this works – I once spent months trying to solve an issue with a pivotal scene, and on explaining it to someone I realised immediately that the entire thing was fixed if I just set the scene indoors instead of outdoors. Sometimes the solution is so simple that you look right past it.)
5 Make sure you get feedback from at least one member of your target audience. Are you writing a book for kids? Have a young bookworm read it and tell you their honest reactions. Is your novel a space opera? Find your friend who loves their sci-fi and ask them to give it a read. Even if you already know your genre well, it’s worth getting a feel for how your story will go over with the people most likely to want to read it.
Once you’ve had feedback from a variety of sources and done some hard work acting on it, your novel should be in pretty good shape! When you’re ready for copy-editing or proofreading, take a look at our editorial services so we can help you with the final touches.