How to Give & Get Feedback on Your Writing
By Crystal Shelley
For writers, getting feedback on your story and your writing can be a scary and vulnerable experience. But it can also be one of the most valuable methods of strengthening what you’ve written. Outside perspectives can reinforce what’s going well and can highlight areas that may need more attention. Feedback can come from different sources, and understanding these options can help you decide what’s right for you and your process.
SOURCES OF FEEDBACK
Writing groups can be either local or online. In a writing group, you receive feedback on their work while offering feedback to others. Joining a group is a great way to form connections with other writers and to find support. One thing to keep in mind is that some writing groups are open to all types of writers, so those who provide feedback may not be in your intended audience or familiar with your genre.
Beta readers act as early readers so you can get an idea of how general readers will react to your story in its current form. The feedback can then be incorporated into the story before editing and publication. It is often helpful to find readers who read in your genre because they’re familiar with themes and tropes. Writers can use informal beta readers, such as family or friends, or hire professional beta readers.
Sensitivity readers are similar to beta readers, but they critique a manuscript for authenticity and representation if you’re writing about an identity or community you don’t have experience with. This is especially important when the identity or community is a marginalized one. Sensitivity readers have firsthand knowledge or lived experience, and their feedback can help the representation be more accurate.
Author coaches work with writers throughout the process of writing a manuscript and publishing it. Because author coaching is usually a flexible service, you can choose which areas you need the most help with, such as story craft, the writing process, or publication. Coaches can then offer individualized feedback and motivation to help you succeed.
Professional editors are trained to provide feedback on different levels, depending on what they’re hired for. Developmental editors do an in-depth analysis of the story’s plot, characters, and themes on a structural level. Line and copy editors make sentence-level changes for flow, repetition, clarity, and consistency. Some editors also offer manuscript critiques, where they read the manuscript and submit an editorial report detailing their overall impressions and what actionable steps you can take to improve the manuscript.
ASKING FOR FEEDBACK
There are a few things to keep in mind when asking for feedback. First, part of getting feedback on writing is understanding and asking for the type of feedback you need. Maybe the middle gave you trouble, and you want to know if there’s a lull. Maybe your grammar and punctuation aren’t up to par, and you want to know if it’s distracting. Or maybe you’re worried the timeline was unclear. Laying out the specific feedback you’re looking for can help readers focus on those elements and provide the feedback that’ll be most valuable to you.
Second, it's important to set expectations. Even if the truth may hurt, honest feedback is more valuable than fluff. Readers may be worried about hurting your feelings, so they choose to be nice rather than to provide constructive feedback. Make it clear upfront that you want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. If one reader thinks one way, chances are that others will too. That said, you can never make everyone happy, so listen openly to the feedback and decide what to do with it.
Finally, when asking others for feedback, keep in mind what their role is. Informal readers like writing group members and some beta readers will not expect payment. Professional beta readers, sensitivity readers, author coaches, and professional editors expect to be paid for their time. Be sure that expectations are clear from the start.
Crystal Shelley is a freelance copy editor, proofreader, and sensitivity reader who works with self-publishing fiction authors. She also practices as a licensed clinical social worker. She unites her love of language and social justice by providing editorial services with a focus on representation and conscious language. Visit her website at Rabbit with a Red Pen to read more tips on writing and editing or to connect with her on social media.