One of the challenges writers face is getting good feedback on our novels. This is especially important before we get an agent or sell our rights to a publishing house. You can get feedback either by hiring an editor or by getting it from peers.
Let me start off by saying that critiques from peers, such as friends, family, online writing groups, workshops, or a critique group (the last two are what I’d recommend) are not necessarily less than feedback from professional editors. If you don’t get good feedback or your novel doesn’t snag an agent, you’re not out a thousand bucks. However, sometimes your peers don’t know what to look for or are afraid of hurting your feelings.
If you go the peer route, make sure to let your beta readers (the peers you’ve asked to critique your novel) know you’re open to feedback and want their honest opinion. Thank your beta readers from the onset, even if at the end, they offer no useable advice, or worse, no feedback at all. Remember, most of them have full time jobs. They’re taking time out of their busy schedules to help you.
When you do get feedback, check your initial gut reaction. Try to figure out why a person felt the way they did. Sometimes beta readers can’t figure out why a setting doesn’t feel realistic, why the resolution wasn’t credible, or why a person’s reaction doesn’t feel right. It’s frustrating, but a lot of times, if you get together with the beta reader and have a face-to-face conversation, you’ll be able to figure out what the beta reader’s feeling.
If you do meet up with a beta reader, don’t get emotional. Listen to what they’re saying. Many times writers are too close to their novel to see the cracks in their work. Often times, beta readers catch those things. And though it may suck that you have to rewrite three chapters, remember that the feedback you’re getting is making your novel better.
Here are some questions to help guide beta readers:
- Was the novel’s opening compelling? When did you first stop reading? Why?
- Did the setting pull you in? Were the descriptions vivid? Real?
- Did you come to feel you know the characters? Were they believable?
- Did you get bored? Where?
- Did the dialogue seem natural? If not, what parts sounded artificial?
- How was the pacing? Were some parts too fast? Too slow?
- Were there any points that confused you? How about frustrated you?
- Was the ending believable? Satisfying?
When giving beta readers questions, a shorter list is better. Don’t give the beta readers all the questions I listed above at once. You don’t want to overwhelm them. Also, most times, beta readers won’t be able to help if the novel is a structural or grammatical mess. So, revise a few times before giving your novel to them.
One last thing, expect to be waiting awhile for feedback. Since you’re not paying your beta readers, they’re only working on your novel when they have time. If you feel you need to query your novel immediately, and have the extra cash, hire an editor. However, doing so will not guarantee you’ll get an agent. And most in demand editors have a waiting list.
What ways have gotten you good feedback?