As most of you know, Becca and I have been writing and publishing for some time now. Many thing have changed in the industry, including how a book reaches the shelf.
Thankfully the slush pile of doom is no longer the only route; writers can skip the gate-keeping queue and self-publish instead. Many do, including us.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that as the creator, a writer lacks objectivity when it comes to their own work. This means an important step for all, regardless of whether we plan to traditionally publish or self-publish, is to seek out the educated opinions of others. These might come from beta readers, critique partners, freelance editors, writing coaches, or mentors. These people can spot areas that need work and their insight helps us strengthen the story. Even better, we learn as we go, growing our skills bit by bit!
As someone who has penned thousands of critiques, taught writing, and built resources & tools to shorten the learning curve for writers all over the world, I know how important it is to do everything in our power to produce a strong book. And yet, one step I see some writers skip is seeking feedback. Instead, they write and revise in a cycle until they feel it’s good enough to self-publish (or they are sick of the manuscript). This means the story will only be as good as the writer’s skillset at that time.
Now I’m not saying you can’t write a strong book on your own. Some can and do (a small percentage). More often though the writers who skip the feedback step are the ones on social media a few months later trying to puzzle out why their book isn’t selling.
For 99% of writers, feedback is not a luxury…it’s a necessity.
So why doesn’t everyone take advantage of feedback?
It might be a lack of self-confidence. A writer may worry about showing their work to others and being judged on it. This is an understandable fear because let’s face it, feedback can be uncomfortable (What, my baby isn’t beautiful?). However, feedback comes one way or the other in the form of Amazon and Goodreads reviews. If a book doesn’t hold together, the author will hear about it.
The second reason someone might avoid feedback is because they don’t know where to turn to find beta readers, critique partners, editors, or coaches. This is the easiest problem to solve as asking one’s writing network and doing a quick google search will offer up many solutions.
The third possibility is that feedback requires time and energy. Not only is there the painful, chop-and-slash work that needs to be done to incorporate feedback, often the writer is expected to help others in return. Some folks are only interested in a shortcut solution where they get feedback but don’t have to give it and if they can’t have that, they move on. (This is unfortunate because some of the biggest leaps in writer growth happens by critiquing the work of others.)
Finally, cost can be a barrier when it comes to hiring an editor and/or coach. If you traditionally publish, editorial costs are covered by the publisher, but if you self-publish, it’s on your shoulders. This one is a judgement call, but I would suggest writers on a budget ask themselves “What can I afford?” rather than “Do I really need help?” as certain types of editing or guidance shouldn’t be something we skip.
Bottom line? The knowledge of others is a valuable asset.
Gaining feedback at different times during the writing process can really improve a book’s quality. Some options have a cost, others don’t. (Look for an upcoming post on this!)
In most cases, writers seek help after the writing is done, but did you know one of the best times to crowdsource feedback is before a story begins?
Working with a writing partner or coach to brainstorm ideas for a story can be hugely helpful, especially when it comes to planning out important characters!
Why? Because your protagonist is the living heartbeat of your story. Their actions, choices, and decisions are a result of who they are, what they need most, and what’s at stake. Knowing these things will help you see their character arc, which shapes the story’s direction.
Admittedly, Becca and I are a bit nutty about character development. We’ve written many books about it, and we’ve designed a tool that outstrips anything else out there as far as creating rich, fully realized characters able to carry the weight of a story on their shoulders. We focus on characters because they can make or break a story.
Want to learn from the best? Watch this Character Clinic Webinar Replay!
Would you like to create stunningly realistic characters that your readers can’t help but connect to? If so, I urge you to watch our Character Clinic we co-hosted with Author Accelerator.
Expert story coach Julie Artz workshoped a character created using One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder, offering valuable feedback we all were able to learn from. This was a great way to better understand which characterizing details MATTER MOST to a story.
You can’t have a powerful story without a powerful character, so watch the replay to see how you can create one!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Joy V Spicer says
Great post, Angela, and very on point. I’m a firm believer that writers must have feedback in whatever way they can get it. One of my good friends who used to be a copy editor wasn’t backward about coming forward whenever she looked over my work. And I was grateful for her constructive criticism. I didn’t ask her to look over my third MS because she was dealing with health issues and had enough on her plate. I decided to hire an editor and I am SO glad I did. Thanks to her help, my story ended up so much better 🙂
I’ve done the same as Jan a couple of times – while the story was good, the writing needed work, and I conveyed my honest opinions via email instead of leaving reviews but was told that others didn’t have any issues so the ‘problem’ was obviously mine. Ah well…
I’ve signed up to the Character Clinic though I don’t think I’ll be able to participate ‘live’ as it’ll be dinner-time here in the UK. Looking forward to the recording – thank you for your generosity in including that option 🙂
Jan Sikes says
This is so important, Angela, and I’m glad to see it focused on here! I recently gave an author some feedback on her newly published book through a private email and she was hurt and offended by my feedback. The storyline and characters were good, but her writing needed work and I simply couldn’t go post a good or bad review on Amazon, so chose to communicate in private. She could have benefitted from beta-readers. Once the book is published, it’s harder to revise. So, your advice in this post is GREAT!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
It’s a shame that she didn’t see the gift you were giving by taking the time to offer feedback and NOT leaving the review. Down the road (if she continues to write and chooses to invest in her writing by workshopping it with others), she’ll probably realize what you were trying to do for you and regret how she behaved. It was kind of you to try to help. <3
Opening oneself up to feedback is hard. We know there are problems. We know the work is weak in areas. But when we hope maybe it isn't too bad or it won't be noticed, or tell ourselves we just don't have the time and mental energy into trying to make it "perfect" so it's good enough as-is, we really shortchange ourselves and our personal growth as writers. And of course, we shortchange readers too.
Feedback is an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of others and it's such a great way to learn quickly. And really, this is what most writers are after--to be able to write a great book quickly. They should embrace the ability to source and give feedback because it's a good way to fast track the learning curve. But hand in hand with not wanting to subject oneself to criticism is often the reluctance to work hard. Revision is hard work. Analyzing, fixing, and rewriting is hard work. Investing in others by giving feedback is also hard work. And so they convince themselves that feedback is a hassle they don't need.
Certainly the bulk of writers aren't like this. But I've run into my share of ones looking for an easy button, wanting to master storytelling without putting in the dedication and effort it takes to master anything. I hope that at some point they have a realization that puts them into a mindset where they see a rewarding goal is worth the effort. 🙂