Story Feedback: Free and Paid Options for Writers

It’s a sad fact, but most writers don’t have a basement full of money, meaning the word BUDGET is kind of a big deal. We want to publish but to do it, we have to think carefully about where we spend our money and why.

Investing in our career is smart, when we can afford it. There are infinite workshops, conferences, resource books, memberships, courses, and coaching available to us. All can help us develop our skills, better understand storytelling, and navigate the business side of being an author. But what they don’t help with is a question that plagues us more than any other:

“Is what I’ve written any good?”

No matter how many books are under our belt, the same worries about quality surface.

Am I fooling myself that I have what it takes?

Did I just get lucky before?

Is this the book that ends my career?

Impostor’s Syndrome is always there ready to kneecap our self confidence.

On the plus side, I think wobbly self-confidence can also push us to do our best and it encourages us to seek feedback. (And we should. I recently posted about the importance of feedback, which is a powerful way to crowdsource opinions to help answer the question above.)

Knowing what type of feedback we need and when, and what help we should pay for and what we shouldn’t helps us make sure we’re sticking to the budget. So I’ve put together a list of people to seek when you need feedback, and share the different free vs. paid options.

Free Help For Writers

There are many different ways to get help as a writer without breaking the bank. The more you do on your own, the less you’ll end up paying when you’re ready to take your manuscript to the publication stage.

Beta Readers are typically your first readers, people who may be writers but often are not, rather they are potential readers, people who enjoy the type of books you write and they won’t let a personal relationship with you get in the way of offering constructive feedback. They give “overall” feedback on the story (usually when it’s in an early draft stage so you know if it works or not), and will tell you what pulled them out of the reading experience, like a lack of emotional connection to a character, a confusing plot, etc. If they are the first person to lay eyes on your draft, some refer to them as a Alpha Reader.

You don’t need to pay for beta reads (although there are some services that do offer experienced editorial feedback, so do your research to make sure they are legitimate if you choose to use them.) You can find readers by asking people that you interact with online if they would like to beta read for you, or ask unbiased family or friends who read your genre.

Critique Partners are those who will workshop a book with you, meaning they read each chapter and offer your feedback on any (or all) story elements that you want their opinion on. I recommend running through your book chapter by chapter at least once by other writers (yes, writers — having more than one partner means different perspectives and strengths are applied to your story).

Critiquing is free, but based on give and take: someone critiques you, and you critique them. This is work, but work well worth doing. Some writers try to find critters for a one-way relationship but this shortchanges them on a valuable opportunity to improve. Why? Because when you critique others, you learn a ton about what works and what doesn’t in a story. And once you “see” a problem in another person’s manuscript it becomes much easier to spot the same issue in your own stories. These epiphanies are golden opportunities to grow your skills quickly!

Critiquing shouldn’t cost you, although there are services who do charge, so again, if you go that route, do your research to make sure they are legit and are worth the return on investment (ROI). To find critique partners, ask your writer’s network or join a site like the Critique Circle. This is where Becca and I met and we have both workshopped many stories there.

Full Swap Partners are writers who are looking for a full novel read. Typically this happens when a writer has already had their manuscript workshopped extensively and they now need fresh eyes to have a look before they take the next step, either querying it or to hiring an editor to self-publish it.

Full swaps are about viewing the story as a whole rather than line editing, and passing on honest opinions afterward about the book. Swaps are often between writers who are more advanced and write in the same or similar genres. Typically the writers involved do not steer the other in any way so that they are not specifically looking for issues or problems as they read. This way it’s easier to see if improvements made during past revisions were effective. After the read is complete and the critiquer submits their impressions about the book, and the author may send along follow up questions on specific areas if they wish.

To find a writer to swap with, ask your network. Think about the forums you belong to, the social media writing groups you interact most with, and the people you trust. It can be beneficial to swap with people you don’t know because they will spare your feelings, but always research first. Ask questions about the person (and the story) to ensure it’s a good match. If you are seeking swaps as you move toward publication, you’ll want to make sure the other person’s work is of the same quality and that they are a skilled writer as reading a full manuscript is a bigger time commitment. No money changes hands for a swap.

Necessary Writing Help that Will (Probably) Cost Money

Keeping costs down is every writer’s goal but the trade off should not be quality. A poorly written book will not sell, and this will only lead to self-doubt and disillusionment about making writing a career. Don’t be afraid to invest and pay for the help you need.

Freelance Developmental Editing is something to look into if you are self-publishing, but I don’t recommend it if you are trying to traditionally publish. Why? Two reasons. First, the publisher will assign an editor to you and they will ask for edits that align with their house style and vision, overriding any edits you paid for. Second, and I know this might sound harsh, but your writing should be strong enough to gain a contract without a professional editor shaping it.

I say this because you’ll be expected to follow editorial directions and return quality work after a contract is signed. So while all writers do need an editor, we also need to bring our own skills to the table. If a writer leans too much on a freelancer so they can shop a book, it could leave them in a sticky predicament if their writing skills are not up to the task of following editorial directions once under contract. It’s best to apply yourself as a writer to learn the craft, taking advantage of the many blogs, books, courses, and workshops available to you, often for free. Then workshop your book extensively with critique partners. This, and your own abilities, should be enough to get your book where it needs to be to interest an agent and editor. However, if time is an issue and money is not (and sometimes this is the case), then hiring an editor might be right for you even if you do plan on traditionally publishing.

One important thing to note: if you are offered a deal by an agent or an editor on the condition that you pay for editing, this is a scam.

If you self-publish, you should hire a professional editor. No matter how strong we are at writing there will always be gaps in our knowledge. A professional freelance editor can help with this and because the story isn’t theirs, they also have the distance we lack.

There are different types of editors, so you should research what you need for your story. This is one part of publishing where paying is sort of unavoidable, so just make sure you choose someone who is professional and experienced in your genre.

Costs will vary, but if the price is too low, be aware that sometimes you get what you pay for. Always ask for a sample edit first so you can see their style and skill level, and don’t be afraid to ask for references from past clients.

Proofreading is something I recommend. You can pay for proofreading (Becca and I do) but it is also possible you might know someone who is very skilled in grammar and punctuation that may be willing to help you for free. Or, you can try to use a tool like ProWritingAid (good options for writers going the traditional route if their grammar and proofing skills need support).

Tempted on skipping this type of editing? I wouldn’t. If you traditionally publish, too many errors will pull the agent or editor out of the reading experience as they assess your story. And if you self-publish, readers will ding you on reviews if they notice too many mistakes. We are often blind to our own typos and grammar missteps, so another set of eyes can be really helpful. And, if you are a Canadian like me writing for the American market (or vice-versa) there will be all sorts of “isms” that a professional proofreader will catch. (Michael Dunne loves turning all my greys to gray and neighbour to neighbor!)

TIP: If you are interested in hiring a proofreader, ask for a sample page or two. We did this with 5 proofreaders, seeding certain mistakes into a sample, to see who would catch them all. Only one did, so be aware that not all proofreaders are created equal.

A one-on-one Writing Coach is another option for feedback. While Becca and I are writing coaches we focus on groups, not individuals. A one-on-one coach is someone who will help you through the process of writing a novel by being your sounding board, and by offering you feedback, education, and keeping you accountable.

There are various places to find coaches. Many authors have a side business where they offer coaching because they have been through the book writing process. There are also highly professional coaching firms with a professional coaching team. The one I recommend whenever asked is Author Accelerator as I know the skill level of many of their coaches, and I love the fact that they partner each client with a specific coach based on the writer’s needs, genre, and style.

One-on-one coaching is often a higher price investment. But, what a writer learns while in a program will help them accelerate their writing skills exponentially. The knowledge they end up with can be applied to every novel moving forward. So for writers who are able to afford this investment, it’s well worth considering.

Looking for MORE help? Check out this MASTER LIST OF WRITING & PUBLISHING RESOURCES.

The wonderful thing about choosing writing as a career is that there are many, many ways we can steer our own growth and development, and this in turn helps us develop our Writer’s Intuition which let’s us better evaluate feedback and view our own writing objectively. Opening ourselves up to learning at every step means each novel will get a little easier. It’s hard work, but that’s also how you know it is work worth doing.

Happy writing, all!

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

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, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Agents, Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Editing Tips, Grammar, Motivational, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Feedback, Rejection, Revision and Editing, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Story Feedback: Free and Paid Options for Writers

  1. Mark Marderosian says:

    This is a great article. It confirmed for me I’m on the right track. I cannot afford vast amounts of editing. Plus I’m still having fun with structure on one of my manuscripts so it all changes anyway at this point. It was helpful having an editor look at my first 25 pages as the personal spotlighting of ‘sticky’ words gave me an awareness of it and direction. Since that was about the only major issue, I’ve been scrubbing my manuscripts myself with great care through ProWritingAid for the rest. So far, so painstaking, but worth it.

    • Yes, there are many ways we can gain more insight on our writing and cut costs. A 25 page analysis is a good way to find out where some of those basic issues are and then you can seek out more learning to navigate though them.

      I think unless a person is in a big hurry for some reason and/or they do have that basement of cash and so budget isn’t an option, the feedback loop is not only great for trimming costs, it actually turns us into stronger, more effective writers.

      Revision isn’t hard, just hard work! 🙂

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