Learning Craft + Feedback

On Monday I had guest author Sarah Krewis on my blog and she talked a little bit about the importance of learning craft so you can put out the best book you can when it is time to publish. She mentioned the Centre of Excellence and the writing modules they offered. In a private message I asked her if an instructor gave out critique and she said not in a way that I would probably want, which led to the topic of feedback.

You can learn the craft all you want, read all the books, take all the online courses you can afford, but at some point you’re going to need feedback on your work. We don’t like to ask for feedback because it hurts when we hear that our writing isn’t as perfect as we want it to be or thought it was. But you have to keep an open mind when people are reading your work and be receptive to the idea that your work needs, well, work.

If you want to see a cute little Venn diagram, an author’s process should probably look like this:

This isn’t the best, spacing it out was a pain, but you get the idea. Feedback and reading are just as important as the writing part of the craft. I know authors who read read read and prefer to hide from their own writing by reading other authors instead. I know writers who write write write but don’t ask for one ounce of feedback. Then there are others who thrive on feedback and implement every single little change, but then that leaves no room for moving on to other projects because they’re looking for perfection they probably aren’t going to find.

I’m not perfect–I don’t read as much as I should, but I am open to feedback and I hired my first professional beta reader this month.

Where you do find feedback? Before the pandemic, looking locally was easy. A call to your public library probably would have hooked you up with some local writers and maybe a NaNoWriMo group that met up at a coffee shop on Thursdays. But since everything has moved online and to Zoom meetings, it might be a little harder for you to find something in person. That might not be a bad thing for us introverts, but putting yourself out there is the price we pay when we said we wanted to be an author.

If you want a professional opinion, hiring a paid beta reader may be the way to go. They will give you more than “It was great!” They dig into story and characters. I’m using Mary Dunbar, and you can find her website here. She doesn’t list beta reading prices because she said she’s just been thinking about adding it to her list of services. Contact her through her website and ask if there is way she can help you with what you need. She’s an editor, too, and she critiques queries. I’ll be blogging about my experience with her in later blog posts. Another paid beta reader that I may use in the future is Kimberly Hunt from Revision Division. I’ve gotten to know her on Facebook and she’s gotten positive reviews. You can find her website here.

But if you’re a newbie writer, you may not be ready for paid services, and that’s okay. That’s where networking and forming relationships with your fellow authors comes in. It’s really important that your beta readers read and write in the genre you’ve written in. That way they can identify the tropes and tell you if you’ve hit the mark or if you’re too far off the path to keep your readers happy. There are a lot of FB groups that you can join and once you get to know a few people you can put it out there and say that you’ll beta read in return. As the diagram above shows, beta reading for someone else can be just as valuable as the the feedback you’ll receive.

What are some tips when it comes to finding and accepting feedback?

  • Know what you want. A beta reader reads your book after it’s finished. Some will point out typos, grammatical errors, etc, but you may not be in a place for that and just want general feedback. Let your beta reader know you want overall feedback like plot holes and character arc opinions and advice. An alpha reader reads as you write it, say chapter by chapter. They make sure you’re steering your ship in the right direction and can catch inconsistencies as you go along ensuring by the end of the book you don’t have a huge plot hole making you scrap half the book. It’s up to you and what your skill level is at and what you feel you need.
  • Remember you don’t have to take everything to heart. If you already know your plot, you don’t have to accept advice that’s different, unless you like it and think it will make your book better. We all have ideas and you can give six writers a writing prompt and come back with six different stories. It’s always going to be your book, but if your beta spots a plot hole and you choose not to fix it, that’s on you.
  • Don’t have too many opinions. Too many cooks spoil the broth and this is true for your book. Find one, two, maybe three betas in your genre that you trust that you know are good writers and listen to what they have to say. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with opinions. On the other hand, if they all have the same problem with the same thing, then you know that’s something you have to pay attention to. I’ve seen some authors confuse beta readers with ARC reviewers. While your beta readers may leave a review down the line, beta readers are not readers who receive an advanced copy of your book solely to leave a review. Two different readers.
  • If the relationship is not working, don’t force the issue. For whatever reason, you may not mesh with your beta reader. That’s fine. I wrote a blog post a long time ago about what to do if your business relationship with a friend goes south. You can try to be amicable about it, but hurt feelings comes with the territory. You never want to burn bridges in this industry because while it seems large, thousands and thousands of authors who publish every day, this is really a small industry and we all know each other. Word gets around and you don’t want to be that person who is known for not getting along with her peers. If the beta is too heavy handed or is too cruel to work with, simply say that you’re going to choose a different route and thank her for her time. An egift card for a coffee shop or 25 dollars to Amazon might ease some ruffled feathers. But be sure that when you beta read for someone that you aren’t the one being heavy handed. We all need kindness when giving our work to other people. It’s fear that keeps us from seeking out feedback in the first place.
  • Keep an open mind. Don’t waste someone else’s time. If you’re not ready to hear criticism, wait until you are. Betas, paid or for free, are giving you their time. Don’t waste it by being in a headspace where you aren’t receptive to their feedback.

If you’re new and don’t know where to look, try Googling writing critique groups. This article by thewritelife.com has a list and you can look at it here.

The Reedsy blog, a blog that I’ve referred to in the past that I trust, also has a list and you can find it here.

In short, writer eduction, feedback, and reading go hand in hand. As Sarah said in her guest blog post, there is no excuse not to keep learning, but you also have to know if you’re applying what you’ve learned correctly otherwise you could actually be unintentionally reinforcing bad habits that can take you years to break.

Good luck!

Where do you find feedback? Let me know!