Writers, especially new writers, need feedback. Honest and helpful feedback can take our writing to the next level. But where to find it? Where do we go for constructive feedback that will enable us to strengthen and improve our writing?
Several sources come to mind:
Contests. Do your networking and find out about contests in your genre. Do you have only a synopsis and several chapters? Look for a contest that wants only a partial. Do you have a full manuscript? You can broaden your sights a bit and search for a contest that demands a full manuscript. Be careful in reading the contest rules. Most contests have fairly stringent rules in how to submit, what format to use, word length, etc. If feedback is truly your goal, look for contests which promise critiques and suggestions, rather than just scores. Though it’s wonderful to receive a top score, of course, it is more beneficial to receive an honest but constructive critique. Look also at the judges. Are they listed as published or unpublished? Are any editors and/or agents you are interested in submitting to acting as judges? You’ll want to consider those contests very seriously.
Critique partner. Finding a compatible critique partner is invaluable. Look for one who is at a similar stage of writing as your own. Look, as well, for one whose writing pace matches your own. If you write one book a year and your critique partner puts out six, you’re likely to have problems. Look for a partner who can both give and accept criticism. Examine your own ability to give and receive constructive criticism. A partner who praises everything you write, deservedly or not, is probably not going to be much help to your writing. On the other hand, a partner who is unrelentingly negative may well discourage you from writing ever again. As in so many things, balance is key. Check with your local library. Writers frequently make friends with librarians.
Critique group. Once again, a critique group can be great. But… (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) Beware of trying to “be all things to all people.” Have you heard the definition of a camel? A camel is a horse designed by a committee. I’ve known of several writers (myself included) who tried to change their writing style and voice in accordance to all of the suggestions given at a group. In the end, they (and I) ended up with a mishmash that read like a hodgepodge, reflecting neither their or my style and voice. Accept what criticisms will strengthen your writing. Then politely thank everyone for their help, whether or not you used their suggestions. Don’t know where to go to find a group? Again, check with your library. Also, do an online search for a nearby writers’ group.
Agent. Agents can be a great source of feedback. However, you need to be on the cusp of selling before even considering submitting to an agent. Agents, like editors, are busy people who have a finite amount of time. Don’t waste yours or theirs by submitting a manuscript that is far from polished. As you did with contests, research your targeted agent. Does he want a partial or a complete manuscript? Does he accept manuscripts from unpublished authors? Does he accept the kind of book you are writing? Don’t reveal yourself to be a rank amateur by sending an inspirational book to an agent who accepts only contemporary, mainstream books. Agents have long memories. Don’t antagonize one by sending him something completely inappropriate.
Okay, we’ve talked about possible places to find feedback and the importance of finding helpful, constructive feedback. Sometimes, we may become so desperate for it that we will go to extraordinary lengths for this feedback, even going so far as to paying a “literary service”
There are people who advertise themselves as a “literary service” who promise to give feedback and critique There are legitimate services, of course. That said, understand that there are many unscrupulous services that offer a few generic suggestions and little else. Don’t be misled by grandiose promises that such a service will “polish your manuscript, submit, and sell it,” all for a “modest” fee.
What is the best thing you can do for your writing? Write the best book you can. If you are unpublished, finish that first book. It will be the most important book you ever write, whether or not it sells. Find feedback along the way. Then, give back.