Getting Feedback for Your Novel

You’ve completed your novel and then did your own editing. Before you send your novel to agents or publishers, you need feedback. Lots of feedback. You need critique partners.

Contents:

About Critique Partners

A critique partner is typically a group of like-minded writers that work together and provide constructive feedback for one another’s work.

The following are common terms for people that read your work:

  • Alpha Reader – This is a person that reads your work and provides feedback WHILE YOU ARE WRITING IT. Alpha readers aren’t necessary, though every pair of eyes on your work can be helpful. Your alpha reader is typically a trusted family member or best friend.
  • Beta Reader – This is a person that reads your work after your first draft is complete. This person provides high-level plot and character feedback for your novel. They help you find plot holes and ask good questions about your characters. Again, your beta reader is usually someone is your circle of friends and family.
  • Critique Partner – This is an author with whom you exchange writings. You act as their Alpha/Beta readers and they do the same for you. If you have a writing group that meets weekly, the group or a single author friend might serve as your critique partner while you’re writing, or after your draft is complete.

Finding Critique Partners

Yes partners, plural. You need more than one person to trade novels with. Don’t put your career in one person’s hand.

Genre

When you look for a critique partner, you should search for someone that writes the same genre as you. For example, if you write Young Adult (YA) fiction, choose a partner that also writes YA.

Also, make sure you’re familiar with your subgenre. For example, if you’re a YA author, do you write Paranormal YA, Steampunk YA, or Sci-Fi YA. For other examples of YA subgenres, see Novel Novice.

Look at Organizations

There are tons of online organizations that help writers connect with one another:

  • Critique Circle – Join this online group and receive credits for providing good feedback. That shows that you’re a good partner and good people will work with you. This might not be ideal for a first-time critique.
  • Google Group – You can join the Critique Partner Matchup Google Group.
  • Ladies Who Critique – This is a female-only forum grouped by genre, interests, and experience.
  • Meetup – Check Meetup for any local writer’s or critique groups in your area.
  • NaNoWriMo Critique and Swap – NaNoWriMo is familiar to many writers and you submit your novel info by genre.
  • Regional Writer’s Association – Join a regional community, such as the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association.
  • Similar Author Blog – Find a popular author in your genre and check their blog for CP matches. For example, see Kim Chance.
  • YALitChat – If you’re Twitter-savvy, you can follow #yalitchat and join the conversation. You can also find like-minded Twitter users, build your network, and find a critique partner.

Providing Feedback

Before you can GET a good critique partner, you need to BECOME a good critique partner.

After you join a couple of communities where you can find a critique partner, look for other authors that are searching for partners. Find around half a dozen authors with novels that sound interesting to you and provide feedback. Why?

  1. By reading lots of other works, you can learn about what makes a good or bad novel.
  2. You learn what feedback others ask for and how to look for it. This helps you to understand what feedback to ask for in return.
  3. You demonstrate your value as a partner.

Before you can provide good feedback, you must:

  1. Understand the type of feedback the author is requesting. Only deliver what they ask for. If they only want overall plot feedback, don’t point out typos, misspellings, or grammatical errors. Unless they add to confusion for the plot.
  2. Learn whether this is the first time the author has received feedback.
  3. Commit to a small set of feedback, like 2 chapters.
  4. Commit to a deadline.
  5. Agree on a file format with revision tracking, such as Microsoft Word.

When you work on your critique feedback, consider this Hardcore Critique Advice.

Here is a quick checklist that you can use:

  • Plot – Does the action start at the right time? Is there too much or too little character development?
  • Plot – Does the beginning of the story hook your interest?
  • Plot – Does the author substitute coincidence for plot movement?
  • Plot – Is much of the plot moved along using internal dialog?
  • Plot – Is the ending satisfying and exciting? Does it intentionally or accidentally leave a story line open?
  • Pace – How is the pace of the story?
  • Story – Is there the proper balance of action, dramatization, and narrative?
  • Story – Is the dialog clear without being repetitive of “he said” and “she said”?
  • Story – Did the dialog sound natural or forced?
  • Story – Does the author over-explain or under-explain concepts, situations, or surroundings?
  • Story – Was anything unclear or confusing?
  • Story – Were there any inconsistencies?
  • Story – Did each part of the novel add to the story?
  • Characters – Did you feel an emotionally connected to the main character (MC)?
  • Characters – Are the characters likeable and believable?
  • Characters – Do the characters have consistent personalities and behavior?
  • Characters – Do they grow throughout the novel?
  • Characters – Does the dialog of each character sound unique?
  • Characters – Are the character names distinguishable and consistent with the character behavior?
  • Characters – Does the dialog of each character match their personality?
  • Characters – Are physical descriptions subtle and appropriate?
  • Characters – Do the characters behave in age-appropriate manner? For example, if an YA character behaves mature and selfless all the time…
  • Point of view – Is the novel consistent? First-person present, first-person past, third-person past, etc. The verbs should be consistent throughout
  • Point of view – If the novel is third-person, is there too much character-hopping?
  • Point of view – Should the author have used a different POV?
  • Tone – Is the tone appropriate? For example, does the author try to be too funny in a serious plot?
  • Grammar – Are there repetitive sentences that repeat the same information over and over?
  • Grammar – Are there long run-on sentences that could be better communicated using multiples?
  • Grammar – Is there too much use of the passive voice? (See what I did there?)
  • Grammar – Did you notice overused words or phrases?
  • Grammar – Were there too many adverbs or was there poor use of verbs?

Formatting Feedback

You will typically provide feedback two ways. First, you will provide comments and feedback directly in the writing sample. You can print the copy, use a red pen, and scan the copy. Or you can use change tracking in software, such as Microsoft Word. When you’ve finished, you will email or chat with your author, and provide high-level feedback and specific notes by email.

Provide Email Feedback Gently

Most authors pour their heart and soul into their pages. Be kind. Deliver the Feedback Sandwich.

Provide a disclaimer. Let the author know that your feedback is based on your opinion and that they are welcome to use or discard any of your suggestions.

Help them find your feedback. If the author is not familiar with the software that you used to provide feedback, help them to understand it. For example, “I have provided feedback for your text in Microsoft Word using comments and change tracking. For details about viewing that feedback, see Track Changes (Microsoft Office). Please let me know if you require a different format, such as PDF.”

Begin your feedback with things that you loved about the writing sample. Be specific. For example, “Thanks for trusting me with your first two chapters. I instantly connected with your MC. You did a good job of making me feel that she was frightened, yet strong by showing it rather than stating it. Your characters descriptions were spot-on. You provided enough information to allow me to create distinct characters in my mind without over-describing them.” Continue with as much specific good feedback as you can.

Add items for improvement in the middle of the feedback. Again, be specific. For example, “There are some areas that you could improve. In the second scene, your MC shifts from first-person point-of-view to third. The story started out with a small amount of character development and moved into action, which was great. However, after that, there was a lot of character development. Try to spread that out further in the book, among the action for those characters. The characters names Kirk and Kent were too similar and I kept getting the characters confused.”

Finish with your good feelings about the sample, and requests for future work. Be more general here. And be honest about whether you’d like to read future works by this author. For example, “I really liked your main characters and the beginning of your plot was exciting. I’d be happy to critique any rewrites and future chapters. I’m excited to see what happens to your character next.”

Working with a New Critique Partner

Ultimately, by providing feedback to strangers, you’re looking for a critique partner. It’s not easy to find a critique partner that you sync with. You need to find someone that enjoys your work, but also provides good feedback. At the same time, you have to enjoy their work and provide valuable feedback to them.

When you find someone that wants to try the relationship with you, consider the following suggestions:

Start Small

Before you commit to reading or sending an entire novel, commit to one or two chapters. Exchange feedback. See if it’s a good fit for your both. If not, move on and find another partnership that’s mutually beneficial.

Set a Deadline

You both need to agree on a deadline and stick with it. For example, if you send two chapters, set a deadline of 10 days. Everyone is busy, and if you can’t set a deadline and stick with it, then maybe you shouldn’t be working together.

Implementing Feedback

After you find critique partners or readers, you have to review the feedback. Brace yourself. This could be painful. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you read feedback from others:

  • Feedback is that person’s OPINION.
  • Some feedback might help you. The best feedback asks good questions, like “Why did your MC do that action?” and “Where did this object come from.”
  • Ignore generic and hateful comments like “Your novel/character/plot sucks.” Seriously, that’s not helpful at all.
  • KEEP YOUR VOICE – Don’t let feedback change the way you write. However, do learn from it. For example, if you receive feedback that your character isn’t relevant in today’s society, forget it. But if you receive feedback that your dialog isn’t smooth, then practice saying it out loud and see if it feels natural.

Listen to everything and the choose carefully what to implement.