Category Archives: Feedback

Writing Critique Groups

Critique groups can be the bomb-diggity. Slang aside, a great critique group can accelerate a writer’s growth in their craft.

And of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a critique group can be an immense time suck with very little return.

Even worse, it can steal a writer’s joy and shake their confidence. Today’s Teaching Corner is going to focus on how to get the most oomph out of a critique group.

What Is a Critique Group?

A critique group is a group of writers who agree to meet on a consistent basis in order to exchange feedback on each other’s writing.

Find a Critique Group When  . . .

  • You want to be with your people. Those people who “get” what it’s like to have words living inside you that must be written down. Revised. Shared.
  • You want to grow as a writer. You’re ready to learn and practice new skills.
  • You are ready for honest feedback, even when it stings. You can give yourself space and time to feel the disappointment, and then you can review the feedback with some objectivity.
  • You have time to share your own expertise and feedback to partners.
  • You enjoy supporting other writers.

Where to Find a Critique Group

The usual places to look for an established group:

  • The library
  • A local writing organization
  • Ask a friend who writes

Not so usual places to look:

  • A local coworking space
  • A local coffee shop 
  • Meetup.com “Meetup is a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests.”
  • Online: social media groups, like Nextdoor and Facebook, and Google

How to Get the Most Out of a Critique Group

  • Be prepared when it’s your turn to share material.
    • Have the words written. Print the files or share electronically by the deadline.
    • Ask specific questions to garner the feedback you want/need.
  • Be open. Getting feedback, especially critical feedback, doesn’t always feel great, but try not to be defensive.
    • If you’re up to it, ask the group to help you workshop the trouble spot.
    • If you’re not, say thank you and give yourself time to marinate on the problem.
  • Remember that you don’t have to share your entire manuscript, or even your current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes, especially in the early days of a draft, this will just bog you down. Or you’ll get stuck in the revision phase forever. Rather than writing and then revising, you’ll feel like you have to revise as you go, which is a fast way to kill a story.
    • The point of a critique group is to grow you as a writer. You can get the same effect, and practice new techniques, with a short story or an essay.
  • Share feedback that is both honest and kind. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal. Practice offering feedback from a place of positivity. “I like the way you wrote ________. I’d love to see you include more _________. Here’s an idea for how to do that . . . .”
  • Don’t be the strongest writer in the group. If you want to learn, then that’s hard to do if you’re the person everyone looks to for guidance as the resident expert. You want to be part of a group where you can also be challenged. You may start with a group and later outgrow it. That’s okay.

Wading through Beta-Reader Feedback

As I’ve previously written, feedback from beta readers is invaluable. TV producers have been using this method for years to determine if a show is worth investing in beyond a pilot episode or season.

Let’s assume that you chose ideal beta readers in your target audience, you provided them with guiding questions, and you’ve collected their feedback with a handy survey tool, like Google Forms.

Next Steps

First, thank your beta readers. Follow through on any promises you made in exchange for their feedback. If that’s a copy of your published book, let them know that you’ll keep them posted on your progress.

Then you’re ready to begin revising.

Digestion Phase

First, you read the feedback. All of it. Even if you read individual responses as they came in, sit down with all the responses and read through them in one sitting.

Hold space for the emotions that will show up. It’s totally normal to swing from elation (He loved it!) to anger (What does she know? Nothing!) to despair (I’m the worst writer. Why did I think I could write a book) to confusion (Did they even read my manuscript? What are they talking about?).

Take a break. A days-long, possibly weeks-long break, if you can. Let the information digest. Expect to need more time with this than you think you will, but don’t let the feedback (whether positive or negative) paralyze you indefinitely.

When you feel like you’ve shaken off the strongest emotional responses, you’re ready for the organization phase.

Organization Phase

Reread all of the feedback again. Then analyze it by reviewing the responses to each of your questions in turn.

Organize the responses based on how they resonate with you:

A. This is a helpful suggestion. I want to use it.

            Save these ideas in a separate file to pull out during the Implementation Phase.

B. No, just no. This is my book, and I’ll write it my way.

            Give yourself a pat on the back for owning your story. You don’t have to take every suggestion that is offered, even if it’s a good one.

C. I’m not sure about this idea.

            Read the responses here carefully.

Do the same suggestions or questions show up with multiple readers? If so, this is information to pay special attention to. Move this feedback to the Implementation Phase file.

If there’s a one-off suggestion, and it doesn’t resonate with you, then trust that this reader just isn’t your ideal reader for this manuscript, and move on.

Implementation Phase

Grab the file you created with all the suggestions you want to implement and begin revising. If you get stuck, you may find that one or two of those beta readers who offered helpful suggestions would be willing to brainstorm with you.

Remember to keep your beta readers updated as you progress through the next phases of editing and publication. And don’t be afraid to ask those folks for reviews when your book launches.

Google Forms for Beta Readers

After my first round of developmental edits and revisions, I was ready to receive beta-reader feedback for Love Letters to My Body. I wanted to make the task as easy as possible for me and my readers.

Ideal Readers

First, I identified what my ideal readers looked like. Then I made a list of everyone I knew who fit into those descriptions, and who might be willing to give me specific feedback. Once I knew WHO I wanted to ask, I turned to the questions of WHAT I wanted to ask and HOW I wanted to ask.

Trying to manage multiple email threads felt daunting to me, and I also wanted my beta readers to have the option to respond anonymously. I turned to Google Forms to create a survey.

Google Forms

I can’t stress enough how easy it was to create and use a Google Form to collect beta-reader feedback. Here’s a tutorial on how to create your own survey.

The survey was easy to set up. I shared five questions that were a mix of a rating, yes/no, and short-answer responses. Then I generated a link to my survey.

The Ask

Now I was ready to reach out to my potential readers. I emailed everyone on my list and asked if they’d be willing to beta read and provide feedback by a certain date.

The deadline was important so I could maintain my schedule. Many folks said yes, and I sent them a PDF of Love Letters to My Body, along with the survey link and a reminder of the deadline.

After the deadline, I was able to download the responses into a spreadsheet. In another Teaching Corner, I’ll share how I parsed the beta-reader feedback for my next round of revisions.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.

Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book). Who is your ideal reader?  

How many readers: 5-???
This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.

When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.

Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written). If you have a newsletter, ask your subscribers who would be interested in beta reading for you. This is a great way to engage with your fans, but remember that you can (and should) be picky with your selection. Say yes to the folks who regularly engage with you.

 You can also reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; or hire a professional.

Hiring a professional beta reader is a great idea when you’re struggling to find beta readers on your own or you have a hard-to-reach audience, i.e. children. Both of my daughters beta read for Quiethouse Editing, and they love giving authors feedback.

What to ask for: Come up with a handful of questions to guide your beta readers. You can ask about characters (do they like them?) and plot (any boring parts?) and any areas you’re unsure of. Make clear that you’re not looking for help with spelling or grammar.

Next Steps: Be gentle with yourself. No matter how thick your skin, receiving critical feedback can hurt. Take time to feel sad or embarrassed or angry. Then, when you’ve had a bit of space, dissect the feedback. What resonates with you? What doesn’t? Did readers agree about what worked and what didn’t? Was there an outlier?  Once you’ve gotten clear about the feedback, dive back into revisions. And be sure to thank your beta readers, even if you disagree with them.

Pro Tip: Use a Google form or a survey platform to collect reader feedback.

Style Guides for Writers

We’re not talking fashion magazines, folks. In the book world, a style guide is the rulemaker you’re choosing to follow. And for writers in the US, the most accepted style guide for books is Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).

CMOS covers how to treat numbers, where to insert commas, when to hyphenate, and so much more. It’s currently in its seventeenth edition. The online version is my favorite way to work with it, which I do almost every day, because it’s so easy to search. I also appreciate the forum and Q&A included in the online version. For $35 a year, it’s well worth the subscription.

Chicago’s got one issue though. It was originally written for nonfiction books. And that certainly shows up sometimes. So if you’re writing fiction, there may be instances where Chicago is “silent,” meaning you will have to figure out what you want to do yourself.

BuzzFeed

Language also can change quickly, especially in digital circles. This is when I like to turn to Buzzfeed. The BuzzFeed Style Guide “aims to provide a prevailing, and evolving, set of standards for the internet and social media.”

BuzzFeed’s style guide isn’t nearly as robust as Chicago, but it certainly will help you decide how to style pop culture references. And it’s free!

Conscious Style Guide

The Conscious Style Guide is a compendium of “the latest news, opinions, and guides on conscious language—all in one place.” Find resources here to help you write with more inclusive, thoughtful language about everything from race to ability, to gender, to health, and more.

Word Count

What should my word count be? is a question that every writer asks at least once in their writing career, and with good reason.

Having a word count in mind can be a goal to work toward. Looking at you, NaNoWriMo.

Reader Expectations

It’s also a good idea to know what expectations your readers might have around book lengths and the hours they’ll spend with you. And those expectations vary wildly between genres: epic fantasies can be four times as long as a middle-grade mystery.

Stop Worrying about Your Word Count

My advice when you start a new writing project is to put worries about word count away. Just let the draft unfold. Let what wants to come, come. There will be time later to bump your word count if you fall short of where you want to be, or to shave (or hack) away at a manuscript that’s so big it’s unwieldy.

Sometimes what you think is a short story is actually a novel, or vice versa. When I first showed Love Notes to My Body to my editor, she pointed out that some of my “notes” had turned into “letters” and would be better suited as essays, which is how I ended up writing and publishing three books at one time.

Be open to what is showing up. Once you’re clear on what you’re writing, then google expected word counts for your genre. If you’re headed a traditional route, do your best to hit those word-count expectations. If you’re publishing independently, you’ve got a little more leeway, but it’s important to remember that readers have expectations too.

Reading in Your Genre

What’s your favorite book, or who’s your favorite author, in the genre you write?

If you can’t answer that question, then it’s time to head to the library or bookstore.

Benefits

Reading other works in your genre has so many benefits for you as a writer:

  • Be Inspired: Read with curiosity and wonder because inspiration abounds everywhere, especially in books we love. Maybe you’re just inspired to exist in a world where a book like this exists. Or maybe the author is clever and plays with structure in an interesting way. Or prompts you to wonder about something that becomes your next great idea.
  • Find things to avoid: What does the author do that annoys you?
  • Discover tropes.
  • Stay current with trends.
  • Support a fellow writer.
  • Learn about comps (when writing a query, book proposal, or preparing your elevator speech). Comps is short for “comparative titles.” It means books that are similar to yours.

Voracious Readers

We’ve all heard ad nauseum how saturated the book market is, but as long as there are writers, there will be voracious readers eager to sink into their next good book.