“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
Feedback is one of the most valuable tools a writer can use. Feedback is your friend. Feedback stops you from making those small but significant errors that prevent your manuscript from being great.
Utilise this during the writing and developmental stages and the end result will be much better. No successful company launches a product without testing the market and getting feedback. This process gives them a chance to check that their product gives customers what they want before they go live. As a self-publishing author, you need to think like a business. It is better that weak points are picked up at an early stage, when you still have a chance to improve them, than later on by reviewers after you have self-published.
So let’s bust some feedback myths:
- Asking for feedback is scary. While you may feel nervous giving your manuscript out to friends for honest opinions, they want you to do well and they want to help you. They will probably be flattered you asked for their opinion.
- There’s no point in asking them; they aren’t writers so they don’t understand. If they read and buy books in the same genre as yours, then they are perfectly able to give an opinion. That’s not to say that if you have writers in your network that you can send a sample to then you shouldn’t.
Now you know it is important, how do you go about getting it?
Firstly, if you are not a member of a writers’ group (or online equivalent) then join one. You can find your local group on the National Association of Writing Groups website or ask at your local library. Not only will this give you a great opportunity to meet other writers and benefit from their experience, you will also get an opportunity to share your work, explain tricky problems you may be struggling with, and get some guidance.
Secondly, you need to draw up a list of everyone you think it would be useful to send your work to. Make sure the people you are asking are likely to actually read your work and review it. If people are time-poor, then maybe just give them the first couple of chapters initially.
Have a feedback questionnaire
Feedback needs to be useful. Having a great-aunt telling you your work was “wonderful” doesn’t really give you much to go back to the drawing board with. Friends and family will (usually) want to be nice, so it is important you get them looking at your work analytically. We find giving your “guinea pigs” a simple questionnaire solves this problem, as it focuses their minds.
We designed this questionnaire to make it easy and quick for people to give their feedback. We have started the questionnaire with a positive question to get the reader comfortable with the process, before leading on to more searching questions. Some elements are ranked 1-10, so if you are consistently getting your lowest scores for one element, e.g. dialogue, then that is what you need to work on. Give the questionnaire out to at least eight people (the more the merrier), that will give you enough data to pick up on trends. You can download the I_AM Self-Publishing feedback for writers questionnaire below.
Dealing with negative feedback
Naturally, you will be emotionally attached to your manuscript just the way it is. It represents hours of hard work and is a real personal achievement. However, do not be so wedded to the original manuscript that you cannot adapt and improve, armed with some useful, constructive feedback. It hurts, but negative feedback is the most valuable. You really need to strengthen the weak parts rather than congratulate yourself on the strong parts. If you have received a few negative answers for the same question, then you need to take that feedback on board. For example, if your readers all found the beginning the best part and the end the worst part, then you need to really look at the last section of your book and work out why. Is it to do with pacing? Does it drag? Is it due to an unlikely plot twist or revelation? Is the main character missing from too much of the action? Ask your readers for their thoughts and then amend the manuscript accordingly; you will probably find the revised version is much better.