Make sure to check out the audio version of this post! I usually add little tidbits into the audio recordings that aren’t necessarily all here in the blog posts. You can also hear my interview with author Jenna Morrison! www.anchor.fm/kathleen-foxx to catch all the episodes.
This is a tough part of the writing process, but it’s one that we can learn to embrace. It’s an absolutely necessary part of the process, so there’s no sense in skipping it. Doing so ensures ultimate failure.
When you’ve finished writing your first draft, your first instinct is probably relief. Finally! You’re done the hard part!
I hate to burst your bubble, but that is probably the easiest part of this whole writing thing.
BUT. Don’t let that be as discouraging as it sounds. If you’re like me, the first time you finish writing a manuscript, you have no clue what to do next. So here is a step-by-step guide.
You’re going to want to get some beta readers. You don’t have to have a lot, just a few trusted readers who can give you an idea of whether or not the story has potential. Because remember: your first draft is going to be changed multiple times before you send it out in hopes of finding an agent or editor who falls in love with it.
Where do you find betas? First of all, beta readers are generally not paid. You can connect with other writers in the writing community. Send a tweet out asking for betas, and give a line or two about what it is you’ve written, and what genre it’s in. You want people who would typically read in that genre because that’s who your target audience is, and you want to be able to gauge their reaction to your story.
Good beta readers should give you some generalized feedback and point out what’s really working and what may need some improvement. What they liked, and what they didn’t. These are usually big-picture items like tension, tone, character development, story arc, natural-sounding dialogue, etc. They are reading it from a reader’s perspective, not a writer’s or editor’s perspective.
You may see some patterns in the feedback you get from your betas, and this will tell you that it’s not just one reader’s thoughts.
There are inevitably beta readers out there who will trash your story and give you nothing but negative feedback. These people have black hearts. A good beta reader will offer constructive criticism, and will point out areas that are done well, because it’s equally as important for a writer to know where their strengths are. And if you’re swapping pages with your beta, make sure you do this for them. Even if the feedback you get from them is less than nice, perhaps they aren’t experienced in giving feedback and don’t know how to do it, so your constructive feedback can be a lesson for them for next time. Even when it’s an area that needs improvement, there’s always a way to say it in a positive tone.
You can also ask betas for feedback on specific areas you feel you might not be as good at. And don’t be afraid to say, “I’d love to know what you think is working well in addition to anything that you think needs improvement.” This sets expectations.
PRO TIP: wait until you get feedback from all your betas before you start making revisions. You never know what they’ll all say or what ideas they might have, what questions they’ll ask, and it’ll save you time and headaches if you wait patiently for all betas to send their feedback before you dive back in.
Once you get all your feedback from your betas, it’s time to do a round of revisions. If there was a lot of work to be done, you might do another round of beta reading and do some more revisions. You’ll have to gauge that based on the feedback you’re getting.
But once you feel that it’s ready for the next round, you’re going to want to look for a critique partner or two. These are other writers who are at the same stage you’re at where you swap pages and give constructive feedback and offer specific suggestions on how to make improvements. This is more focused on feedback from other writers, and not so much the readers. They’ll typically give kudos to things they love and maybe making a few edits here and there, along with some more detailed suggestions or ideas for the areas that need work.
There are critique matching programs and writing groups on Twitter that can help you find critique partners. You can simply ask in a writing group on Twitter if anyone is looking for a critique partner. With so many of us out there, you’re bound to get a few replies.
You can also search for critiquing and editing services online. This differs from critique partners in that it’s not a partnership; you aren’t required to critique anything in return. They’ll look at things a critique partner would, but on a very deep level and and in the case of a full edit booking, extensive edits are done. With manuscript critiques (sometimes called assessments), deep feedback and suggestions are given, but no edits are done. These folks do this work all the time, so they’ll usually have more experience than a critique partner. It generally includes a well-rounded, detailed edit letter outlining specific areas you did well and suggestions on what you could do in areas that need improvement. (This is a service I offer and enjoy doing as a freelance editor and member of Editors Canada, so if you’re looking for this type of service, read more about it here.)
PRO TIP: When you’re hiring someone to do critiques/edits, ensure your have taken your manuscript the furthest you possibly can. Make it as polished as possible (with the help of betas and hopefully a critique partner if possible) so that you’re making it worth it. Doing so will save you money and headaches, and everyone’s time. You do not have to spend money on an editor or for a heavy critique/assessment, but the service is there for those who would like it, so if that’s you, polish up your manuscript and find someone who you feel comfortable hiring. (This is something that’s discussed in the Apr 22/22 bonus episode with P.S. Literary Agent Claire Harris, and you can check that out here.)
Once you’ve implemented the big picture (structural/development) revisions from your critique partner(s) or editor and you’ve made this story the best you can make it (this likely means many rounds of revisions!), it’s time to do stylistic and/or copy edits to polish up the pages. It’s important to do these only after all structural edits have been made to ensure no new errors have been introduced and unedited in the structural changes. And when that’s done, you’re ready to get your query package ready!
But… let’s back up a bit here and talk about the inevitability of negative feedback. Even if it comes from a good place, it’s hard to take criticism about the story you’ve invested so much of your time and effort into. What do you mean you didn’t like it? What’s wrong with my main character? How didn’t that part make sense to you? Who are you to tell me it should be this way instead of that way?
It’s hard not to get caught up in the feedback and to take it personally. What you need to remember is that you know your story. Your brain knows what you wrote, and it all makes sense to you in your head as you see it play out. But when it’s on paper, sometimes it hasn’t translated as well as you thought, and so these comments, while they might feel bad, are there to help you make your story appear to the reader the same way you’ve seen it appear to you.
When something doesn’t resonate with you, when it feels like an attack, take a day or two and step away from your project. When you’re ready, go back to it and read the feedback again with fresher eyes. Keep in mind that this is their subjective view of your story, but also remember they’re giving you their thoughts based on what they read. If there’s something they don’t understand, try to peel that back and investigate it a little more. Maybe they are seeing something you haven’t thought of because you’ve been wound up so tightly in your story (as any of us are). Take what they’re saying with a grain of salt, but don’t discard it until you’re absolutely sure it’s not what you need.
You don’t have to agree with all the feedback you get. Take what works for you, what really resonates with you, and leave the rest. This is something I always tell my clients because I want them to know that under no circumstances am I saying they have to or should follow the suggestions I give. I give honest feedback—I tell them what’s working well, and I tell them where I think improvements need to be made. I show where my reactions are through the story, and I’ll ask questions or give ideas that might work—or not. It’s totally up to the writer.
To summarize, use these five tips when getting feedback from people:
- Tell them what you’re looking for in your feedback
- Don’t take it personally
- If there’s something you need clarification on, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them
- If you’re swapping pages, always give positive, honest, and constructive criticism; balance the stuff that needs improvement with stuff that’s working well
- Remember: we all start out at the bottom with no experience. Don’t be condescending, and if you feel they’re being condescending with you, you’re under no obligation to keep them as a beta or critique partner.
Finishing a draft is exciting. Putting your work out there is scary! I get it. Just remember that there are so many others who are in the same boat, or who were at one point. Expect that you’ll get some not-so-great feedback, because being in that receptive mindset helps soften the blow. No draft is perfect the first time. But by using the invaluable feedback you can get from others, you can improve your work and get your draft ready for querying or publishing. Putting your best foot forward means being receptive and willing to make some changes that you hadn’t seen or thought of. A good editor points out areas for improvement and makes suggestions on how to do it. A great editor will be honest, thorough, and communicative with that feedback in a positive and helpful way. (FYI, I always aim for the latter with my clients!) 😉
Use every opportunity for learning and growth. And remember: YOU WROTE A BOOK. That’s freaking BADASS! And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻
Today’s podcast guest is author Jenna Morrison. Jenna was born in Denver, Colorado. At a very young age, she became a prolific reader, painter, and writer. She had stories published in grades five and seven, became the youngest person to ever enter the Penguin Classics Essay Contest, participated in NaNoWriMo, self-published two stories in high school, and her artwork was also invited into the DPAIG Art Gallery. She became the youngest person to join the Parker Artists Guild. Jenna now holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Aspen University and has taught students at Harvard University and Regis University. Her first novel is coming out on February 4, 2022 with Darkstroke. (Pre-orders are live now!)
You can find Jenna on Twitter at @AuthorJMorrison and on Instagram @authorjennamorrison. Her website is www.jennakmorrison.com.
The links to the You Tubers Jenna mentions in her interview (and another really great one) are:
Jenna Moreci: www.YouTube.com/c/JennaMoreci/videos
Abbie Emmons: www.YouTube.com/c/AbbieEmmons/videos
Alexa Donne: www.YouTube.com/c/AlexaDonne/videos
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