How can it be that the very thing you crave most as a novelist—that other people read your book—feels impossible to allow once you’ve finished the darn thing? There’s always a reason to dissemble: Just one more draft … Just your spouse and no one else … Just the first scenes, just your favorite chapters …
When you write a book for your own fulfillment, that’s creative writing; when you write a story designed to entertain readers, that’s a novel. If you’ve just completed the first draft of a novel, it’s time to start thinking about how this thing you created for other people actually works for those other people. It’s time to stop quit beating around the bush. It’s time for feedback.
Critiques and workshopping are the first step in the evolution of your story from a creative project to a commercially viable product. Allowing others to gaze upon the luminous visage of your book can seem all but unthinkable; however, if you mean to be a published author, you can’t afford to be precious about this.
Rip off the Band-Aid. The more eyeballs, the merrier. You have so many opportunities to gather feedback: alpha readers, critique partners, writing groups, beta readers, editors, cover artists, agents, acquiring editors, and more.
Critiquing is your first opportunity to expose yourself to constructive input. Peer review helps you spot where the ideas in your head don’t match the story you’ve put on the page. It’s a chance to make changes based on reader feedback—real readers, not friends or family who are afraid to hurt your feelings. Critique will help you refine your manuscript into a book agents and readers will want to spend time and money on.
The advantages of critique
Authors usually seek critiques after a first look from alpha readers (usually a spouse or other close confidante trusted to provide forthright and supportive feedback). Once your alpha readers have reassured you that you’re on the right track, peer critique can help you tighten things up further. You’ll get much more from professional editing if you’ve taken care of fundamental story and writing issues first, so you’re not paying for help with basics such as obvious plot holes or dizzying head-hopping that a critique partner or group could have identified for you.
New authors often fear other writers or editors will steal their ideas.
Peer review also provides accountability. In a one-on-one critique relationship or a face-to-face writing group, it’s likely you’ll need your material ready by a specific date. In a well-paced group, members won’t have endless time to watch you pick at your nits. Getting your pages into the critique cycle becomes your first set of publication deadlines and keeps you moving forward.
Giving and taking critique requires an attitude of professionalism. Emotions and ego can turn well-meant suggestions into anger and tears. But learning how to give and take constructive criticism can be one of the best avenues for improving your writing skills.
New authors often fear other writers or editors will steal their ideas. The publication process presents plenty of things to stress over, but intellectual property theft isn’t one of them. While the unique execution of your story is legally yours and yours alone, the idea itself cannot be copyrighted. It’s your interpretation of the idea that’s protected.
Read more: Crack the critique mindset
Find the right critique partner or group
There’s nothing like face-to-face discussion to shake loose new ways of looking at your writing. Look for partners or groups at nearby bookstores, colleges, and universities, and try MeetUp.com to help you find like-minded locals.
Social media is another gold mine for peer feedback and support. Search Facebook for writing and publishing groups, particularly in specific genres and niches. Follow authors, editors, agents, and publishers on Twitter. Not only might you come across exactly the resource you need, but you’ll meet all sorts of people who can guide and advise you through the entire publication process.
Looking for more of a one-on-one critique relationship? This infographic tells you how to find the right critique partner.
Many well-established genres have national professional associations for authors that offer workshops, networking, and more; for example, check out the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Fiction University’s Janice Hardy facilitates critique connections at regular intervals. Do some digging at her site for the latest opportunity.
Several times a year on Twitter, look for matchups made on the #CPMatch hashtag, or go to CPMatchmaking.com. Writing groups on social media sites such as Facebook and GoodReads can vary widely in quality, so screen carefully.
One of your best options may be one of the many online writing resources and communities that exist. Some of these sites and groups charge fees to use, while others are free. Look for a critique resource that offers the degree of personal attention and interaction, specialization, professionalism, and personality you’re comfortable with.
Critique Partner Matchup
Critters Workshop for SFF and horror
Critters for romance
The Desk Drawer
Internet Writing Workshop
Insecure Writer’s Support Group
My Writers Circle
Mystery Writers Forum
Nathan Bransford Connect With a Critique Partner
The Next Big Writer
Reddit’s r/writing, r/writingcritiques, and subreddits for your genre
Sub It Club on Facebook
Writing to Publish
Many authors have had good luck finding critique partners and groups on GoodReads. Beware of anyone charging money for critiques or other services; the skill and experience level of GoodReads advertisers tend to be on the low side. Vet their qualifications thoroughly before committing money. Ultimately, you aren’t looking for a service; you’re looking for peers who’ll grow along with you.
Getting meaningful, quality feedback
“All readers are not created equal,” cautions Rachelle Gardner, senior literary agent at Books & Such Literary Management. Deciding if the feedback makes sense for your story is for you—perhaps with the help of your editor—to work out.
Writing partners and groups with more enthusiasm than knowledge about story structure and writing have been known to lead authors down the wrong path. Bad writing advice can encourage you to brick over bad writing, lazy plotting, and wandering point of view all in the name of “I liked it when—“ and “I wish the main character had—”
Read more about what writing groups and critique partners can and can’t do for your revision process.
- A writing group that works
- The basics of writing group success
- Beware of groupthink: red flags to watch for in critique groups
- What a critique group can and can’t do for you
- The four hidden dangers of writing groups
- Writing groups versus editing groups
The key to getting quality feedback is your active participation in the process. The structure of many writing and critique groups require that you mostly listen to members’ observations, but you can help steer the process with question designed to draw out specifics.
Read more about how to obtain quality feedback and how to draw out useful criticism:
Editing: The next step
It’s easy to fall into an endless cycle of consulting and workshopping and polishing your manuscript. Take the best suggestions from your critique partner or group and press onward.
Once you see the end of the revision process in sight, it’s time to find the right editor and book early enough to get a spot with an editor you’d really like to work with. Your editing experience will be much deeper and more productive if you come to the table with a tight, polished manuscript—and with the help of a great critique group or partner, you have a much better chance of getting there.
Revised May 10, 2021
Want more advice like this? Sign up and get Baker’s Dozen, 13 things for your writing, fresh out of the editorial oven every month.
If you’re looking for an editor to accelerate your journey from new writer to emerging author, that editor could be me. Let’s work together: short-term coaching for story development, long-term coaching for honing your writing, or story or line editing (my editing specialties). Let’s talk.