Here’s the review of the 7 steps in “How to Make Your Novel Sellable”:
- Initial Read Through
- Seek and Destroy Problem Words
- In-depth Word Analysis
- Read it Out
- Get Some Feedback
- Let it Rest
Step #5: Get Some Feedback
This is arguably the most nerve-wracking and rewarding step. If you’re not used to getting critiques, this step may terrify you. My most sage advice? Get over it! You need feedback. Lots of it. But. You need GOOD feedback. Anyone can show a piece to a family member and receive the “Oh, it’s so good” comment. If you need a boost, go for it. If you’re editing and want to improve your work, don’t bother.
When I wrote my first (absolutely awful) novel, I didn’t know any writers. So I found a bunch of people who read a lot and read in the genre I had written. This isn’t the worst idea, but it’s also not the best. I did get some valuable feedback, but these people were also all my friends. No one told me the big things I needed to change. When I look back at that book, it’s riddled with glaringly obvious amateur mistakes. A true writer friend would have (hopefully) sat me down and gave me a lesson on how to write well, or at least some good books on craft to read. (Which ALL writers should always be reading—never stop learning and improving!)
You do need some writer friends. The more experienced, the better. Hopefully, you have some writer friends. If you don’t, get some! I know. Writers are, by nature, introverts. It’s hard to find them and make friends. Bull! Here are 7 super easy ways to make writer friends:
- Go where the writers go. Bookstores! Libraries! Of course, if you really are an introvert, this step will be difficult because you’d have to talk to people to discover this fact about them. It doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating, though. I recently met a fellow writer in Half Price Books because she happened to casually mention NaNoWriMo. We exchanged NaNo user names. Boom. Two minute conversation. Writer friend. (Who also has an MFA in creative writing. Thank you, Nicole!)
- Find a writing group. Whether it’s critique-based or otherwise, finding a writers’ group will quite obviously lead you to writers! Most cities have several. Search online, call some bookstores and libraries to see if they know of any. Check with universities, as well, if they have a writing degree. Carlow University has a phenomenal group that meets every semester called The Madwomen in the Attic. If there isn’t a group around, start one! I am the co-founder of a group that meets north of Pittsburgh, called Literary Fusion. We made a Facebook group and a web site, invited some NaNo people, and had a meeting. Guess what. People came!
- Join an organization. This is very closely related with step 2 and should also lead you to writers’ groups. Here in PA, I belong to Pennwriters. This organization has meetings all over the state every month, some every week, at multiple locations, days, and times. They also hold conferences and contests.
- Take it online. There are a ton of Facebook groups for writers. I’m sure there are groups in other social media, too. Join a few groups and when you’re ready, bravely post asking if anyone would be willing to critique/beta read your book (list the genre and tell a tiny bit about it to get them interested).
- NaNoWriMo. It’s not until November, but people start showing up in the forums in September/October and there are still people hanging around in the “after” months. They do also hold Camp NaNo in the summer. When It’s November, though, writers are everywhere. Watch your Facebook/Google+ feed. People you didn’t even know were into writing will start posting word counts. There are NaNo-specific Facebook groups. There are forums on the NaNo site. And the best part is the write ins! Writers get together and write. Go meet some people and when you’ve finished the month, hopefully you kept the connections.
- Get a degree. I know this one isn’t feasible for a lot of people, but if you’re really, really serious, consider getting a BA or MFA in creative writing. It was one of the best decisions I made in my life. I have made friends in the program who go beyond just awesome writer friends. They are some of the most amazing people in the world and it’s been a huge blessing to get to know them all and take part in their writing lives. Not to mention the fact that the program has helped me grow an unbelievable amount as a writer. I go to Carlow University, and while I know there are many MFA programs out there and I’m sure they’re all wonderful, I obviously only have experience with Carlow’s, but I can tell you, it’s fabulous.
- All of the above! Why make one friend when you can make ten? The more writer friends you have, the more people will be willing to help you and the more diverse the feedback. Different people pick out different things. I have one friend who always catches my little misses that no one else does. I have another that is the master of fantasy vs. reality and pointing out things that don’t fit. I have one who catches more typos than anyone else. When you combine the talents, it’s a very full, well-rounded collection of feedback.
I have done all of the above and if I stop to count, I have over thirty writer friends that would likely be willing to critique for me. And I would for them. Obviously, it works both ways. Volunteer to read for people and they’ll volunteer to help you! There are also some web sites specifically designed for this. Critique Circle and Scribophile are two, but I have never used them, so I can’t give an opinion. These are people there to read and critique. Seems like a good option for me. I’d give it a try! Also seems like a great way to get feedback from those who don’t actually know you.
There is one important key to remember. You are the writer. You get final say. I have gotten feedback that I just didn’t agree with, but I always seriously consider it. If they’re saying it, it’s for a reason. Sometimes, I just wasn’t clear in what I meant. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they’re not. It’s all subjective.
With one novel, I sent it to several friends, and one friend thought I should cut one of my sentences. She thought it sounded too juvenile for the character. I was a little bummed because I happened to really like the sentence. I thought it showed the character’s irrational fear in that situation. I was ready to pull it, though, because I thought it wasn’t that important to need to leave it. Then, I read feedback from another friend who loved the line. I left it. But still. I fully considered it first. You have to be willing to murder your darlings, but you have to know when it’s right to keep them, too.
Don’t be afraid of honest feedback. Yes, there will be some things you need to change–sentences that don’t make sense, dialogue that’s awkward, descriptions that run on too long, a plot that goes no where. You want it to be good, don’t you? Even if it means having to face what’s not. No matter how many times you’ve gone through the editing steps, I guarantee you have missed something. Only by having someone else read your work will you discover all those little rough bits that need to be smoothed out.