Whether you’re sharing in a group, asking a friend, or meeting a professional one-to-one, asking for feedback is a test of any writer’s mettle but there are ways to make the process less harrowing. Here are six tips on getting it right.
1. Check your intention
If the only reason you’re asking for another’s opinion is to receive praise and admiration of your genius then don’t ask for feedback.
By its very nature, the process of another reviewing your work is to highlight the good but also to point out weaknesses, if improved, which will push the work onwards. Decide before you begin what level of feedback you want and be clear and honest with yourself about why you’ve sought someone else’s opinion.
2. Know your audience
Getting feedback on a piece you’ve slaved over for years with a painstaking devotion from a writer who’s still jotting ideas for the stories they will write (someday) is not going to end well.
Now, that’s not to say that new writers can’t give great feedback – they absolutely can, especially if they’ve read shedloads of novels – it’s just that they might not have the technical knowledge to support their comments, or they may focus on unimportant details. You need to find writers with the same level of the technical skills, or higher, to really get the most out of swapping work.
3. Going to the pros
No matter your stage, if you see an opportunity to have a professional review, via a competition or at an event, then pounce on it! Any writer going through the slog of submissions will tell you that getting any feedback, no matter how brief, from an agent or editor, is something to be chased with gusto.
They are the professionals, after all. Their remarks will be tougher, smarter and possible more sales-focused than you’re used to, but eyes that have seen hundreds (if not thousands) of manuscripts really know their onions.
4. Be brave
Feeling vulnerable when another is looking over your work – whether it’s a close friend or an experienced editor – is natural. It’s instinctive to want to defend your work, or explain it, but listening is the goal.
Be proud of the work you’ve done, stand tall behind it, and you’ll probably find half of the elements you believed were dire are never even mentioned (and therefore not an issue).
A foundation of professional respect is fundamental to any successful exchange of feedback, without it, nastier, more corrosive agendas can intrude, so if you’re going one-to-one, pick someone you trust.
Writing groups are great but go along and listen to their comments before you volunteer to share. If you’re meeting a professional editor in a one-to-one, try and find out as much as you can about them before the meeting – you’ll feel so much more at ease when the time comes.
6. Gratitude – always
If someone else has taken time to read your work, putting aside other diversions, then remember to say thank you. They didn’t have to do it. Whatever their opinion, the next step is your choice, so don’t refute their comments or, worse, argue them – it’s rude and incredibly bad form.
Any piece of feedback that improves your writing, or your skills to create more in the future, is to be received with aplomb.
How to ask for feedback on your writing
1. Be honest with yourself about why you’ve sought someone else’s opinion.
2. When looking for feedback, find people with the same or higher level of technical skills as you.
3. Always pursue opportunities to get professional feedback from editors and agents.
4. Ask for feedback with confidence – be proud of your work.
5. When working one-to-one, choose someone you trust and always do your research.
6. Always, always say thank you.