Getting good feedback on a novel is absolutely crucial to its ultimate success. We all have writing blind spots, it’s tricky to know what is and isn’t on the page, and we need to hear reactions from other people in order to improve the writing and storytelling.
But feedback comes with risks. It isn’t equally helpful at every stage of the writing process, and I’ve often seen it blow writers off course.
Here are some tips on when (and when not) to seek feedback on a novel.
When it’s unhelpful to seek feedback
Ironically enough, the most unhelpful time for feedback is often when you’re most tempted to seek it out: when you’re just getting started.
In the rush of excitement of a new idea, you might be dying to dash something off and see what someone close to you sees in it. You want them to be as excited as you are.
When you’re just starting a new novel, there are two things you’re hoping to find: voice and plot.
But voice takes a while to find. It should be a very personal voyage, because the voice is you. It’s your singular vision, your manifestation on the page, an outlook that no one else in the world can write. Before the clay hardens, voice is vulnerable to outside voices and it’s dangerous to let other voices into your head during this time.
Get farther down the field before you seek feedback. Trust that you should be writing the project because it’s important to you (that’s reason enough), and resist the temptation to get critical feedback this early.
If you still feel like you need a boost, give someone the opening and tell them very explicitly that you only want to hear what they like about it.
The two times to seek feedback
Once you’ve gotten past the 50-75 page mark and the voice has solidified and everything’s flowing, then you’re in a safer place to seek feedback.
But should you?
The absolute ideal time for seeking feedback is when you have polished the novel as much as you can on your own.
The reason for this is pretty simple: If you’ve fixed all the problems you can see, the feedback from an editor will solely be focused on things you can’t see. It isn’t super helpful for an editor to spend half of their energy pointing out things you already know are issues.
Once you’re really finished, every writer should get feedback prior to submitting to an agent or self-publishing. Full stop.
The other time to seek feedback? When you’re stuck.
If things aren’t working but you can’t figure out why, it might be helpful to have an editor take a look. Sometimes they can spot where things went astray, and even just the act of showing the work to someone else and imagining what they’ll think of it will help you get the distance you need to see elements of the plot that might have gone off course.
Ready to seek feedback?
If it’s time to seek feedback, here are some resources that might help:
- How to edit a novel
- How to find and work with a book editor
- What to expect when you work with a freelance editor
- How to respond to a manuscript critique
- Don’t ever ask somebody whether you should keep writing
Do you have any tips for when and when not to seek out feedback? Let me know in the comments!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Die entdeckten Liebesbriefe by Carl Rudolph Sohn