Great Expectations – Getting Feedback at Every Level

One of the things that’s most challenging about being a writer is what to do with the story once it’s done, and who you go to for help. Who do you ask for feedback and what should you expect from that feedback?

It’s worth pointing out that you can write for fun, but asking someone else to review your work is challenging to get that feedback, and you’re also asking for their help and time. A few days ago I noted some interesting opinions on what work a beta should do, or shouldn’t do, and what really belongs in the realm of a developmental editor. Some of it I felt was wrong, some of it was just a different opinion, but before you do anything, you should do your research, so you know and understand what to expect. This is what I tell everyone I beta read for; go and get feedback from someone else so you have a comparison.

But first, lets break some of these feedback levels down so you know what you’re looking at, before we talk about how you receive that feedback.

Beta Readers:

These are typically other writer friends, or people who read a lot. They know what to expect from a story and they’re there to pick up the smaller feedback. Typos, things on one scene and not another, changes of colour in clothes. Oddities that may stick out to the reader and not give the same sense of flow. The idea of beta’s is often a “test” reader as you don’t want those small mistakes to distract the reader from the story.

With these suggestions, some of them can be just opinions though. I once had a scene one beta loved, another hated, and a third was ambivalent. You have more options around what feedback you take on from a beta. It’s still important to respect the feedback, but it might not be what you are looking for.

While many betas are happy to exchange, you read mine and I’ll read yours, in the same way you would with a CP or Critique Partner, they are still often doing this work for you for very little in return. It’s important to appreciate the people doing this work, and how they are helping you make your story as strong as it can be. But they shouldn’t have to do the work of a CP or developmental editor. They are the last eyes fine tuning minor issues. Major issues would be better addressed earlier in the process, like with a CP.

Critique Partners:

Here we have the writing friend. The one you go to when your ideas suck, and you don’t know whether you should start them at all. Other times its to be that support. To listen to an idea that has weak legs, struggling to stand, but can see the potential and help steady them out. You’ll swap stories and often be very thorough and critical in your analysis of the work.

You want it to be the best it can, and you want the best from them and for them. It’s not always an easy relationship, sometimes getting hard news is hard but I’ll talk about that more below. Often the critique partner is a beta built up over a long period of beta story swapping, and often this other person is well into the creative journey, especially if you have a CP who is more experienced than you. They can help give you the tools you need to address plot holes, and character agency. They’ll often have good knowledge bases for comparative titles, or where to find what info you need.

Again, this is a relationship, so you build on it, but a CP often does the work with nothing in mind except you work with each other, not for one another. A service with more in depth work would be closer to a developmental editor and that’s a very different brand of work.

Developmental Editor:

This is where you are often engaging a full service. A paid professional who’s trained in editing, has qualifications, and knows their way around a story. They are there to dig deep into the story, to find its bones and make sure you have a full skeleton. To make sure all the characters have a purpose, the plot flows along the beats, and the narration and story start with the right character at the right time.

This often involves two levels of work. A read through line by line, and an analysis at the end of that read through with a focus on world building, plot, character development, conflict, subplots. Sometimes this is very detailed, but other times it’s a quick overview and this is often about where you are in the process. Many editors will offer samples or to have a quick look to see how much work is involved, as the stage the story is at can be different depending on where the story itself is up to with the writer. Some will offer sample chapters and this is a good sign because you can see what they are like to work with, but you also shouldn’t expect it because it’s their time and labor for free.

And often, they are going to be addressing things that make you uncomfortable. That challenge the story.

The important thing about it, is that you understand they are trying to make the story better, they are going to be asking for some very fundamental changes, and that you are OK or at least open to discuss those kinds of changes with the story. Because some of it may not be what you want to hear.

When it comes to feedback, it often feels like you are trying to unscramble your brain. You’ve already poured all the hours (MANY hours) into writing the damn thing. How on earth are you expected to go back and go over it again, and again, and again. It’s all part of the polishing process, but its different when people see your story differently from you.

It’s a good idea to read the initial feedback, sit back and let it digest. Put your ego aside and decide for yourself if the direction they are going is the right direction for the story, and often the answer is yes. Just because it’s a paid service doesn’t mean that editors don’t put their heart and soul into your story. Because they do. Some of my editors I’ve come to absolutely love how they championed by stories. They helped me believe in my stories. Even if they ask for the work from me, and make me face hard truths about my writing.

You need to remember that you’ve stripped from the canvas of your imagination a widescreen panoramic immersive tale, to shove it into twenty six letters for another human being to understand. You may not convey everything you want in such a form and the editing process is there to see the vision come alive. To make the experience as immersive for the reader, so they can share that piece of you. That also means allowing room to admit that our ability to wield this very clunky tool that is writing, might be flawed. But with every bit of feedback, you learn a little something different and better about your writing, and a lot of the time you get to find out where you shine too.

2 responses to “Great Expectations – Getting Feedback at Every Level”

  1. I love your clear delineation between the different types of people who read a manuscript before it’s published. I think it’s especially important to note that beta readers and critique partners are great, but they aren’t a replacement for a developmental editor. And I absolutely agree that space between reading the comments and acting on them (either by asking questions or jumping into editing) is so, so, so important.


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