Every writer needs feedback before publication—every writer and every book. It’s a critical part of the process. In fact, it’s several critical parts of the process, because a savvy writer will come to learn that it’s usually most effective to get different types of feedback at different stages. The types of problems a weekly critique group will catch are not the same types of issues a trusted beta reader will point out.
Finding these different types of readers to give you feedback can be a difficult process in itself. It’s taken me years to find the people whose styles I click with and build a circle of solid working relationships I can count on. There’s a little bit of luck involved, and a whole lot of persistence. If you’re still searching for your people, don’t give up. Keep reaching out, whether in person or online, until you find them. They’re well worth your effort.
Today I’m going to share some of the ‘types’ of readers I use, what their different values are, and when I utilize which read-throughs. Not every writer will need every one of these, mind you, but it should give a good frame of reference for filling out your own (probably ever-changing) circle.
A Weekly Critique Group
This is where I started. I still go to my in-person critique group almost every week. I could do an entire post just about critique groups, but I’ll cut to the chase. A weekly critique group alone is not enough. There are things that no critique group, no matter how good, will ever be able to offer you. But there are other things that only they offer—almost exclusively.
Reading a longer work like a novel split into week-by-weekly digestible chunks does interesting things to perspective. A crit group won’t reliably offer you macro critique, but they will almost always zoom in and offer much more detailed micro critique. Does this scene work within the larger scope of the book? They might not have a sense for that. But does the scene work on its own? They can tell you much more honestly than a beta reader, who’s naturally tempted to view scenes within the larger context. Reading only one scene or chapter at a time and being forced to stop and discuss it before moving on is not the natural pace of reading; it forces more attention to detail and encourages more frequent reflection.
Another good thing about receiving feedback one week at a time is spotting patterns. Most critique groups have a varying membership, often even week to week, so you get a broader range of readers. Though this is occasionally frustrating (when someone doesn’t understand something they missed from a previous week), it can also be enlightening. What feedback do you tend to hear most often? Do different groups tell you the same things about different sections? If so, you can start to home in on your general weaknesses in craft. That’s invaluable data.
Even a trusted critique partner you send material to week by week can’t show you larger trends the way a critique group can. If you have access to an in-person crit group, I highly recommend giving it a fair chance. If you don’t, I’ve found it useful enough that I’d seriously consider starting one. If that’s out of the question, there are many groups run online.
When I use this type: all the time, at every stage of the process. It takes a long time to bring a whole novel in section by section, so I start as early in the project as I can and don’t stop until it’s out on submission.