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How to Ask for Feedback on your Book (And Make the Most of It)

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Feedback is a vital tool in the journey of transforming your manuscript from a good story into a great book. Whether you're a seasoned author or a newbie in the literary world, seeking feedback can be an incredibly valuable step towards honing your craft and creating a more engaging reading experience for your audience. Constructive criticism, fresh insights, and different perspectives can help you identify blind spots, strengthen weak areas, and amplify the strengths of your work.

But knowing when and how to ask for feedback on your book can really help you make the most out of the feedback you get.

Is Getting Feedback Before Publishing Really That Important?

In a word: yes.

As authors, we tend to get so immersed in our own stories we struggle to view them objectively. From the moment we have the idea to write that book, we live, eat, and breathe that book every second of every day. We edit scenes in our heads while we're doing the dishes, thinking up new plot points while we shower, and we dream up new characters while we…um…dream.

Feedback serves as a mirror reflecting both the triumphs and shortcomings of our literary creation. That's why getting feedback throughout the writing process is so important—it offers an invaluable external viewpoint that helps us see our work through the eyes of others. Not only does feedback shed light on elements like plot development, character arcs, pacing, and dialogue; it also reveals how readers are connecting with and interpreting our words.

It allows us to gauge whether our intended message is being effectively conveyed or if adjustments are necessary. By embracing constructive criticism with an open mind, we can refine our writing skills and create a more resonant narrative that captivates readers on multiple levels.

How to Approach Asking for Feedback

alpha reader or beta reader sitting with a laptop and getting ready to take notes for the blog post "How to Ask for Feedback on your Book (And Make the Most of It)"

Asking for feedback can be daunting—after all, you're essentially exposing your creative baby to others' scrutiny—but with the right approach, it can become an enlightening experience. First and foremost, approach seeking feedback with humility and a genuine desire for growth.

Remember that every opinion matters; even seemingly small suggestions can lead to significant improvements in your manuscript. Additionally, choose individuals who align with your target audience or have professional expertise within your genre.

Their insights will be more tailored and valuable. Seek out beta readers, writing groups, or critique partners who can provide honest and constructive feedback.

These fellow writers and readers will not only help you identify areas that need improvement but also support your journey as a writer. When approaching potential reviewers, be clear about your expectations.

Communicate whether you're seeking overall thoughts on the story's flow, character development, or even grammar and punctuation. By clarifying what kind of feedback you're looking for upfront, you can ensure that reviewers provide insights that align with your goals as an author.

Preparing to Ask for Feedback

Understanding your goals and expectations

When it comes to asking for feedback on your book, it's essential to have a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve through the process. Are you seeking validation for your writing skills, looking for areas of improvement, or aiming to polish your manuscript before publication?

By setting specific goals, you can better guide your feedback request and filter out the most relevant insights. For example, if your goal is to enhance the pacing of your story or strengthen character development, make sure to communicate this clearly when seeking feedback.

Identifying potential readers or critique partners

Choosing the right people to provide feedback on your book is crucial in gaining valuable insights. Look for individuals who possess knowledge or interest in the genre you're writing in; they will likely provide more targeted and insightful comments.

Consider reaching out to fellow writers within writing communities or attending local critique groups where you can exchange manuscripts with like-minded individuals. It's important not only to find people who are willing to offer constructive criticism but also those who understand the delicate balance between being honest and supportive.

Types of Readers You Can Ask for Feedback

You've probably already heard terms like alpha readers, beta readers, and sensitivity readers being thrown about in different writers groups and chats, but do you know what they are and what they do?

Alpha Readers: Alpha Readers are typically the very first people to read your book (other than you, of course) to provide feedback. Because alpha readers come in so early in the process, they are perfect for helping with developmental feedback:

  • Plot holes
  • Character development
  • Themes and direction
  • Typos and grammatical issues as applicable (it's not really their focus, but they do usually point out these types of mistakes as they find them)

Sensitivity Readers: Sensitivity Readers provide feedback for sensitive topics you might have included in your manuscript:

  • Diverse character inclusion, voice, and presence
  • Representation of LGBTQIA+ characters
  • Representation of other marginalized voices
  • Inclusion of survivors of certain traumas

If your book contains characters representing a population you do not have intimate experience in, then asking for feedback from a sensitivity reader can help make sure you give those characters the respectful representation they deserve. Sensitivity readers can help provide feedback on these characters such as:

  • Avoiding character “tokenism”
  • Checking for offensive material
  • Checking for harmful stereotypes and tropes

Beta Readers: The term “Beta Readers” is probably the term you hear the most often; a lot of people use “beta readers” when they are referring to any sort of pre-publication reader. As such, many authors will sometimes ask beta readers for the same type of feedback they would ask from an alpha reader or a sensitivity reader. However, beta readers are traditionally there for market feedback of your book:

  • Establishing reader expectations based on materials
  • Confirming book genre and category
  • Feedback regarding areas of improvement, such as weak dialogue or deeper descriptions
  • Overall reader experience

The feedback you get from your beta readers can help you with final improvements and marketing plans for your book before you start formatting.

Critique Partners: Critique Partners, as the name implies, are writers you partner up with to exchange feedback on your manuscripts. The type of feedback you receive (and reciprocate to your partner) could be from the alpha reader stage or the beta reader stage. In fact, if your critique partner also happens to be able to serve as a sensitivity reader, they can do that too.

When is the Best Time to Ask Pre-Publication Readers for Feedback

The most important part of getting feedback is being able to implement that feedback, otherwise, all you have is a list of opinions from a lot of different readers. But getting market feedback before you've finished developing the story or getting sensitivity feedback before you've structured your character arcs makes it hard to implement and doesn't give you the tools you need to complete the steps beforehand.

Yes, there are a lot of people you could ask for feedback, and now you're probably wondering whether or not you actually need to find each type of writer and when you should start looking. One of the questions I get asked all the time is “when is the best time to ask my beta readers for feedback?” Knowing exactly when to ask for their feedback can help you make the most out of that feedback once you get it.

The best times to ask alpha readers, beta readers, and sensitivity readers for their feedback:

  1. Alpha Readers: because alpha readers provide developmental feedback that is important to the foundation and structure of the plot and characters, the best time to ask for their feedback is after you have finished writing the first draft of your book but before you start the full developmental edit of your book (or before you hire a developmental editor if you are hiring one). This way, you can be sure that the feedback you've received from your alpha readers can be implemented during the edit, just be sure to send it along with your manuscript to the developmental editor you hire (or keep it at the ready if you are doing the developmental edit yourself).
  2. Sensitivity Readers: because sensitivity readers provide feedback on the voice and presence of certain characters, the best time to ask for their feedback is after you've finished the developmental edit but before you've started the line edit of your book (or before you hire a line editor if you are hiring one). This way, your sensitivity readers will be able to read a complete story that tells them what it is you want to happen so they can give you better feedback about the overall representation and voice you are trying to give those characters.
  3. Beta Readers: because beta readers provide market and audience feedback, the best time to ask for their feedback is after you've finished the proofreading. Beta readers generally receive a copy similar to one you would either send to a formatter (if you are self-publishing) or send to an agent (if you are hoping to get traditionally published), so their copy is already very cleaned up and ready to be read.
  4. Critique Partners: when you pair off with a critique partner, you typically exchange feedback several times throughout the process, so the type of feedback you ask for will depend on which step of the process you are at the time.

Receiving Feedback Gracefully

Feedback can be tough to hear, especially when it highlights areas where your book may need improvement. I mean, we all put our hearts and souls into that book, right? Who wants to hear that the culmination of our heart and soul needs improvement?

However, receiving feedback gracefully is paramount to the growth and refinement of your work.

To begin, keep an open mind and remind yourself that the goal is to enhance your book, not defend every word on the page.

Approach feedback as an opportunity for growth rather than a personal attack. One vital aspect of receiving feedback gracefully is avoiding defensiveness.

It's natural to feel protective of your work and become defensive when faced with criticism. However, it's crucial to remember that constructive criticism comes from a place of wanting to help you improve.

Taking Notes and Organizing Feedback Effectively

When receiving feedback on your book, taking notes is essential for capturing all the suggestions and observations shared by others. Have a dedicated notebook or digital document where you can jot down key points during discussions or while reading written feedback. This will help you retain information accurately without relying solely on memory.

But note-taking alone isn't enough; organizing the received feedback effectively is equally crucial. One way to accomplish this is by categorizing the feedback into different areas such as plot, characters, dialogue, pacing, or prose style.

By sorting the critique in this manner, you gain clarity about specific aspects of your book that need attention. Additionally, organizing by category allows you to delve deeper into each element separately during revisions rather than feeling overwhelmed by tackling everything at once.

I like having a form that I can send out to my readers for them to fill out once they've finished; this way, the form guides alpha readers, beta readers, and sensitivity readers through exactly the type of feedback I need from them but still allows them to write in whatever other thoughts they might want to let me know about. I've found that without some guidance, a lot of readers try to give feedback on everything they see, which sometimes means a lot of readers send me a list of errors they found but also forget to send me details about their reaction to the story.

Categorizing Feedback into Different Areas (e.g., Plot, Characters)

Categorizing the received feedback into different areas helps you gain a comprehensive understanding of the aspects that require improvement in your book. Start by creating sections in your notebook or document for each category, such as plot, characters, dialogue, setting, and structure.

As you go through the feedback, assign each comment or suggestion to the appropriate section. For instance, if a reader points out that the plot lacks tension and feels predictable, jot it down under the plot section.

Similarly, if someone suggests that your characters lack depth or their motivations aren't clear enough, note it under the characters category. By organizing feedback this way, you can easily refer back to specific areas during revisions and ensure that no aspect of your book is overlooked.

Prioritizing Which Aspects to Focus on First

Once you have organized and categorized all the feedback received on different aspects of your book, it's time to prioritize which areas to focus on first during revisions. Not all suggestions will resonate equally with you or align with your vision for the book. Some may be minor tweaks while others could require significant rewrites.

To determine priorities effectively, consider both the frequency and impact of specific suggestions. If multiple readers mention similar issues pertaining to character development or pacing, it indicates an area where immediate attention may be beneficial.

On the other hand, if a single critique addresses an aspect that feels subjective or doesn't align with your artistic direction for the story, it may be okay to place it lower on the priority list. Remember that prioritizing doesn't dismiss any feedback but helps you allocate your time and energy efficiently while maintaining focus on improving critical elements of your book first.

Analyzing and Applying Feedback

Identifying recurring themes or patterns in the feedback received

Once you've received feedback on your book, it's important to carefully analyze and identify any recurring themes or patterns that emerge. Look for common points raised by multiple readers, as these are likely areas that need your attention. Is there consistent feedback about a particular character being underdeveloped or a plot point feeling unresolved?

Take note of those issues as they may indicate where improvements are required. Pay close attention to not only what readers say but also how they say it.

Sometimes the tone or intensity of certain comments can reveal deeper concerns that might not have been explicitly stated. For example, if several readers mention feeling confused during a particular chapter, it could be an indication of unclear writing or a need for more explicit explanations.

Evaluating which suggestions align with your vision for the book—While feedback is valuable, remember that ultimately, you are the author and have a vision for your book. As you review the suggestions provided by your readers, evaluate them based on how well they align with your overall goals and intentions for the story.

Consider whether implementing certain changes would enhance or compromise the essence of your writing. Not all feedback will necessarily resonate with you, and that's perfectly okay.

Trust yourself as an artist to make judicious decisions about which suggestions to apply and which to leave aside. Keep in mind that seeking feedback doesn't mean you have to follow every suggestion blindly; rather, use it as a tool to help you refine your work while staying true to your creative vision.

Making informed decisions on what changes to implement—When faced with various suggestions from different readers, making informed decisions about which changes to implement can be challenging. It's essential to approach this process with a discerning eye and a clear understanding of your objectives.

One effective strategy is to prioritize the most critical issues first – those that, if addressed, will have the most significant impact on the overall quality of your book. Consider whether implementing a particular change will enhance the clarity, pacing, or emotional resonance of your story.

Additionally, evaluate how changes in one area might impact other aspects of your writing. As you make these decisions, ensure that you are consistent throughout your narrative and avoid introducing inconsistencies or plot holes by accident.

Remember that making revisions based on feedback is an iterative process. Take time to review and revise multiple drafts as necessary until you feel confident that the changes enhance your book without compromising its integrity.

Want a head start on your feedback form? You can go ahead and grab a copy of my template for just $3:

Manuscript Feedback Form for alpha readers, beta readers, sensitivity readers, and critique partners (screenshot of Google Form and PDF)

Grab the Manuscript Feedback Form Template

While you appreciate all the help your critique partners, alpha readers, and beta readers are giving you by reading your manuscript, you also need to be able to sift through all that feedback and apply the most helpful pieces, right?

Then you need this editable template designed to help you create an easy-to-follow feedback form you can send your alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners to guide them through the feedback process.

Best Places to Find Readers to Ask for Feedback

Your Author Platform

The absolute best place to find alpha readers, sensitivity readers, or beta readers for your manuscript is from within your existing community, bar none. As you work to build your author platform, you start gaining a following of people who are interested in you as an author even before your book is published. These are the perfect place to find your readers:

  • Ask the people subscribed to your email list
  • Ask your blog or patreon subscribers
  • Ask your social media followers

These are people who are already invested in seeing you succeed and already like you, so they will likely want to help you in any way they can.

Reading Communities

If you haven't started building up your platform yet, or if you don't have a community to pull from, the next best place to find readers for feedback will be to look at reading communities: groups of people who enjoy reading and talking about all the books they're reading. If you're hanging out in these types of communities, then you already know how vast they are.

The only thing you have to be careful of if you hang out in reading communities is that they are different than writing communities. A lot of people tend to think that “book lovers are book lovers” regardless if they are reading or writing the books. And it is true that a lot of writers gained their love of writing by first having a love of reading. But writers look at books differently than readers do.

Additionally, having authors hanging out in reading communities can make readers nervous and uncomfortable, especially when you know that some authors have attacked their readers for things like posting anything less than a 5-star review.

Nonetheless, reading communities are still the second best place to find readers who might be willing to give you feedback for your book, especially the market feedback you'd get from the beta readers. So, if you want to go this route, just tread lightly and remember that you are in a reading community as a guest.

Readers are good people—they won't mind 🙂

Writing Communities

If you want more editorial feedback (or if you just can't seem to find anyone inside a reading community), the next best place to find feedback will be in the writing communities.

If you're not already in a writing group, they are pretty easy to find, especially on community-oriented platforms like Facebook and Clubhouse. Once again, writers and readers each approach storytelling and books from different perspectives, so you may not be able to get an accurate level of market feedback from writers, but you will definitely be able to get editorial feedback and, if the writers agreeing to give you feedback are more experienced than you are, you may even be able to get some insights into publishing trends as they relate to your book.

Paid Resources

When all else fails, you can always hire readers to give you feedback for your book.

Please note: I really do mean “when all else fails“. Alpha readers, sensitivity readers, and beta readers are typically volunteers and it's not common practice to hire them.

In fact, it's so uncommon to have to hire and pay for alpha readers, sensitivity readers, and beta readers that if you ask about it in most writing groups they will tell you it's a scam. That said, and sometimes paying for feedback is the only option.

People who charge for their manuscript critiques tend to handle that feedback professionally, providing thorough feedback in a tight deadline. So, if you're in a pinch and don't have any other readers, this might be the perfect option for you.

Final Thoughts on How to Ask for Feedback on your Book (And Make the Most of It)

Constructive criticism is a gift that helps us grow as writers. Seeking out different perspectives allows us to gain valuable insights we may have overlooked and make our manuscripts even better. Embrace the opportunity to expand your pool of beta readers or critique partners, engaging with fellow writers in writing communities and connecting with potential readers from the target audience.

By doing so, you'll receive diverse perspectives that will enrich your understanding of how different people perceive and engage with your story. Remember, writing is not just about perfecting our craft; it's about connecting with others through our words.

So keep asking for feedback, keep learning and evolving, and most importantly, keep writing with passion. Your book deserves it, and the world is waiting for your story!

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