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Getting Feedback on Your Novel

So, look at you – you’ve finished your novel! Or should I say you’ve finished the first draft? Because there’s an old saying: books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. And rewriting and editing your book is going to involve you asking for feedback.

Do you Really Want Feedback?

The first thing you need to decide is: do you actually want feedback on your novel, or is what you really want praise?

If what you really want is praise, then the best thing to do is to self-publish paperback copies and give them to your friends and family. They will then praise your achievement in writing the book, and everyone will be happy.

But, if you want to get commercially published (or sell any copies if you self-publish), your first draft is just a preliminary step. Next, you’re going to have to:

  1. Get feedback.
  2. Really listen to the feedback.
  3. Change the novel based on the feedback.

The goal is to improve your novel until it’s good enough that an agent or publisher will pick it up. So, ask yourself, are you sure you’re seriously committed to getting your novel published?

Still here? Okay, then I’ll assume you’re committed to listening, improving and working towards publication. Now, where do we get the feedback you need?

Keep Your Friends Close

The first people that many authors turn to for an opinion on their novel are their friends and family.

Unfortunately, getting feedback on your novel from your friends and family is not very useful, because they:

  • Don’t want to hurt or upset you.
  • May not like the kind of story you’ve written and can’t disassociate critiquing work from liking it.
  • Can’t articulate what it is they like or dislike about your writing.
  • Have no experience of critiquing people’s writing.

For example, a lot of my friends and family have read my work. The most common feedback is:

Oh… er… yes… I… er… haven’t finished it yet… er… I’ve been very busy… er… it’s really good though… er… did you see Game of Thrones?

Second most common is:

It was good… er… I enjoyed it… er… did you see Game of Thrones?

Neither of these reactions are much help.

Give it to me straight, Doc

So, if you want people to give you feedback and critique your work, first you’re going to have to look beyond your friends and family.

Second, if you are getting strangers to review your work, then you have to prepare yourself, because some of them won’t like your work. In fact, some of them will hate it. And they won’t be shy about telling you so, either.

Getting feedback is not for the faint-hearted. Reviewers can be brutally honest, and of course no one can write something that everyone loves. You have to be thick-skinned.

However, if you learn to deal with criticism, feedback can be invaluable.

Feedback: Dealing with Criticism

The first thing to remember is that people are trying to help you, however much it seems as if they are just ripping your work to shreds. The second is that if several reviewers are saying the same thing, they almost certainly have a point. So:


Encourage them with smiles and nods.

Ask for clarification if necessary.

Write down what they say.

Think about how you can use the feedback.

Thank them.


Interrupt or argue.

Dismiss the feedback.

Blame the reviewer for ‘not getting it’.

Insult the reviewer’s taste or intelligence.

Confuse criticism of your book for criticism of you.

Feedback Options

The options for feedback that I’ve tried are:

  1. Using automated critique software.
  2. Posting the manuscript on a fiction website.
  3. Joining a writing group and submitting the manuscript a bit at a time.
  4. Posting the manuscript on a critique website.
  5. Doing a writing course, such as a Creative Writing MA.

There is also the option of getting a paid-for critique from a professional editor or ‘book doctor’, but as I’ve never tried that option, I can’t comment.

Critique Software

Critique software automatically scans your work for writing that, though grammatically correct, might be poor style. For example:

  • Too many adverbs
  • Overused words
  • Repeated words and phrases
  • Clichés
  • Over-complex words and excessively long sentences
  • Vague words and homonyms
  • Alliteration

My preferred critique software is ProWritingAid. I find the repeated words report particularly useful. Its integration with Microsoft Word (an add-on) makes it very usable.

The main issue with automated critique is it can never be 100% accurate—it sometimes highlights things that aren’t really problems. You shouldn’t slavishly follow the advice of the critique software, but use it as a guide.

Overall, I recommend running your work through critique software before getting human feedback, as it can help remove distracting sentence-level errors and leave the humans free to concentrate on story and style issues.

Fiction Websites

These are sites where people post writing, normally on a particular theme (fan fiction sites are one type). Quality is usually ‘variable’ so it isn’t hard to stand out. When I’m writing the first draft of a story, sometimes I post a chapter a week on

There isn’t much formal critique on fiction websites, but you can at least judge from the numbers following the story whether it is working for them. I’ve had failures, where the number of followers dwindled to almost nothing (better to know then rather than later), and I’ve had successes where the audience posted enthusiastic comments – it’s a great morale boost when people are demanding the next instalment.

Writing Groups

The advice I give to all the writers who contact me is: the absolute best thing you can do for your writing is to join a writing group. Writing groups are great for supporting people and helping them to improve their stories. In-person writing groups are best, but there are online groups too.

Usually, writing groups either circulate work and then discuss it during a meeting, or people read out their work at the meeting and get instant feedback on it.

How useful writing groups are depends on the people who go to them. I’ve attended three so far, two of which have been great and one not so much. They can suffer from the same issues that giving work to friends has – being too gentle. At the other extreme, some groups become cliquey or unsupportive enough. People can also get touchy and relationships can break down, at which point the only option is to leave and find a new group.

But when they work, critique groups are invaluable. One advantage is that you can network with other authors – just being around other writers is encouraging.

Critique websites

Critique sites usually operate reciprocally: you review someone else’s work and get credits that mean that other people review your work.

The critique site I used when I was editing A Kill in the Morning was YouWriteOn, which unfortunately is ‘on hiatus’. There are others, Critique Circle, for example.

I recommend using a critique website, although with some caveats.

Critique Websites: Good Points

People aren’t afraid to say what they really think.

You get a sense of what works for the bulk of readers.

Reviewing the occasional gem from someone else.

Lots of eyes on your work.

Varied opinions.

Critique Websites: Bad Points

Eye-wateringly harsh criticism at times.

Limited ability to discuss criticism.

Occasional reviews with no real thought behind them.

You have to review some poor writing.

Writing Courses

I did a Creative Writing MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. I recommend a good MA (MFA in some countries) to any serious writer.

Similar to a writing group, you can use a writing course for networking. Other MA students and the tutors can become a support network. If possible, I’d advise doing a traditional course rather than online, as it is harder to form relationships online.

Writing course critiques are better than online critiques, though not by as much as you’d imagine. Also, in my experience, university creative writing courses admire literary work and look down on genre pieces.

Some people claim a Creative Writing MA acts as a mark of quality that will improve your chances of getting published. There is probably some truth in this, but it’s no panacea.

Feedback: It works!

After I wrote the first draft of A Kill in the Morning, I tried all the ideas above to get feedback, rewriting and editing the manuscript several times. Each draft got better, and the feedback got more and more positive.

Eventually I submitted the novel to the Terry Pratchett Prize, and the judges shortlisted it. That lead to an offer from major publishers Transworld to buy and publish my novel. That wouldn’t have happened without me listening to feedback and improving the novel.

You can read the opening of A Kill in the Morning for free by clicking here or on the cover:
A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin

Feedback: Getting better all the time

A professional attitude to feedback was a critical part of my success and it can be part of yours. Remember the five great options for getting feedback on your novel:

  1. Using automated critique software
  2. Posting chapters on a fiction website.
  3. Joining a writing group and submitting the manuscript a bit at a time.
  4. Posting chapters on a critique website.
  5. Doing a writing course, such as a Creative Writing MA.

Now all you need to do is get out there, get that feedback and rewrite your novel based on it. You’ll see the benefits. And remember:

Books aren't written they're rewritten - Michael Crichton quote

Agree? Disagree?

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