Getting feedback is one of the most important parts of the writing process, and yet finding it can be one of the most challenging. Critique partners and critique groups are awesome and invaluable resources — use them! But I also like to seek out professional feedback when I can. Professionals can provide more targeted feedback than a critique group might — they work with literature everyday and can root out your problems faster, like a surgeon pulling out a splinter. Unfortunately, time is money to a professional, so getting their feedback as an unpublished writer can be difficult and expensive.
I’ve managed to get professional feedback a few times in my writing career, often for free or cheap. These times have been critical to my improvement as a writer, and have been both humbling and encouraging. I highly recommend seeking out similar opportunities. Here are some tips that have worked for me or others I know, depending on your budget.
FREE FEEDBACK OPPORTUNITIES
- Query feedback offers. Usually you get an impersonal, generalized response to a query letter (“not right for me,” etc.). A personalized response is a sign that the agent liked something about your submission material, even if they are rejecting it. But sometimes, a literary agent or editor will have a limited-time offer to reply with a personalized response to all queries. Often the offer will only be posted on Twitter or Facebook. I did a query feedback offer a while ago and got some really good advice on revisions to the opening pages of a novel. Note that you must have a novel that is ready to query to participate.
- Contests. If you follow publishing professionals on Twitter, you will regularly find contest offers. To enter, sometimes all you have to do is “like” a tweet. Sometimes the reward is a free book or a tote bag. Sometimes the contest is to see who has the best query, and you will get feedback from the other entrants (and from some professionals as well). Sometimes the reward for a contest is professional feedback (feedback on a query letter, first chapter, etc.). I won a contest a few years ago on a literary agent’s blog by writing a 100-word short story. The prize was a critique of the first 30 pages of my novel. The feedback I received gave me invaluable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of my novel, and my writing in general. Contests can be great opportunities!
- Note: The primary place I have learned about free feedback opportunities has been Twitter. If you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out on a big community of writers, editors and literary agents that are delivering thousands of bits of writing advice daily. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for free feedback, Twitter is a good place to find it. (Check hashtags #querytip and #mswl to find literary agents and editors to follow on Twitter.)
BARGAIN FEEDBACK OPPORTUNITIES
- Webinars and online workshops. There are a number of online workshops that are taught by a professional and include a critique by the instructor. These workshops can be as little as $79. I took an $89 Writer’s Digest Webinar last year that included a critique of my query and first chapter of my novel. At that point, I had only written the first few chapters of the novel and the advice I got from the literary agent who taught the course helped me to restructure the novel into a much stronger work. Check out Writer’s Digest Webinars and LitReactor for courses.
- Query critiques. Sometimes an author or editor will offer query critiques for a small fee, such as $25-50. While this critique is only for your pitch (which is important in itself), the reviewer can provide feedback that relates to your novel as a whole. For example, the reviewer might point out that a plot point is problematic, your word count is too high, or your inciting incident is implausible. A good query critique can be a great value because it can lead to important revisions to not just your query, but your novel.
- Charity auctions, etc. Since literary agents don’t directly charge for their services, you can’t usually buy a critique from them unless they’re offering a workshop or something. But some of them do offer critiques for charity from time to time. I recently bid on a 15-minute consultation with a literary agent in an agency charity auction. It was an online, ebay-style auction and the consultations went for about $35-100. I got some really helpful, insightful advice on my current manuscript, which I’m in the revision stages of now, and I was able to support a great cause by donating. These occasional offers can be found on Twitter, Facebook, or literary agency websites or blogs.
- Smaller, local conferences and workshops. Local, one- or two-day conferences might be a good option if you’re looking for professional feedback on a budget. The registration is often under $200 and you won’t need a hotel if it’s local. Sometimes there are a few editors or literary agents in attendance and there is an option to get feedback during the course of the conference. For example, my local chapter of SCWBI offers professional feedback opportunities at their annual conference for a reasonable rate. A writer friend of mine does this every year and keeps coming back for more!
PREMIUM FEEDBACK OPPORTUNITIES
- Big conferences and workshops. One of my writing dreams is to one day go to the Pitch Slam at the annual Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. The conference costs around $500 and the pitch slam is an extra $100, and then I’d need to eat and stay in NYC for a few days. So, the whole thing would cost me around $1,000. The professional feedback would include face-to-face time with agents in the pitch slam and also some workshop opportunities. I tell myself that I will go if I have a novel ready to pitch at the time of the conference, but it is a lot of money. If I was going to splurge on professional feedback, I might go to a big conference like this. Or I would go to a retreat-style writer’s workshop, like Clarion or Big Sur. Obviously, a workshop is better for those who are working on a project and a pitch session is better for those who are pitching a project, so it depends on where you are in the process. I have friends who have gone both routes and have learned a lot from these events.
- Editing services. As you are likely aware, you can hire an editor (or author moonlighting as a freelance editor) to provide feedback or even revisions at just about any stage in the writing process. For a whole manuscript, editing services can run $1,000-2,000 or more. The value of such services can be huge, especially if you’re self-publishing. As with any big purchase, do your research. You can make a list of professional editors that have been recommended by publishing professionals, or sometimes you can ask a publishing professional on Twitter or Tumblr to recommend someone. Then, do more research. Then, contact the person to make sure that your expectations and work styles match up. Then, do more research. After all that, you can agree to pay this person a lot of money for their work. The feedback and guidance you receive will be worth every penny, especially if you are working with someone who understands you, your project, and the market.
- Consultation services. Sometimes professional authors will offer beta reading services, critiques, or other editing for a fee. I have never done one of these, but it sounds like it would be worth it. Someone who has pitched and published several books will certainly be able to provide a fresh perspective on your project that will be worth what you pay for it.
BONUS FEEDBACK IDEA: BE YOUR OWN PUBLISHING PROFESSIONAL
- Internships. An internship with a publisher or literary agency can provide a lot of insight into the publishing business, the market, and what agents and editors are actually looking for. I did a part-time literary agency internship a while ago and it was awesome. I got a lot of insight into the market, the editing process, and the slush pile. It has really helped me to improve as a writer (and hopefully will help me to get published when I am finally done revising my current manuscript!).
- Graduate school. A graduate degree in writing or publishing can be great for your career, depending on your own goals and where you are in your professional development. I spent some time studying writing in grad school, and the feedback and lessons I received were super helpful to me as a writer. That said, grad school is not for everyone. If you’re planning to write fiction only, or have a second career outside of the publishing industry, you might want to think twice before devoting a lot of time and money to a degree you don’t necessarily need. But if you think grad school is a good idea for you, you will emerge with the skillful eye of a professional.
These are just some ideas to consider when looking for professional feedback on your writing. Do you have any experience with professional feedback? Or do you have any tips I missed? Let me know in the comments!
Note: The dollar amounts provided above are estimates — prices change frequently depending on market forces and any dollar amount mentioned above may prove to be inaccurate. As always with this blog, feel free to correct me if I got something wrong.