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4 TIPS FOR FINDING GOOD FEEDBACK
by Heather Marie Schuldt
Fiction writers know how important it is to network with other authors. What is the point of writing a story if it is left in a drawer where no one will ever read it? Of course, it can feel like walking in the dark for a new writer to let someone else read their work, but there has to be a first time sometime. All writers new and old face the same question: Who is going to read my story? Even seasoned authors need to ask this question as it becomes more and more important to “make good connections.” One of the most exciting benefits of the Writers 750 Program is that each participant can have their story read by authors and good honest feedback is available for writers who ask.
1. Remain Flexible – Not everyone is open to give or receive feedback. When you are in a small group with one, two, or three other fiction writers, be sure to find out if your recipient has the time. We all have different schedules and work loads. Timing is a key issue when we go about reaching out to one another. Remember, don’t take it personal if someone else cannot participate. Don’t force the issue, but following up can be a real mark of success. Take into account holidays, weekends, vacation days, sick days, and heavy work loads. How you reach out can make all the difference in the world. What you say matters. Be as professional as you can and move on when you need to.
2. Know Your Expectations – Be sure to find out what is expected before you jump into getting feedback. You can be spontaneous if you want to, but your results will most likely be much more effective if both authors are on the same page before you start exchanging feedback. You can write a general critique similar to a book review; these comments can be short or long. You can also make an effort to show personal edits. It can be very helpful and productive when you decide to exchange copies with edits and comments. I have people send me attachments with edits or emails with short stories pasted right in the email where the changes and comments have been marked. It doesn’t really do you any good if you edit a story and send it without highlighting or making your changes stand out. Authors usually want to see where changes have been made. Exchanging free critiques can be a valuable learning experience.
3. Be Honest and Kind – This is where it can get tricky for some people. I’ve just about seen and heard it all when it comes to feedback. You’ll find that some people just won’t like your work no matter what you do; stay away from these people. There is nothing productive about listening to someone who will never like your work. While some authors have thick skin and want to hear the gritty details, no matter how poor the delivery might be, other people will not be so keen with harsh words. Giving a good honest review might come naturally to some people, but others might struggle a bit more when trying to find the words and when making a judgment call. On the other hand, a friend or family member who raves about your work might not really be helping you to make the improvements you need to make. We all know what it’s like to get a good hair cut and a bad hair cut. Some hair dressers are just a bad fit. It’s the same way with giving and receiving good honest feedback. Be thankful if you find someone who can give you the help you need. You might need to search around for a while to find someone who can be helpful and encouraging at the same time. It is a very good idea to let the person know what you are looking for. Again, if you leave the door wide open, then be ready to receive just about anything.
4. Make a Good Effort – My suggestion is to put forth a good effort to give helpful feedback, and be patient to receive it. We’ve all heard the cliche, “What you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it.” You might find yourself in a group with people who are all busy or unable to participate for one reason or another. My suggestion is to leave the busy group to go find out who is available in another group and go from there. It does not do any good to try and force others to participate, so don’t even bother. Authors literally only have so much time to read so much, and it is easy to start a long list of “things to read.” There is no such thing as a slush pile when exchanging feedback. Either you make up your mind to participate or you don’t. If you can get to it later, then set a date, but never leave it in a so called slush pile. Find out who is ready and willing and go where the activity is happening. It could be that all it takes is for you to reach out with a friendly email. Good beta readers are out there, but it takes an effort to find them.
The following list is a group of fiction writers from the OAK STREET writing prompt. These authors will be placed into a small group for a limited time of one month in order to exchange feedback.
SARCASM by Todd Folstad
FORGIVE THY NEIGHBOR by Glenda Reynolds
SHE’S GOOD ENOUGH TO MARRY by David Russell
WHIMS DON’T NEED MIRRORS by Randy H. Martin
TRANSPLANTED by Mary Agrusa
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME by Lena Pate
CAN LOVE CONQUER ALL? by Elaine Faber
THE BLUE LIONS by Norma Freeman
THE CIPHER by Gene Hilgreen
LYNETTE AND ROGER by Rebecca Lacy
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY by Tom Russell
A QUESTIONABLE ENEMY by Fred Burwick
THE PLAN by Karen Hopkins
NUMB by Arlene Lagos
COMING OF AGE by Shelly Heskett Harris
S’NOW WAY THROUGH by Randall Lemon
WHAT’S MY NAME by Martin Meador
OAK STREET GHOSTS by Mike Boggia
A STRANGE OCCURANCE ON OAK STREET by Donna B. Comeaux
Remember, as soon as you make an effort to make a good connection with other serious fiction writers, good things happen.