You’ve written your novel. You’ve revised and edited it multiple times. Now you know it so well that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You need critical reader feedback -ideally from observant readers and writers with different strengths and experience to yours to help hone your craft, and ready your novel for querying or self publishing. So where can you find effective critical readers? And do you need a sensitivity reader or an editor? Once you’ve had feedback and used it to edit your novel, how will you know when you’ve finished editing?
Five Free Feedback Options
My search for critical readers began with Scribophile, an online community where writers earn karma points for critiquing each other’s chapters and where gaining enough points lets you post your own chapter for feedback. The free version involves posting one chapter at a time, so its a good space to seek line edit or within-chapter feedback.
However, if you work at a different pace to other writers, you may critique their chapter 1, then find their chapter 4 is ready (my experience). As a reader, you can end up reading single chapters many novels, without reading whole stories. As a writer, it can be difficult to get feedback on plot and character development across chapters and feedback from the same readers on multiple chapters. I received some good feedback on Scribophile, but there were issues across my opening chapters its readers didn’t get the chance to spot. So if you’re seeking feedback on plot and character arcs, you may need a paid membership for autonomy over who reads your chapters and when.
2. Critique Circle is similar, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say how it compares.
3. Twitter Or Instagram’s Writing Community
If you don’t have writer contacts, its well worth joining Twitter’s or Instagram’s writing community. (For advice on getting started, see this post.) Whether you’ve made writer friends and chatted about your novel, or are new to either social media, you can post asking who’s willing to trade feedback (or just asking for beta readers, but you’re more likely to get a critical reader if you’re willing to be one).
I’d share a brief blurb of your work (use a paragraph long pitch for Insta or as a graphic on Twitter, if you’ve written one). I’d also mention if you’re willing to trade just opening chapters, even if you’d ideally like feedback on the whole novel. My last round of chapter swaps was going to be opening chapters only, but it became the opening third of the novel, so you never know. I’d also mention any genres you prefer to read or prefer your critique partner to write. You’ll need relevant hashtags too -see below- but don’t use as many as I have on the right, when I was new to Twitter. A hashtag for CP’s, one for beta readers and one for your genre should be enough on Twitter.
On Twitter I suggest including #CritiquePartner and or #BetaReaders in your tweet, and searching both in the search bar, to see who else is looking for critical readers and reply to any likely seeming people seeking critique partners.
Hosted Critical Reader Meet Ups on Twitter
#BetaBash by @Madeline_Pine is a quarterly event to help writers and beta readers get to know each other. This is a series of hosted prompts you can find on the hashtag and tweet about your writing in reply to, including the blurb, audience age and genre for potential beta readers. For more details, see their website.
#CPMatch by @Megan_Lally is another quarterly tag, this one for tweeting straight up your blurb, genre and audience age to fellow writers willing to trade MS’s with each other, to give and receive feedback.
On Instagram the most popular tags are #Beta Reader and #BetaReaders, but you’ll also find some posts on #CritiquePartner and #CritiquePartners. Again, I suggest not only posting about finding critical readers, but searching the above tags on Insta to see posts by other writers seeking critique partners and replying to those as you wish.
Two of my critique partners from Twitter edited much faster than I did, so we only traded the first 6 and 9 chapters respectively, but the feedback they gave was useful in addressing issues with character logic and pacing beyond my chapters they read. One beta reader read up to halfway through my Act 2, while the third critique partner (a twitter friend) and I critiqued each other’s whole novel. Depending on all sorts of circumstances, a critique partner or beta reader may not make it to the end of your novel, but they’re my favourite way to get feedback on all aspects of it.
4. Facebook Groups
There are a LOT of critical reader groups on Facebook. This one is for finding Fantasy Beta and ARC readers (the latter providing reviews of the finished draft before the book is released). I’m a member of it and have seen writers posting and getting a few offers to read, though I haven’t sought readers there myself. I suggest searching your genre and ‘critical readers’ on Facebook, to find a relevant group for your writing. You may like to search your sub-genre and ‘critical readers’ too, as there are several sub-genre critical reader groups for romance, and there may be for other genres.
If you haven’t heard of it, Discord began with gamers, but there are a growing number of writer groups on it now. A Discord server can have as many channels (each acting as a communal feed), covering as many topics as its admins like. A lot of writer Discord groups have channels for seeking critical readers, where you can write a blurb of your book and see if anyone’s interested.
To find Discord group descriptions and invitations to visit them on Twitter, type ‘Discord’ and ‘#WritingCommunity’ into the Twitter search bar, or tweet to your ask followers if they can recommend one. If you’d like an invite to the server myself and @LeiaTalon are co-admins of, you’re welcome to reply to the the tweet on the right or DM me on Twitter and I’ll DM you the link. Alternatively, send me a message on Facebook.
Three Mentoring Programs to Apply For
If you’ve had feedback from critical readers, but would like more, from more experienced writers than yourself, there are three mentoring programs which involve matching writers with mentors. You’d need to be prepared to work in close partnerships for this option, as mentors provide manuscript editing notes and work with you to help prepare your novel for querying. You also have to be lucky, as there are far more writers seeking mentors than available mentors.
For #AuthorMentorMatch and #Pitchwars, the mentors are authors. For #Revpit they are editors. #Pitchwars mentors also give editorial feedback on your query package.
1 #AuthorMentorMatch, is run by @AuthorMentorMatch and occurs in January. For more details, visit the Author Mentor Match website. For the prompts/ chats leading up to submissions, see the #AMM hashtag on twitter.
Paid Editing Feedback
If you can afford a ($45 US) fee for your opening chapters to be marked on a rubric covering characters, setting, pace, plot, stakes -the works, by editors or writers with writing degrees -I highly recommend entering Ink & Insights (open March to June). I entered 2 different manuscripts on 3 occasions, and received 4 pages of helpful comments (one from each judge) each time, with a detailed rubric. You are numerically scored by all 4 judges, and while one loved both manuscripts and scored them highly, one wasn’t fussed and gave them a low score, and the other two scored my manuscript in the middle, the constructive feedback from all four (on both occasions) was consistent. That feedback and the rubric were helpful in pinpointing specific aspects my next rounds of edits needed to focus on.
If your wip features characters from marginalised groups to which you do not belong and touches on issues affecting those groups, it may be appropriate for you to hire a sensitivity reader. Ideally, you have done your homework on the marginalised group(s) in question, but a sensitivity reader may pick up on issues which neither your lived experience nor Google can tell you. If you’d like to know more about sensitivity readers and whether or not you may need to hire one, this article may help.
Am I Finished? & Do I Need an Editor?
Identifying when you have finished editing can be a huge challenge, especially with a first novel. Despite how helpful my Ink & Insights comments and feedback from four critical readers were -my revisions based on that only targeted the symptoms of some underlying problems. After my first round of beta informed edits, instinct told me some aspects still weren’t up to scratch, but I wasn’t aware of all the issues or how to ‘fix’ the ones I knew. I sent my novel to another beta reader and edited again, but the final solutions to story tension and fully developing my point of view characters (the fourth of whom I wrote into the novel at her suggestion) came from my editor Amelia Wiens. After two developmental edit passes with her, I am finally confident I’m ready to query.
Deciding whether hiring an editor is worth your while depends on your personal circumstances and goals. In my case, I could afford a developmental edit, and I saw it as a personal crash course in developing characters and story tension, from which I learned lessons I can apply to all my future novels. For that reason, whether I traditional or Indie publish my first novel -I think it was worth the money.
It’s normal to have doubts about editing ‘completion’, especially in the uncharted waters of editing a first novel, but I suggest trusting your instincts and your toughest, constructive -ideally more experienced writers than you are critics- when judging if you’re ready to query or self publish. As there’s only so much time and energy unpaid beta readers and critique partners can put into their feedback, and as it’s hard to identify gaps in your own knowledge of writing craft -and your application of it to your novel, if you want to edit an as-yet-un-agented or soon-to-be-self-published novel to the highest standard you can, I suggest investing in an editor.
If You Are Considering Hiring an Editor -get a sample edit! Check if they understand what you’re trying to do with your novel, and if there’s indications that working with them will be a valuable learning experience, as well as making your novel a more engaging read -for literary agents or readers.
If You’re Self Publishing Your First Book on a tight budget and are approaching editing from the position of ‘can I afford it and still make any money on my book?’, here’s some well reasoned advice by editor Derek Murphy on why hiring an editor may not be the best idea. (He describes his services in this post, but he does so in the context of giving ball park figures for developmental and copy editing and proof reading costs.)
For Definitions of developmental & Copy Editing and Proof Reading Services, with clear examples and advice on which order its best to use these services in, see Hiring an Editor, Should I Spend the Money? by Maryleee MacDonald.
5 Things Author’s Need To Know Before Hiring an editor (an interview with editor Staci Frenes by Mixtus Media) is also a good read, detailing the benefits of hiring an editor and giving advice on finding a professional, reliable editor who’s likely to be a good fit for your book.
Tips to Tell if Your Editing is Finished
Have you rectified issues which could get you rejected by a literary agent?
Even if you intend to self publish, looking at resources where literary agents state reasons they tend to pass on submissions can improve the quality of your work. In this video 7 agents give 3 reasons for rejecting an MS, while in this one Meg Latore talks about why literary agents may reject the first five pages. Both videos can act as partial “have I finished editing yet?” checklists.
A Final Test of Editing Being Finished
Can you pitch your novel? Can you, in Query Sharks ‘sweet spot’ of 250-350 words;
–Introduce your Main Character (+ their want/ goal if you like)
–Introduce their inciting event, the central conflict & stakes
–Mention a major complication to MC ability to resolve conflict, including increased stakes (if applicable)
–Mention character growth that must occur for the MC to resolve the conflict and avoid the stakes/ the impossible choice the MC must make?
When I pitched in my first two Pitmad’s, I had trouble defining my MC’s goal and character growth they needed to undertake to reconcile the external conflict. There were still gaps and ambiguity in my main character’s arc (the one’s my editor later helped with). Everyone finds writing a pitch difficult. It takes ages. But if, after reading pitch crafting advice like the articles I’ve linked here and receiving feedback (possibly multiple rounds of it), from other writers, you still struggle to nail down any of the pitch ingredients above, there may be a hole in your character or external plot arc. In that case, I suggest using resources on plot and character development like this one by Susan Dennard) to help you identify the hole and plan another structural edit.
Whichever stage of the editing process you’re at -good luck!
Further Reading (Resources Linked Above)
Critical Reader Sites
Paid Critique: Ink & Insights
Critical Reader Resources
Do you really need a book editor by editor Derek Murphy.
Hiring an Editor, Should I Spend the Money? by Maryleee MacDonald.
5 Things Author’s Need To Know Before Hiring an editor (an interview with editor Staci Frenes by Mixtus Media)