The aim of constructive feedback is to reach a positive outcome by presenting someone with comments, guidance, information, or recommendations that are useful for their work. Specifically related to an aspiring author, the feedback is meant to help the book reach its full potential. Such feedback needs to be practical and productive. Insults and degrading speak have no place where true constructive feedback is concerned. Putting someone's work down and perhaps blowing their dream of becoming published out of the water, serves no purpose accept a negative one.
When an aspiring author allows me to read their work, I consider it an honor and privilege. I treat it as such. It means they trust their baby, their story, poem, chapter, or book they’ve poured their heart and soul into, to me. If you’re given this honor, you should do the same. If the WIP doesn’t strike you as outstanding or worthy of praise, don’t offer unsolicited advice. Hold back from judgment or criticism. Unless they ask, don’t attempt to fix their mistakes, grammar, spelling, punctuation, or content. Regardless of how you view the material, they have worked hard on their first draft. Sit with it. Think about it. Try to find something positive to say about it.
Perhaps it’s a good story that needs work. Focus on the good story part. Maybe the premise is unique and has potential. Emphasize the prior. Possibly there’s an interesting character or two with redeeming qualities you can comment on. There could be a compelling scene or engaging passage you can help them build upon by offering to brainstorm with them about enhancing that part of the narrative. The title they've chosen might resonate with you, point it out. Doing these things first will help the aspiring author be able to absorb further feedback. I'm not advocating coddling, I'm prescribing kindness.
Refrain from attempting to rewrite their words or story. Instead, support their attempt. Help them feel safe about choosing you to read their work. Once you’ve pointed out some positives, ask if they would be open to some constructive feedback. Keep in mind that not every newbie will feel confident enough to open themselves up to your opinion or anyone’s for that matter. Some tend to be so protective of their work and ego that they are only ready to hear that you like their story.
Once an aspiring author feels secure, and you feel the vibe that they may be ready for some constructive feedback, gently offer some ways to improve the piece. The best and least offensive approach might be to start helping them fix grammar issues, unsavory spelling, and that pesky punctuation.
If I'm requested or commissioned to proofread a written selection, I thank the aspiring author for trusting me with their work. I move on to noting any positives I found. I fix any obvious mistakes as stated above, then make practical suggestions for trimming sentences and paragraphs. I look for conspicuous errors such as that sneaky magilla, head-hopping which is a big no-no. I hunt for inconsistencies like changing the name of a character halfway through the book, but forgetting to use the find and replace function to change it throughout, changing appearance, blue eyes to brown, the old car switcheroo; in one scene the character drives a blue SUV and in the next they’re behind the wheel of a black sports car, or the female main character conceives in September but delivers the baby in August of the following year – that’s an eleven month pregnancy, people. Impossible for a human, so unless your character is an alien, that needs an immediate fix. And let’s not forget the character who has a limp in chapter one but somehow loses it by chapter four, or the playful pup present in the first few chapters who fades into oblivion by chapter seven. Most writers will express thanks that these issues were uncovered and for some it’s an a-ha moment.
The search goes on to discover any plot holes; anything that goes against the flow of logic already established by the story’s plot. These are usually unintended and happen when the writer simply forgets that a new event contradicts a previous one or when while editing, an event was removed, but subsequent events connected to that event were left in. For example, the story originally had two children, but the writer cuts it down to one and neglects to delete later scenes with said child. Oops!
What’s next, you ask? That vexing lack of research that rears its ugly head, I answer. So, your brilliant story takes place in the south, but the characters don’t speak with accents in their dialogue. Uh-oh! The story is set in the 1950s, but the cars in the writer’s descriptions weren’t created until the 1970s. Whoops! That’s a no-go and requires immediate revision throughout.
I strive for kindness, support, and encouragement and I recommend productive advice to help every WIP shine. My goal is to help aspiring authors ready their work for submission or self-publishing. I make every effort to inspire while handing out my best advice and help each writer take inspired action. That could be as simple as encouraging them to create an author website or social media pages.
When I first began on my writing journey to become a published author, I think it’s safe to say my first attempt was a mess as most first drafts are. I wasn’t prepared for the not-so-constructive feedback I received. It was downright mean and unhelpful and that’s putting it nicely. I vowed to never use that approach with anyone requesting my input or editing services.
I learned how to write better, to write with purpose in an interesting, engaging, and concise manner by reading books in different genres and taking note of how authors executed their story and plot, and how they developed characters and wrote dialogue. I researched writing techniques online, drilled down on proper grammar, word counts, genres, story structure, book must-haves, dialogue tags, etc. I wrote and rewrote until I was happy with my work. I made sure to include that edge, that je ne sais quoi to propel my book to its fullest potential. I found alpha and beta readers and listened to their feedback about what worked and what didn’t and made those changes I deemed appropriate.
Writers and aspiring authors submitting work to me for proofreading, receive honest, sensible, and kind constructive feedback to help not only their story, but assist them in growing as a writer. I share my experiences to help them navigate the publishing world and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls I faced.
If you’re an aspiring author, accept feedback with grace. Take your ego out of it. Learn how to put a positive spin on the rejection you feel. If the proofreader or editor isn’t nasty or mean, absorb the suggestions. Maybe they will give your story the oomph you’ve been looking for and it will help improve characters, plot, or dialogue, and make your story sparkle with magic.
Please don’t give up. Your time will come. Write, edit, rewrite, and submit!