It can be difficult to get honest, useful feedback as a writer. We can ask for help from friends and other authors we know, but there’s an inherent bias in that they know us. The situation is even worse when it comes to friends and family members.
I know some authors who use a spouse or significant other to bounce ideas off of or ask for help, and I think that’s even more problematic. You can solicit advice from a loved one on story problems, or marketing, or advertising issues, as well as general questions about plot or character. And, your spouse or significant other might be well-versed in storytelling, and familiar with many different types of story archetypes. However, those relationships are difficult to manage without additional baggage. What they think about you is inextricably connected to your art. It is impossible for them to separate how they feel about you as a person versus the story that you are telling. The closer you are to someone, the harder it is to get objective advice from them.
Several websites and services exist to provide feedback. Everything from traditional editing to manuscript diagnostics. These modes of feedback can be helpful, but only to a point. Editors and diagnostics tend to be a single pass, and that relationship is not necessarily reinforced over time. In other words, an editor might provide feedback, but then the author does not get feedback from the editor again unless they rehire the editor. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Some editors will go back through manuscripts multiple times. And it is possible to hire the same editor consistently over time, and because that relationship started as a business relationship, you are more likely to get honest feedback.
Some authors employ “ARC” (advanced review copy) readers or beta readers. These are fans of the author who are usually willing to read an unpublished manuscript for free in exchange for feedback. You can probably already see the conflict of interest here.
Readers might “go easy” on the author because they are a fan, which would make their feedback less than reliable. For some readers, there is an incentive to get free books by becoming an early reader for an author. It is not manipulative and does not imply malicious intent. It simply means that there is less incentive for the reader to criticize the work, possibly jeopardizing future opportunities to read free books before they are published. It is important to remember that these readers love you as the author, and they want you to succeed, so even with the best intentions, their feedback is not as valuable or as objective as it could be.
Critique groups have been a common way for authors to get feedback on a manuscript. Usually done locally as an in-person gathering, these groups meet periodically and take turns critiquing each other’s work. This can be effective, but it can also be a source of unhealthy competition, which is not productive when it comes to evaluating feedback on your manuscript.
I’ve heard stories from authors who participated in critique groups. Some writers show up simply as a way to measure themselves against their peers. And over time, in some of these critique groups, cliques develop, and it is not unusual for criticism to be delivered in a passive-aggressive manner, which benefits the person doing the critiquing.
Sharing your work and experiences in a mastermind group is a safe middle ground between not receiving any feedback and hearing only from people who have a prior relationship with you. You will usually enter a mastermind group without knowing the people in it. You have an opportunity when you first join in establishing a baseline of honesty that will permeate the group for as long as you participate.
In my mastermind groups, I encourage authors to share their scenes directly with each other for feedback. I create a common area where scenes can easily be posted for whoever would like to take a look. Not having an existing relationship makes it easy to provide an objective perspective on a current scene or project.
Feedback on the craft of writing is not the only type of feedback that can be developed within a mastermind group. On the hot seat, people come with a problem or an obstacle, and they’re looking for feedback on what to do about it. This is another opportunity for the participants of the mastermind group, including the person leading it, to provide honest and direct feedback.
People tend to be sensitive about issues concerning financial matters, and even more reluctant to share those details with friends and family. Therefore, my experience has been that sharing problems or concerns around financials are much easier in a mastermind group.
Sometimes, the issue on the hot seat has more to do with the author’s interpersonal life than it does the craft or the business of writing. It is not uncommon to discuss questions about spousal relationships, job concerns, or general productivity while still maintaining a family life. All of these types of issues that are easily discussed in a mastermind group comprised of people who have no prior connection or relationship means there is not an ulterior motive of the person giving the advice. Often, a disagreement with a spouse or significant other can be symptomatic of a root issue. Therefore, discussing that problem with the spouse or significant other can be counterproductive, whereas an outside perspective from the mastermind group can provide insights that might not always be visible to the person having the crisis.
In every aspect of learning, feedback is absolutely critical. And as more studies have been done on how we learn, we continue to discover that short feedback cycles in conjunction with deliberate practice yield the best and quickest results.
The mastermind group is big enough to provide several options, but small enough to make personal recommendations. The regularly scheduled meetings begin to build a foundation of a professional relationship where advice and feedback can be taken and processed without some of the emotional baggage that might come with advice from those closest to us.
Some of those professional relationships may even blossom into lifelong friendships.
Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/