By Sarah Beaudette
As a former Author Services manager at Amazon, an editor, and a writer myself, I've worked with authors at every stage of their careers. I always recognize the authors who are destined for success by their driving, thick-skinned desire to see their own work improve. Even if they're already really good writers.
Serious authors seek professional pre-publishing feedback, and they pay attention to what that feedback tells them.
You can find beta readers for free, but a professional, unbiased manuscript critique from a trusted source is worth every penny. These are three point authors don’t always understand about manuscript critiques:
Readers you know are biased, even if they try not to be.
Think back to the last time you read a peer’s work. Best case scenario, you had a high opinion of the author. As you wrote your notes, here are some thoughts that could have influenced your feedback even if you were deliberately striving for honesty:
[Author]’s been working on this book for so long. I know she doesn’t want to do another major revision.
[Author] is such a cool person. We should, like, schedule a playdate for our dogs or something.
I remember that other amazing thing [author] wrote. This piece is probably really good too.
These are positive biases, and they're detrimental to your work.
Anyone who knows you could unintentionally downplay critical feedback, or phrase it to sound less important than it is. I've been beta reading for years, and I still fight the urge to downplay critical feedback of my friends’ work.
A manuscript critique from a professional stranger should be worded gently and constructively, but it won't pull any punches. Manuscript critique services survives by their ability to help you write a better book, and they can’t do that by flattering you. On the other hand, they’re also great at delivering critical messages in a clear, constructive, and gentle way.
You only get one shot to write a good book. Many authors miss that chance.
Two common reasons authors contact Amazon or Goodreads is to ask the company to take down a negative review, or the book's listing altogether because the author has decided to revise.
Unfortunately, major platforms usually can’t honor either request. Listen to me: there is no version control in publishing. Once your book is out there, it's out there for eternity.
And no matter how much you may disagree with a reader’s opinion, the book review platform views that opinion as valid.
It's better to sample reader opinions before you publish, and manuscript critique services that offer more than one reader will be more persuasive because they can provide consensus.
You can always decide not to make any revisions at all, and the money you invested in a manuscript critique is still worth it because you’ve had the chance to decide for yourself. Chances are, however, the manuscript critique will reveal something you missed.
Believe it or not, even the most talented authors miss critical issues in their self-edits.
Have you ever read the Acknowledgments section of a great book? Ever read one that *didn't* thank the writer's editor? Writers with high standards for excellence know it's impossible to write a good book without outside feedback, and they also know it's no disservice to their own writing to admit it.
Whereas free beta readers will comment here and there as the urge strikes them, (if they finish at all because they’re doing you a favor and their lives are super busy), a professional manuscript critique service focuses on a complete picture of your manuscript: how the structure, language, and themes are working together, where the rough spots are, and how to fix them.
Don’t go in blind.
If you publish your manuscript without seeking feedback first, you're going in blind. If you solicit feedback but don’t invest the extra resources to make sure you’re getting a professional, unbiased, and holistic manuscript critique, you’re still going in blind.
After all, what your publisher thinks of the book isn't the same thing as what your everyday readers will. Perfect your book before you go to publishers--especially if you’re tired of revising, especially if you’re so psyched about the book that you can’t wait to see it out in the world.
Take my word for it, having worked with hundreds of authors. You won’t regret taking the time to get it right while you have the chance.
Sarah Beaudette is a writer, Editor-in-Chief of The Spun Yarn manuscript critique, former program Manager of Amazon’s Author Central, and a nomad currently based in Mexico. She spends most of her time mispronouncing bakery orders and exploring enchanted alleys with her husband and two small sons. Read more of her in places like Flash Fiction Online, The Arcanist, and Monkeybicycle.