Writers often have an idea about what they want to write and when they’ve finished they think that the next step is publication. This is an arrogant way to view your work. No book out there in the world has only ever been seen by the author prior to publication.
(Well, in the sphere of self-publishing where a writer doesn’t think they need editing and they have done all the production themselves, maybe that’s not totally true. But that book will not be doing well in sales.)
I don’t care how good a wordsmith you are, EVERYONE needs to have feedback on their work, preferably from a professional. Here are some ways you can do this:
There are loads of writing groups out there. Search for them in the library, writers centres, community groups, Probus, U3A or start one yourself. Being in a group will allow you to gain a mix of feedback from different ages, gender and demographics. The members of the group don’t need to be readers of your genre of work. They’ll be looking at it from the point of view of the writing skills and whether the story hangs together and is structurally sound. Remember every book is a story, fact or fiction.
Consider this in feedback: only take note of constructive criticism and if three or more people tell you the same thing about your work, you should consider what they say (positive or negative).
This is where you will be looking for people who read your genre. If it’s a non-fiction book, find people to read the work for feedback about your content. As an example, if you’re writing about Menopause, you should ask people who work in this field either as health practitioners or people going through menopause. You want to make sure your ideas and theories are solid and that you are actually writing something of use.
If you’re writing science fiction, ask a reader of science fiction to read it. As many different opinions as possible will really help you refine the work.
You may not have time to be part of a writer’s group. Finding another writer who can look over your work (and vice versa) is invaluable. Not only does this help ease loneliness and isolation that often goes with writing, but it gives you someone to bounce ideas with and make sure your story is achieving what you hope it is.
Often writing workshops will have actual writing time where you are given a task and a set time to write, then a chance to share what you’ve written. It might not be a comprehensive way to get feedback, but you will get feedback on your style and ideas while also meeting other writers who you might be able to stay connected with. NB: If you attend a ‘writing workshop’ but there’s no writing activity in it, it’s not really a writing workshop, you’ll probably be sold something more than you want.
If you want a professional opinion of your work that is unbiased, the best step is to engage an editor to perform an assessment of the book. I’d suggest that you do this after you’ve had a few others look at it first so that you can iron out any major flaws. An assessment will cost money but will also save you time and money when it comes to publication. It doesn’t matter if you plan to look for a traditional publishing deal or to self-publish, the better the manuscript is before it goes to editing the better.
A manuscript assessment is where an editor reads the whole manuscript and writes a comprehensive report on it, highlighting issues with structure, plot, grammar, writing style, characters and language (to name a few). This will help you to rewrite it and refine it more and tell you if it’s ready for publication.
Reading your work out loud is a fantastic way to refine your work even more because when you read it, you will hear where issues are. This is more for the line by line issues like the flow of sentences and the use of words. When you stumble over a word you know that you need to find a better one. You can read out loud to yourself but why not think about attending an open mic night (spoken word) and read your work? It will also help with your public speaking confidence, which is vital if you publish a book.
I can’t stress enough about getting feedback. The more people who see the work before you even think about publishing the better. You don’t want a product out there that embarrasses you and makes no sales because of substandard quality.