Sunday, 19 June 2016

Giving Feedback - Nits, Crits and Reviews

This piece, my personal thoughts about how to give a writer helpful feedback on their work, was originally posted on the ERWA blog ( I tweaked it slightly in light of some of the constructive comments offered on it.

One of the great features of being a contributor to the ERWA is the "storytime" mailing list, where we can post pieces of our work for constructive feedback. Of course, reading this can sometimes be disheartening, but I strongly believe that knowing what readers make of your work is a key step to becoming a better writer. Once I started offering feedback, I found it helped my own writing, particularly if I could mentally "step back" and be fairly objective about my work.

I'm sure every writer feels insecure and hopes for "wow, this is great". Realistically, the best we'll ever get is a variation on "this is good, hope I can help you make it even better".

So, if you want to give a writer some feedback, how can you be helpful?

The first thing is to remember that your feedback is your opinion. By all means be confident in your opinion, but the writer doesn't have to agree with you. It is their work, after all!

What you write may not come across quite as you intend, and it's only courteous to critique others in the way you hope they would your own work.

The simplest form of feedback is to tell them what you thought or how you felt about the story as a whole. You don't have to write a lot. Simply knowing that it engaged and entertained a reader can make a big difference to the writer's confidence, especially if they're having a rough patch and doubting themselves. If you really liked something, maybe the characters, dialogue or "action" scenes, say so. 

And why not make it your feedback? All you have to do is use "I" rather than a generic "you" or "the reader".

If you want to give more detailed feedback, this is typically in the form of "nits" and "crits".

Nits are details like punctuation, grammar, spelling, misplaced name tags, confused descriptions of action and so on. These are things an editor would look out for in a submitted manuscript. Remember that UK and US English have differences in spelling, vocabulary and usage.

Ideally "crit" means a constructive critique, not criticism in the everyday sense - someone put time and effort into writing that piece and will feel anxious about how it's received. Critiques may be fairly general comments about how you found the style, plot, use of dialogue, or the way characters are described, or they can be more in-depth, such as suggestions on how to rephrase sections.

Reviews posted on book purchasing sites are what published writers want. Positive reviews encourage potential purchasers to buy. Amazon's system means a book is more likely to be suggested to customers once a certain number of reviews have been posted. Fake reviews can be purchased, but thankfully Amazon is taking steps to minimise this. I've seen claims that Amazon makes apparently arbitrary judgements about the reliability of some reviews, especially where they consider the author and reviewer to be "friends".

Any Amazon customer can post a review, and if they got the book from Amazon, they're shown as a "verified purchaser". Their system doesn't always share comments between the UK and US sites, so I have accounts with both and post the same review on each. If I bought the book from the UK site, I say so in the US review. If I was offered a free copy, I only accept it on the basis that I'll post my honest opinion, and I say so in the review.

I'm not a fan of structured reviews which summarise the story, as these can unwittingly include "spoilers". I try to say, in general terms, what I enjoyed about a book and acknowledge anything I didn't, basically what I'd say to a friend who asked me about the book. If I read a story to the end, I must have enjoyed it, so there are always things I can write about.

Now and again, we'll all come across a book we really don't like, either because it's not our sort of story or because we didn't like the way it was written. Do you post a bad review, even if it's our honest opinion, or just not bother? I'll leave that to you.

The ERWA is primarily for erotica writers. If you're curious to know more about it, their website is

To join the private e-mail based "storytime" critiquing group...

No comments:

Post a Comment