The Power of ChapterBuzz: How feedback can help you write the perfect novel

Timothy Pike, editor-in-chief of Books & Buzz MagazineAsking for feedback as you write your novel is like having beta readers constantly at your beck and call. Here’s a guide.

by Timothy Pike

So you’ve written the first chapter of your novel and posted it on ChapterBuzz. Way to go!

Now, what do readers think?

Wait, you say. Isn’t it a little too soon to be asking for readers’ opinions?

No, it’s not! But don’t take my word for it. Many ChapterBuzz authors have told me how valuable their feedback has been, including award-winning author Dacia Arnold, who says, “It was refreshing to receive so much feedback on my work-in-progress that I can’t stop now. Thank you for creating this amazing opportunity.”

Asking for feedback opens up a direct line between you and the minds of your readers, so you know what they’re thinking. Chances are they’ll like what you’ve written. But they now have the chance to ask questions, point out something that didn’t make sense, or maybe even toss in an idea or two. Or just tell you how much they enjoyed reading it.

Our community of writers love helping each other out by reading each other’s work and giving their insight. Over the years, many professional connections—and even friendships—have been forged through the discussions that have unfolded. You’ll find it’s very motivating to write a book while surrounded by both writers and non-writers who are eager to help.

Many authors tend to write in solitude, emerging from their writing quarters only once their manuscripts are complete—and only then asking for anyone’s opinion.

But that’s risky.

It’s an author’s worst nightmare: spending the better part of a year (and often longer) writing a novel, only to publish it on Amazon and find out that readers are underwhelmed and the reviews are tepid.

Professional editors, writing coaches, and book reviewers can weigh in, too—and each will have unique takes on what they’ve read.

That’s why as you write your novel, it’s important to know what’s resonating with your readers, and what could use improvement. Sometimes small tweaks are all you need, and other times bigger changes are necessary. For example, maybe there’s a character that readers aren’t quite connecting with, and you soon realize the character is not even essential to the story. This gives you an opportunity to get rid of that character—and possibly even tighten up the plot!

Getting feedback at this stage, when your novel is just starting to take shape, can be incredibly helpful. In fact, early feedback is just as important to your published novel as a foundation is to a tall building. Why? Because if you spend time laying the groundwork, it’s much easier to build on.

Learning to give and receive feedback takes some time, but author Liberty Henwick, who won an award in the first-ever Challenge for her novel, P.S., has some advice:

How to receive feedback:

  • Have a thick skin and be willing to listen to the suggestions your readers make with an open mind, so that they feel at liberty to be completely honest. You don’t want them to hide the painful truths!
  • Don’t take criticism personally. It’s not you, but your writing that is being critiqued. It’s not unlikely that your work will need improvement—it will hardly ever be perfect the first time.
  • You don’t have to take all advice on board. Sometimes you can stand by what you write if you feel strongly that there’s a good enough reason for it.

How to give feedback:

  • Highlight any confusing passages and language that doesn’t make sense.
  • Point out sections that are boring.
  • Write down questions you have about the story so far that you’d like to see answered before the ending.

Liberty’s tips take into account two big truths of writing: That nothing’s going to be perfect at first (so don’t get discouraged by criticism), and that you’ll never be able to please everyone (so keep an open mind, but in the end, stick to what feels authentic to you).

It’s an author’s worst nightmare: spending the better part of a year writing a novel, only to publish it and find out that readers are underwhelmed and the reviews are tepid.

Your work can also benefit from different points of view. At ChapterBuzz, professional editors, writing coaches, and book reviewers can weigh in, too—and each will have unique takes on what they’ve read. For example, an editor might instantly spot a grammar mistake, while a book reviewer might compliment your character development—and even offer a suggestion to further improve it.

But as valuable as this input from those with keen, trained eyes may be, remember: since most of your readers—over the course of your career—are not going to be industry professionals (writers, editors, reviewers, etc.), the opinions of everyday readers can be every bit as valuable. After all, you don’t have to be a writer to know that you’re confused by a certain passage, that the middle of the book dragged, or that Michael’s daughter was named Angela in Chapter 4, and—oops!—April in Chapter 5. Most every work-in-progress is going to have “growing pains” such as these.

Here are some handy tips for using ChapterBuzz to get quality feedback, and more of it:

  • Start discussions often. When you start a discussion about one of your chapters, all of your Fans are notified so they can get involved. The best way to start a discussion is to ask for specific feedback about that particular chapter. What type of feedback do you want? Comments about grammar? Readability? Pacing? Reactions to the big plot twist? Ask and you shall receive!

    However, keep in mind that while these discussions will keep your Fans engaged and wanting to read more, posting constantly and repeatedly could turn some Fans away. Here’s how to avoid overposting:

    • Not recommended: Posting “Feedback welcome” on every single chapter. It’s vague, indirect, and can feel overwhelming to your Fans when they’re notified about that many conversation starters at once. Plus, posting repeatedly might cause the system to filter out what it perceives as duplicate content.
    • Recommended: Starting one or two discussions a day, and being specific in the feedback you’re looking for. A question like, “Does Tom’s response to Sara come across as down-to-earth or arrogant?” or even the slightly more broad, “Please let me know if the pace of this chapter is too slow,” will get you much more focused, helpful responses.
  • Remember your Circle. The more readers that can give you feedback, the better. But sometimes you want to limit feedback to those you know and trust. ChapterBuzz allows you to specify who can comment on your chapters, such as only those people you’ve chosen to add to your Circle.
  • Become Author of the Week. We’ll feature you all over the place, along with your book and your latest request for feedback—and it’s as simple as signing up each week. The more often you’re in the spotlight, the more likely people are to remember your name. And that’s powerful!

As you prepare your final draft for professional editing, a bonus benefit awaits. Since most editors will assess your manuscript before they agree to take it on, you want it to be as polished as possible before you submit it. Some editors might charge more if your manuscript isn’t up to a certain quality standard, and on the flip side, other editors might even give you a break on the total cost of the project if it looks like your manuscript presents a smaller challenge. It all boils down to time; the longer it takes to edit your novel, the more it will cost.

You’re more than welcome to stick an extra page into your book to mention the names of people whose feedback helped you the most during your writing journey. It’s not required, but it’s certainly a nice touch. “I put a thank you in the acknowledgment section to everyone on ChapterBuzz who commented and helped improve my book,” says Shirley Holder Platt, award-winning author of Mama Needs New Shoes.

At last, the day has arrived! Your book is now published and available for sale on Amazon, and you have every reason to be beaming with pride. At a time like this, any other author might be stricken with doubt and worry, with thoughts like, What will readers think? Will anyone buy it? Will the reviews be good?

But you can breathe easy; your ChapterBuzz novel is a cut above. You already know it’s a hit—your Fans have assured you of that!

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