When Should Writers Get Critiques?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently a newer writer asked me when she should start searching out critiques for her manuscript.

Her question brought to mind two separate issues regarding getting feedback:

When is the right time in the life of an author to start soliciting feedback from others? Should a writer send off a first book? Or should they wait until they've written a couple of books before looking for a critique partner or garnering outside feedback? Are there benefits to waiting?

And when is the right time in the life of a book to send it out for critiques? Should a writer pass it along to beta readers or critique partners right after finishing the first draft? Should she solicit feedback before doing her own self-editing? Or should she do the re-writing first, and then ask for critiques?

I'll give you my thoughts on both issues, then you'll have to fill me in on your opinions in the comments!

1. When is the right time in the life of an author to start soliciting feedback from other writers or editors?

I believe newer writers need to be careful about getting critiques too soon in their writing careers. The wrong kind of feedback (or too much) can overly-discourage and crush the writerly spirit. Usually our first couple of manuscripts are full of problems. And rightly so. We're still learning and growing in our writing skill.

In hindsight I'm relieved I never solicited feedback on my first couple of manuscripts. They were riddled with mistakes–backstory dumps, passive verbs, clich├ęd descriptions, etc. If another writer would have ripped apart my manuscript at that point, I'm not sure that I would have had the strength or desire to keep going. I would have felt terrible, like I had no potential or talent.

Instead, ignorance was bliss. I kept writing, and of course, kept studying how to become a better writer. With each book, I continued to improve, so that over time I could see problems in those earlier books for myself.

I encourage newer writers to set aside their first manuscript (or two) for a while and work on a new book. Then come back to the book in six months to a year. By that point, you'll have gained objectivity and hopefully some new skills that will help you self-edit the book again. (Or perhaps you'll find like I did that the books will need to be completely re-written to be worthwhile.)

2. When is the right time in the life of a book to send it out for critiques?

This is a question I've struggled through. And while I don't think there is a right or wrong answer, a little planning can save some time and effort (and frustration!).

The first step of any editing process is to get big-picture feedback. At this stage we can look for beta readers or someone knowledgeable of our genre to give an over-arching critique–what works and what doesn't as far as plot lines and character development.

I've learned the hard way, that it doesn't really make any sense (and is essentially a waste of time) to line-edit a manuscript before doing rewrites. Why pour our attention into the commas at this stage when large chunks will be added or deleted?

After making rewrites on the bigger problem issues, then it's time to focus on getting a more detailed critique of the smaller details. That means checking for repetitious words, historical accuracy, setting and sensory details, varying sentence structure, etc. A good critique partner (particularly another writer) can be helpful in pointing out these kinds of details.

Then finally, before a book goes to print, every writer needs to have a skilled editor (or two) comb through the manuscript for copy edits. This is the stage for nit-picking, for finding every jot and tittle that's wrong.

In other words, in the editing process make sure to go in order from macro-edits down to micro. Sometimes you may even have to do each a couple of times before moving on to the next level.

And when asking someone for a critique, be sure to specify what level of feedback you're looking for so that they know where to focus (i.e. big picture versus details).

Those are my opinions! Now I'd love to hear yours! When do you think is the right time in the life of an author to start soliciting feedback from others? And when do you think is the right time in the life of a book to get input?

Thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate the release of A Noble Groom last week! I had one of my daughters draw the names of the winners for the two autographed books. And the winners are: Shelly Daum and Marissa Mehresman. Congratulations! I'll be in touch with you soon!


  1. I can only speak from my own experience, because I think every writer is different. But I started getting critiques when I'd gone as far as I could by myself. I didn't know how to take my writing to the next level or make it better hiding away by myself in front of my computer, so I joined a critique group.

    At this point in my writing, I'd written three previous stories and sought a critique group for the fourth. And yes, that fourth story ended up getting me my debut publishing contract.

    Today I still work with one of the members from that original critique group. We've both got multi-book contracts to fill, and we're pretty much best friends even though we've only ever seen each other once.

    Writing is filled with so much uncertainty and insecurity for authors. It's infinitely wonderful to know I have a critique partner who will support me through everything, yet at the same time prevent me from making really bad mistakes in my story. And yes, I'm often so blinded by my own words that I do make mistakes with character motivations and the like, and yep, my critique partner points it out every single time. :-)

  2. If you knew how timely this post is for me! :D Thanks for the great explanations.

    I agree with you on not exposing our very first draft of our very first novel to critique, particularly if we're sensitive. On the other hand, waiting too long might let us wander in all the wrong directions and correct things that might not need correcting. I guess it all depends on how well we're able to judge our own capacity.

    I find that getting detailed feedback on an early draft (could be the rough draft, or the first rewrite where nothing but plot & characters were fixed) can really bog one down. It's impossible to not get dizzy reading all the corrections of grammar, style and overall storytelling esthetics, when what we really need is just a simple "this works", or "this doesn't make sense." Even though the comments might be really great, the stage is wrong for that level of detail, and it can suck out our confidence and energy. Overzealous critique partners can be just as dangerous as superficial ones (even if they only mean to help).

    Maybe you could write a post sometime about how to "recruit" good critique partners? How is it best to start such a partnership? Not where to find one, that varies too greatly, but how to go about it so that we don't waste time with incompatible ppl.

    1. Exactly. I have wondered this too - how to go about finding good critique partners.

  3. I'm so glad I didn't rush into getting other people's opinions and critiques! Instead I went back after setting my manuscript aside for awhile and edited, re-wrote, re-plotted. You naturally grow in your writing and I could see for myself the glaring mistakes I had made and was able to improve my writing with each draft. I still don't let hardly anyone read my writing and I've been doing this for over 3 years now.

    I did ask for feedback once, however. And that was because I felt stuck. I wasn't happy with how my writing sounded but I could't place my finger on what was wrong. So I asked my sister for a critique. It's painful to hear criticism but after I got over it I was so glad for the outside opinion because it opened my eyes to weaknesses I couldn't see for myself.

    It's so hard to know when you are ready for criticism. I would say error on the side of caution, give yourself plenty of time to grow in your skill, and mentally prepare yourself before getting a critique. If you know it's probably going to be overwhelming you'll be able to handle it better.

    On another note, I am so excited to have won a copy of your new book! Jody, you totally made my day when I got up this morning and saw my name! Thank you so much!

  4. This is a superb post, thank you! Very timely for me too as I am in the throes of re-writing my first manuscript and have been wondering about when I should seek out a critique for it. Your words here echo my own intuition, which is to wait. Thank you!

  5. Wow! Thank you for all the information in this post! I'm both flattered and encouraged by your words today. Many thanks! :)

  6. And I'm a dissenting opinion. :) I got feedback on my first MS and am sooooo happy I did. But I also really desperately wanted it. I didn't want to waste time or story ideas. (probably my dislike of failure) but if I was going to do this thing, I wanted to do it right. And I looked for the harsher critters that I could tell knew what they were doing. I did abandon that first MS about halfway through after seeing it was a total rewrite nightmare and not a genre I wanted to pursue any farther. The next book I wrote, I used everything I'd learned in the half a MS critique, and I sold that book.

    For me, craft books are of minimal value, it's hard to apply it to your own story, you're blind to it, but when a critter points out how something is telling it suddenly makes sense.

    I think you should take your personality into account. For me, sitting on several books knowing that I could have been reinforcing bad habits was not what I wanted to do.

    Did harsh crits hurt? Sure, but those critters encouraged as well.

    And I can't imagine writing without one trusted one that gets me. Like Naomi said, they save me from some really stupid things sometimes while believing in me.

  7. I made the mistake of getting feedback on my first book's manuscript from family members who were aspiring writers. It was their chance to tell me why I would never be a famous author, etc and to completely rip the book apart. My advice is to let people critique your work, but if it crosses the line from constructive criticism to destructive criticism, it's time to stop getting feedback from that person. That, and I've struggled with getting people to just look at the bigger issues in a manuscript in its early stages. Everyone I know wants to pick out the little problems, which is helpful once you're smoothing everything out later on. I wish I had a group of trustworthy fellow authors to lean on for critique support -- that sounds really nice.

  8. I have to agree with both Naomi and Melissa. I felt stuck in my first MS and sought some critique early. It was through a very harsh critiquer that I learned deep POV. And I can admit, I would've never gotten there on my own.

    It's hard to be positive while still being helpful. And each writer is open to different levels of feedback. If only there was some kind of magic formula to know when you're ready to give and receive criticism. I wish!

    I think Veronica is right, some targeted tips on how to be a good critiquer without ruining the author's voice might be helpful. :)

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. My first manuscript was acquired last month. It would never have been pickup up if I hadn't read the books on craft, had a few good, supportive beta readers early on, sent through critique and finally, used an expert (freelance professional editor) to give me an editorial letter on the ms. I posted on this process. I do agree that unnecessarily harsh beta readers/critiquers too early can be devastating.

  11. Hey everyone! I'm sure enjoying reading all of your thoughts today on this topic!

    Another reason I think writers need to be careful about getting feedback on those early manuscripts is because we're often not confident in our voice at that point. And quite frankly a lot of feedback is subjective. So when we're younger and newer writers, we may have the tendency to over-utilize feedback (rather than be more discerning, which comes as we gain confidence in our voice and writing abilities).

    And . . . younger writers often seek out other younger writers for feedback. And that can at times end up sort of like the blind leading the blind.

  12. So far, I've had nothing but bad experiences in this critiquing thing. I'd love to have a couple of critique partners, but I think there must be some kind of magic in making it work.

    Early on, I had a reader who could have been so helpful, but instead of trying to help me make my book better, she kept trying to write her book through me. Not helpful. I've had others offer suggestions that would help make my book into the kind of book they write (genre, tone, voice, etc.), but that's not helpful either.

    Then I belonged to a large critique group and I thought got some helpful advice and then high approval after I re-worked some things. When I took that work to a professional editor, she tore it apart! And with good reason! At first, I was so upset, not with the editor or the editing, but with the impossible job of deciding to whom to listen! After I came back down to earth, I'm was so thankful I had taken my manuscript to the editor before going any further with it!

    For me, while it would be nice to clean some things up before the professional edit, I think I'll stick with the editor process rather than the critiquing process. Unless I can find the source of critique partner magic.

    If I could find that magic, I would rather have a substantial amount of work done, perhaps the whole manuscript, before joining forces. I think I critiquer could get a better idea of where the writer wanted to go with the MS and so better help him or her get there if it were finished.

  13. I read the discouraging comments about the first novel years ago, but stood firm in my belief that I wanted to tell the story, So many a query and four re-writes based on feed back I was offered a contract. The publisher is a small one, but the growth I gained is priceless.
    Critiques were a lot of help along the way.

  14. Excellent post, Jody - congratulations on that new book - getting it as soon as I can - will add it to my shelf that has your OTHERS on it. ';)

    As a PAID Critter I want to commend you for what you said about beta readers as well as the crit partners - very important step. I do paid crits for pre-pubbed to multi-pubbed writers/authors and you might be surprised but the expertise I find in new writers who've had at LEAST ONE crit partner and then TWO to THREE beta readers have with only two exceptions been my best clients- those have had the least amount of CLEAN-UP needed on my part.

    The other two were so good I was SHOCKED to find they'd not had a critter or beta reader's eyes on the work.

    CRIT PARTNERS ARE A MARVELOUS TOOL - don't discount them and don't be afraid to use a PAID critter and/or editor before you send your baby out.
    Blessings, Jody. Your books are great!

    1. Thanks for sharing your advice and experience, Joy. I appreciate it!

      And thank you for the kind words about my books! I hope you'll enjoy the newest one just as much as the previous! :-)

  15. This subject is a current issue I’m struggling with. After receiving a rejection from an agent, that I thought would love my story, I was more than a little surprised when I was told my manuscript had several blaring issues. This story was only my second novel, written several years ago when I knew nothing about writing, and all by my lonesome.

    Now here’s the really sad part. I paid a content editor to go over it, and she deemed it a good story. It went through a critique group, where a handful of people were following and raved about it. If that wasn’t enough, I asked a published author to read it all the way through and give me their honest thoughts. She said it was a good story, and only had a couple of suggestions and did some minor corrections. I even entered it in a contest, and received some positive feedback.

    This experience has made me wonder if I am to believe anyone. I had loved the critique group, and thought it very helpful. I had paid a content editor good money to go over my manuscript. I trusted an author to give me honest feedback.

    I know that writing is subjective, but the editor that rejected my story, I really admire their writing. And honestly, they’re right. As much as I loved my story concept, I knew deep down there were issues with it. All the pumping up of my ego with the critique group, and gentle critiques of my story from those in the business, lead me to believe I was ready, when in fact I was far from it. At least with this story.

    I do agree that if I had been told the harsh truth in the beginning, I may have never typed another word. But now I’m left with wondering if this is really for me? Can I get to where I need to be?

    There has to be a better way. A way to be honest, without killing ones spirit.

    For now I’m giving it to God, as I should. He will be the one that decides if I continue on this journey or not. I’m no quitter, and thankful for every step of the way, because I know all to well how God works. He has a perfect plan for each of us, that will happen in His, not our, perfect time.

    As it is the way I’ve come to recognize of my own self, I will pout and be depressed for a few days. But if God so deems it to be, I will then get back on the horse – or should I say the computer – and write.

    1. I think the saying, "No agent is better than a bad agent" goes with Critique partners as well.

      I may have been extremely lucky with my critters, but I have had some bad ones for a short time. Anyone who praised me and only pointed out typos or how they would have written the sentence, I considered suspect and dropped. :)

      The ones that finger the "issue I was hoping isn't as bad as I think but don't know what's wrong" are the ones I cling to. :)

    2. Sounds like you've been pretty discouraged by your experience, Kym. (And thanks for chiming in Melissa!)

      As I said above, I think one of the things about getting critiques too early is that we aren't super confident yet in our own voices, skills, and story-telling abilities. Now that I've learned more about my voice and writing abilities, I'm better able to discern the feedback I get. I can evaluate what works and what doesn't a bit easier. And when someone does point out a problem, I can usually see it now.

      As always critiques are subjective, even among the best agents and editors. But I trust that my editors at my publishing house know my genre inside and out. I usually make almost every change they suggest. But I'm more careful about suggestions from others.

  16. I saw your email on the ACFW main loop so I'd thought I'd stop by and see what you had to say. I am what you'd call a relatively new writer. I began to write after the death of my little girl. She was 8 1/2 years old at the time. What started off as writing on a dedication website, turned into writing a book about her life, to eventually writing my first ever attempt at writing a fiction book. I did the last part because I was told I needed to add fiction elements into my daughter's book.

    So began my journey to learning fiction. I had my story idea and began to write that first chapter. I spent a lot of time editing that first one and then the second over and over. After one year I only had the first three chapters. It was this time last year in February that I found ACFW and then I was apart of the big critique group starting at the beginning of March. For me, I think that I was in the right frame of mine for being critiqued as long as people gave constructive criticism. If my MS was market up all over the place I loved it because it meant that the indiviual who did it cared enough to take their time with it to help me. What I learned in just that first month sored my writing craft more than any of the books I've read. For me, I learn more hands on than just reading a book.

    It was also during this time I finally bit the bullet and began to try to give the same kind of critiques I had received with what I understood about writing. Over time, I was able to give a good critique to help someone.

    I think getting that first critique really depends on the individual. First, they need to be in the right frame of mind to have their writing picked apart but a good pick apart. Also, they need to do what works for them to learn the craft better. For some it may need to be reading about the writing craft and for others it may need to be where they have things physically pointed out in their work for them to understand.

    Thank you for a great post. It was interesting to read.

  17. The first time I showed my writing to someone other than my teachers was when I took a writing class several years ago. The stories I wrote weren't very good, and the feedback I got from the other students was even worse. It was enough to take away most of my confidence in my writing and to keep me from writing fiction for more than a year after that. But I loved writing so much that I couldn't stay away for long.
    I think that as far as critiques go, it's easier when it's with someone you know and trust and whose company you enjoy; then you can know that they're going to be honest without being hurtful.

  18. This is a really valuable discussion because I have seen early writers crushed by a few negative comments and seen other early writers refuse to hear suggestions that might be helpful. In the critique group I belonged to for many years we had two levels. One the writer would bring simply for general feedback: what do you like about the story, what's confusing, is anything missing. All as the readers being subjective and the writer could hear where she was or was not connecting without slashing and dicing. The second was when a writer was ready to submit, whether an article or contest or proposal. Then it was bring on the red pens and go heavy duty. We worked as serious writers whether beginners or advanced and gave feedback according to the needs of the writer. Later when a few of us needed more consistent and in depth critique on a regular basis, we became critique partners with monthly goals and pages to send each other.The key is critique versus criticism, I think, and in any situations the writers need to be on the same page definition wise.

  19. I think that, if we have the RIGHT crit partner, getting in there right off the bat can be least, that's what worked for me. I met my first crit partner in a class we were taking together, both of us newbies. It was HUGELY valuable to me to see her comments on some of the bigger flaws I have as a writer. Of course, she was also very, very nice about it. It all could have gone horribly wrong...

  20. With my first manuscript, I was lucky to find a critique partner who listened as I read aloud. We met at her home, weekly. She read to me, then I read to her everything I'd written the previous week.

    My critique partner had great input, but though a teacher of creative writing, wasn't aware of all the rules.

    Still, I wouldn't change my beginnings. My critique partner and I built each others' confidence by saying things, "I really like your characters," or "that scene drew me in."
    Plus catching grammatical errors.

    That was seven years ago, and we no longer critique for each other. My MS was published a few years ago, and since I haven't found another critique partner I've enjoy working with as much.

    I, too, am hesitant about critiques until I have the story about where I want it. When I'm given suggestions, I think about them a couple days. Sometimes I say, "She was right on and I didn't see it." Other times I say, "Nah! I'm not changing that."

  21. I got a crit partner before i even finished my first manuscript. It worked for us because we were on the same level. Having a friend for the beginning of the journey meant not learning alone. We're a lot harder on each other now than we were then, just because we know more. I think exchanging early forced us to improve faster and kept us motivated.

  22. I think it depends on the writer. For me personally I disagree about when I should have my work looked over. I have a degree in journalism so I'm used to people picking apart my work and know it's nothing personal. I've started to write fiction and have had people critique it, and for me I learned more quickly than I would have on my own. I'm also learning not all advice is helpful and how to filter it from legitimate comments. In fact I don't think I would have learned what I did from others even if I had years of self study.

    If someone is a new writer and they feel like they might want to hold back before showing others, than by all means do so. Or find someone who is on the same writing level and the two of you (or group) can learn together. The tricky part is finding good critique partners when you do go looking. There are some people out there who can destroy your self confidence if you don't already have a 'think skin.'

    I did love a lot of this post! It had some great points about what to have people ask for when you do send it out.

  23. Thanks for the information, Jody! It does help to have articles online dedicated to helping new writers.

    I also don't really think a first draft (especially when you're not published) should go to a critique partner. I think the author should make the book as good as HE/SHE personally believes it can get before sending it out to be critiqued before publishing. Of course this does mean that the writer needs to objective, but a great help to objectivity is simply spending some time away from your novel--like you said. Though I'd rather it would be shorter than six months.

    A book should only be critiqued once it's reached its full potential with the author--after they've gone through three or more drafts and, if they feel the need, line- and micro-edited as well.

    1. Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for your input! Yes, sometimes we authors can get into too much of a rush and attempt to get a critique before we've put enough work into the book. We have to be willing to put in the sweat and hard labor before we can expect someone else to, right? :-)

  24. Thanks for your input! Yes, sometimes we authors can get into too much - See more at. Best tattoo shops near Chicago

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Thanks for your input! Yes, sometimes we authors can get into too much of - See more at. free netflix account

  27. Thanks for your input! Yes, sometimes we authors can get into too much - See more at. Tiling Marlborough

  28. One way you can go around this is through the use of a Action Foreclosure in Lieu. Quick Home sale

  29. I have every intention of getting as much of the work I produce critiqued. To me it's a huge waste of time to write a manuscript for the sole purpose of abandoning it! I think a decent storyteller who is willing to do their best is likely to pull off a good rewrite to correct the errors in the critique. I do agree with Hannah. Only send your work to a "critiquer" when you have polished it to the best of your ability. Especially if you're paying for an MS assessment!

    I'm actually in the market for a review partner or review group. I delve into fiction in earnest next year and have learnt that going it alone = going slower.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!