A good peer review group can change your life
Updated: Aug 22, 2018
Writing is by nature a solitary activity, but turning out a good book or other written work shouldn’t be.
When an author is asked the number one factor that gave them the courage to publish or helped them improve their writing, the answer is often a good peer review group. It’s fair to say it can even be life changing.
Whether you are toying the with idea of writing and need a little encouragement or you have been turning out books for years and could use help improving your next one, finding an honest, well-diversified group of readers and authors could be the answer.
Get support and just start writing – A peer group can be supportive as you try your hand at being an author, offering you reassurance while you get your creative ideas down on paper and helping you determine your most proficient genre and creative writing style. Or maybe you have written pieces before but they’ve never seen the light of day. Unlock your fingers from around those babies and share them. Once you’ve done this, you are officially a writer!
Even published authors need assistance and reassurance - Maybe your first novel bombed and you need a push to try again, possibly you’ve been writing short stories or plays and need a nudge to move into full-fledged novels, or perhaps you simply want to try writing something completely different, like poetry or songwriting. Being part of a group allows you to learn from others who have made these transitions and to share camaraderie with writers who are fighting the same battles.
Listen to reader input – The saying the customer is always right also pertains to written works. No matter how much you like a character, if your readers don’t find them believable or fail to develop an attachment to them, then there is still work to be done. Similarly with storyline development, having a clear outline in your head doesn’t help if the thread is lost on paper. Beta readers are great for flagging plot holes and helping you develop creative twists to keep your readers engaged.
Unfortunately, this is not always easy. It can be tough to stay open-minded and receive constructive criticism. Even if you don’t agree, or think you don’t at the time, listen patiently and take notes. Possibly on a rewrite you will realize that the point was spot on and will be able to use that suggestion to improve your final piece.
Peer editing is a win/win – While nothing can replace a professional editor, the eagle eyes of fellow authors will go a long way to catching split infinitives, wrong verb tenses and awkward phrasing. And luckily the benefits to reviewing others’ works are just as strong. The more writing submissions you edit, even in different formats and genres, the easier it will become to spot common mistakes in your own writing.
Guidance in self-publishing and marketing – The road of the Indie author is long and difficult and getting advice from others who have gone before you is invaluable. Show the group your cover design for feedback, find out what forms of marketing have been most successful (social, paid social, PPC on Amazon/Goodreads, website SEO, etc) and get input for blog posts to build your profile as an author.
Contacts for agents and publishers – If you decide to go the traditional publishing route, showing other authors your hard work, skill and determination can help them feel confident enough in your abilities to share any contacts they may have for agents and publishers. Also, any traditionally published authors will be able to advise you on how to put together a book proposal, a good query letter and so on.
What to look for in a peer group - Writers’ groups can be found all over the world, the most valuable ones offering a diverse mixture of genre interests and socioeconomic/ethnocultural backgrounds. The more varied the test readers, the more balanced and useful their input.
Where to find an author support group - Check community notice boards, university campus groups and search on-line. Use your social media connections and talk to people you know. I found the Dubai Writer’s Group, which has proven enormously useful for publishing my first novel and writing my second book, through my friend’s husband, who was a local newspaper reporter.
You may need to try a few different groups before you find the right one, but once you do you’ll know, because you will look forward to getting and receiving feedback each week. It will give you that much-needed boost of confidence, function as an honest sounding board and also bring you new, like-minded friends.
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