If you’re a beta reader or ever helped a fellow writer out, then it’s unavoidable to give feedback. But what do you have to keep in mind when giving it? I regularly hear complaints from writers who have gotten feedback that just wasn’t useful, or even offensive. So what is the best way to give feedback? As a teacher and beta reader, I don’t mind sharing my tips.
The Feedback Sandwich
And no, it’s not one that you can eat. It basically means that when you give feedback on someone’s work, whether an essay or a novel, you start and end with a compliment. Even if you give feedback in the document, you will most likely also send an email or message along with the most important feedback. This is that exact moment where you should use the feedback sandwich. The most important things you can give feedback on are characters, plot, tension, descriptions, atmosphere, and voice. (I hope I’m not missing anything.) So be sure that you don’t do it like this: “I really liked the font you used, your character was a whiny b*tch, and I liked the length of the chapters.” Which leads me to the next tip.
Give Constructive Feedback
When you do give the feedback, whether it is positive or negative, make sure it’s something that is actually helpful. So nothing mean or pointless. Focus on the things that matter in a novel and don’t interpret anything. Stay rather factual, if you can. For instance: “Your main character came across as quite mean. Is this what you were going for?” or “The plot was quite exciting, but there was one thing I didn’t understand, which was…” There may also be things that are simply your opinion. A writer can write about a character who is supposed to be a male chauvinistic pig because that’s what he is. If that character then rubs you the wrong way, even if he is well-written, then it’s not a matter of the writing, but your opinion. That’s still okay to mention, but just be sure to add that it is simply your opinion and you personally don’t like to read about characters like that. It could be that the writer will dismiss this remark. But if it’s the main character, then that feedback could actually be helpful, because the writer might realise that he’s missing one endearing trait to make readers still able to connect to him. You never know, so…
The feedback is supposed to help the writer. So there’s no point in lying about anything. If the writer wants you to focus on certain aspects only, do that. But otherwise it’s all fair game and as long as the feedback is constructive, give it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or start a dialogue about the story or characters. Make sure that your feedback is clear and that the writer understands what you mean.
To sum up, be honest, be respectful, and always mention the positive too.