Short Stories Series 2: Getting Feedback

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So you finished drafting your short story? Fantastic! Now comes what’s perhaps the hardest part to get used to with writing: getting feedback.

Let me warn you before you go emailing your reader friends for their advice, not everybody knows how to give constructive criticism. And you shouldn’t necessarily listen to all the criticism you come across. A full-time editor friend takes time out of their busy day to give you some feedback? Of course you should weigh their opinions more. But if a friend just gives it back to you, shrugs, and tells you they didn’t like it but it isn’t their preferred genre? I wouldn’t weigh criticisms as heavily. Remember it’s impossible to write a story that everybody will love (unless you’re J.K. Rowling, then maaaaybe).

There are a LOT of genres out there and plenty of different kinds of readers. It’s totally fine if your writing doesn’t work for everybody – that’s why writing is so unique! The more flavors out there, the more different the tastes will be.

So how do you find people willing to critique your work and give useful feedback? Here are some things I’ve tried:

  • Proof it yourself – This may seem kind of silly, but you will be surprised if you shelf that story for a couple of weeks or even a month then get back to it. You’ll find problems you never even noticed. Try reading it aloud – especially the dialogue. Does it sound clunky? Another trick is to read the story backwards. Check each sentence for grammatical errors as you go. It forces you not to get distracted by the story and to really focus on the words. It’s good practice if you find yourself getting distracted by some really juicy scenes.
  • Friends & family – Find the people you may have already been bouncing ideas around with. These people might have even critiqued other writing for you in the past. This is the best way to get detailed feedback, but depending on who you find to do this, it may not always be completely honest. People try to sugar-coat advice when they’re afraid that a friendship will be in jeopardy. Keep that in mind as you get feedback.
  • Scribophile – This is a great place to go, especially for first-time writers, or even writers who haven’t had their work widely read yet. On this site, you critique other peoples’ work, earn credits, then post your own work to be critiqued. You can have your story put into a queue to be read by anybody on the site, or join some of the groups to have reviews from people who might be more interested in the genre, but it’s going to take a long time to get more feedback on. If you’ve never tried it out, it’s definitely worth doing for a bit. Just be careful not to get overwhelmed in editing other peoples’ words. Sometimes you have to take a step back to make time for your writing again.

Once you’re sure your story is as good as it can be, then it’s down to formatting it and sending it off to find a home! I’ll cover where to find the publishers to get your work published.

This is Part 2 of a series on publishing Short Stories. If you find these helpful, please leave a comment or share with your friends!

To find more useful tools, check out my page on Writing Resources.

Short Story Series 1: Getting Started

How to get started writing short stories

First off – congratulations! You’ve taken the first step by doing your research!

I can’t tell you how important that is. As a writer, you should probably get used to doing research. It doesn’t matter if you write pure abstract space fantasies or historically accurate murder mysteries, research is a necessity. So brush up on your search engine and library skills! Let me just preface this by saying that you won’t only need it for story facts and finding that word that’s on the tip of your tongue.

Next up is writing the story. This is of course the biggest hill when you start. How do you find the time to do it? Well there’s a lot of motivational options out there. Here are a few that I’ve either tried or heard works well for others:

  • #5amwritersclub – A Twitter hashtag for all those early risers who try to get their words down before work or before the kids wake up. Grab that cup of coffee (or tea!) and join your fellow authors!
  • NaNoWriMo/Camp NaNoWriMo – You’re probably thinking wait, aren’t those for writing novels? I’m only ready to tackle short fiction thank you very much. Don’t worry. These challenges are flexible. One Camp NaNo I set my goal to be 20,000 words and I plotted out 4 short stories at around 5,000 words each. And for NaNoWriMo? Set a goal for x number of stories to be written, or get some editing in. Check out the Nano Rebels section on the forums to find others carving their own paths.
  • Inspiration Through Reading – If I’m in a deep writing slump, I’ll go find a good book that discusses the process of writing (Stephen King’s On Writing is a good example). Or I’ll listen to an audiobook of various short stories. I know the library had a whole collection of classic horror authors and their short fiction. There are also respected collections of short fiction online that are available for free, such as The Sirens Call for dark fiction or Heroic Fantasy Quarterly for heroic fantasy.
  • If you can’t really get into a short story, then try listening to others review them. I’m a big fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast and have been supporting them for years. They do a great job of breaking down the sometimes complex themes and churning your imagination in the process. If none of those sound appealing, then try listening to authors talk about their processes. There are a bunch of excellent author podcasts out there including The Outer Dark and Deadman’s Tome. I suggest trying each one to see what gets your imagination moving.

Once you have your short story finished, then it’s off to find a home for it. I think I’ll look at covering that in the next session on how to make sure your story is as good as possible.

This is Part 1 of a series on publishing Short Stories. If you find these helpful, please leave a comment or share with your friends!

To find more useful tools, check out my page on Writing Resources.