If you’ve ever written a book and thought about getting it published, it’s probably a dilemma you’re familiar with: you’d like to get some feedback or support, but options can be limited, unless you’re willing to invest in the services of an editor or a mentor.
Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve probably spent a few thousand pounds on writing related things.
When I think about it, that number makes my chest hurt.
Most of that cost relates to my MA in Creative Writing. But I’ve also paid to have an editor critique my manuscript (twice) and to attend a variety of events. These costs can quickly add up, especially if you plan to attend a writing retreat and need to pay for accommodation and transport. A one day conference ticket is often over £100, so the full weekend can cost in excess of £500.
And that doesn’t include the costs of self-publishing a book; if that’s the path you ultimately decide to take.
Even for someone who is reasonably well off, these costs can be intimidating; they must be off-putting to many people.
But without paying, it’s difficult to find quality feedback as an aspiring writer, unless you have contacts that can help you out.
Sure, there are options out there for those on low incomes. There are numerous competitions available that offer manuscript assessments as prizes, or give access to literary agents. There are mentoring schemes you can apply to, or low cost courses you can sign up for.
But there is often a lot of competition for these opportunities and you may find you need several rounds of feedback to get your manuscript to the point where it’s ready to submit.
I don’t begrudge the cost of paying an editor: reading and critiquing a manuscript takes a lot of time and effort and people should be paid accordingly. But it doesn’t guarantee your manuscript will ever be published.
It’s a lot of money to spend if you ultimately end up filing your manuscript in a drawer and giving up on the writing career.
So what should you do?
Don’t give up
It’s hard, but I believe in perseverance. I have to. If you keep going long enough, then chances are you will eventually get published.
And along the way, you’ll get better. You’ll learn things that seemed inconceivable when you started out. You’ll discover how to plot a novel, how to tear apart a first draft and rewrite it, how to ensure your character arcs are well structured and your dialogue sounds realistic.
It might take a long time, longer than you would wish, but every bit of work you do will help.
Join a writing group
Find a good teacher, or make friends with other writers. They will be an invaluable source of feedback for your work and offering feedback in return can teach you a lot about how to edit a manuscript.
I found that receiving comments from other people helped to strengthen my confidence in my own sense of what was wrong with my writing. That’s a skill you need to build in order to improve your work without relying on outside influences.
Check out your regional development agency
Writer development agencies like New Writing North or Writing East Midlands can be found across the country. They receive funding from places like the Arts Council to support writers at all stages of their careers, and will often run a programme of events and opportunities that support writers in their area.
I won a Northern Writers’ Award from New Writing North in 2015 and it allowed me to get a manuscript assessment from The Literary Consultancy. And in 2011, I also won a manuscript assessment at one of their events, so showing up at these things does pay off.
You won’t win them all, but competitions are great sources of feedback. Some will offer discounted appraisals of your entry, which are useful for gaining an insight into your work even if you don’t win the big prize.
It’s also useful to hang out on Twitter and see who else is talking about the competition you just entered. Jump into the conversation and you might just make a network of writer friends who can offer support in future.
Read plenty of writing blogs
There are tons of writing blogs online, some of which are run by professional writers, literary agents or editors. They can be a great place to get advice and practical tips on writing and some blogs even compile lists of upcoming competitions or opportunities for writers.
Here are a few that are worth checking out:
Would you ever pay for feedback on your writing? What are your tips for finding support?