Publishing a book that you've written can be seen as an act of audacious confidence.
I mean, you're asserting that whatever ideas, themes, and narratives contained within the book are of such value to the culture that they deserve to be enshrined and distributed. And it's something you made!
In the traditional space, we have been able to rely on gatekeepers to assure us that our work is at least good enough to sell.
In the Indie space, we're forced to decide on our own whether or not our work is good enough to sell. If we fuck up that decision, it's a breach of trust with our readers, and our reputation suffers as a result.
This is something I struggle with and agonize over with every goddamn book and short story I write. Seriously, every time. It's almost paralytic, the enormity of this thing. This decision. This audacity.
Fortunately, I have people who help.
I have a trusted cadre of early readers, and I have my writer's group. Both of these resources give me feedback on my writing, on what works and what doesn't. They do it in different ways, but both are vital. My readers also give me feedback, sometimes in conversation, and sometimes in the form of Amazon reviews, that help me improve my work.
This feedback, all of it, is a vital and sacred thing. My work lives and dies based on the feedback I get, because get this...
I can't tell whether what I write is any good or not.
I mean, the subjects that I write about are things I find interesting, so there's an opportunity there to overestimate the interest/relevance of what I've written. On the other hand, once you've written a thing and read through it a dozen plus times, it seems boring, flabby, and predictable. So there's a chance to underestimate the value of what I've written.
I can love a sentence or a piece of imagery, but on the macro level, I cannot see the forest for the goddamn trees.
So the feedback I get, in aggregate, is often a huge part of the decision to put something out or to let it rot.
Do you see how important and vital this is? Do you see why feedback is sacred?
A writer asking you for feedback on their work is a gesture of trust and esteem. For this reason, if you want to earn that trust after the fact you must:
Never Pander to Our Egos.
I understand that you don't want to hurt a friend's feelings or cause them to feel bad about their work. But feedback, even critical feedback, given thoughtfully will not crush us. If it does, we were never cut out for this business to start with. Be honest and detailed with what you tell us; even if we look disappointed, you're helping us do better. And we want to do as well as we can.
Take This Shit Seriously.
Okay, yes, being an early reader is a cool way to get free books. But this is serious for us; we need to get whatever you have in your hands (or kindles, or whatever) ready for prime time, baby. And if you see a flaw that you don't think is important enough to mention, it might not get corrected before publication. Sounds like work, huh? Yeah, that's why you're getting the free books in the first place.
Find the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Critical feedback is absolutely vital, but at least for me, positive feedback is almost as important. Remember that part where I said I can't tell if my writing is any good or not? Yeah, I'm the queen of editing out shit that works. Beautiful shit, interesting shit, thought-provoking shit. I will sacrifice it all on the altar of good fiction, even if it kinda needs to be in there. So if something in a piece is working, it's almost as important to let me know that as it is to let me know what isn't working. And I know I'm not the only author like this. And if you see something that seems clunky or odd, even if you think it's just personal preference, let us know. We can always ignore your advice if we decide to.
So yeah. That's how you give feedback.
And to the lovely people that I trust with my work, thank you so much for your help. I probably couldn't do this without you.