Feedback – Nits, Crits and Reviews…

by | June 11, 2016 | General | 5 comments

By Ian Smith

One of the great features of being a contributor to the ERWA
is the “storytime” mailing list, where we can post pieces of our work
for constructive feedback. Of course, reading this can sometimes be
disheartening, but I strongly believe that knowing what readers make of your
work is a key step to becoming a better writer. Once I started offering
feedback, I found it helped my own writing, particularly if I could mentally
“step back” and be fairly objective about my work.

I’m sure every writer feels insecure and hopes for
“wow, this is great”. Realistically, the best we’ll ever get is a
variation on “this is good, hope I can help you make it even better”.

So, if you want to give a writer some feedback, how can you
be helpful?

The first thing is to remember that the writer doesn’t have to
agree with you. It is their work, after all!

The simplest form of feedback is to tell them what you
thought or how you felt about the story as a whole. You don’t have to write a
lot. Simply knowing that it engaged and entertained a reader can make a big
difference to the writer’s confidence, especially if they’re having a rough
patch and doubting themselves. If you really liked something, maybe the
characters, dialogue or “action” scenes, say so. 

And why not make it your feedback? All you have to do is use “I” rather
than a generic “you” or “the reader”.

If you want to give more detailed feedback, this is typically
in the form of “nits” and “crits”.

Nits are details like punctuation, grammar, spelling,
misplaced name tags, confused descriptions of action and so on. These are
things an editor would look out for in a submitted manuscript. Remember that UK
and US English have differences in spelling, vocabulary and usage.

Ideally “crit” means a constructive critique, not
criticism in the everyday sense – someone put time and effort into writing that
piece and will feel anxious about how it’s received. Critiques may be fairly
general comments about how you found the style, plot, use of dialogue, or the
way characters are described, or they can be more in-depth, such as suggestions
on how to rephrase sections.

Reviews posted on book purchasing sites are what published
writers want. Positive reviews encourage potential purchasers to buy. Amazon’s
system means a book is more likely to be suggested to customers once a certain
number of reviews have been posted. Fake reviews can be purchased, but
thankfully Amazon is taking steps to minimise this. I’ve seen claims that
Amazon makes apparently arbitrary judgements about the reliability of some
reviews, especially where they consider the author and reviewer to be

Any Amazon customer can post a review, and if they got the
book from Amazon, they’re shown as a “verified purchaser”. Their
system doesn’t always share comments between the UK and US sites, so I have
accounts with both and post the same review on each. If I bought the book from
the UK site, I say so in the US review. If I was offered a free copy, I only
accept it on the basis that I’ll post my honest opinion, and I say so in the

I’m not a fan of structured reviews which summarise the
story, as these can unwittingly include “spoilers”. I try to say, in
general terms, what I enjoyed about a book and acknowledge anything I didn’t,
basically what I’d say to a friend who asked me about the book. If I read a
story to the end, I must have enjoyed it, so there are always things I can
write about.

Now and again, we’ll all come across a book we really don’t like,
either because it’s not our sort of story or because we didn’t like the way it
was written. Do you post a bad (honest) review, or just not bother? I’ll leave
that to you.

Ian Smith

I’m a professional scientist with a career spent primarily in health care. I live in the south-west of England with my wife and our modest menagerie, currently two horses, two dogs and three guinea pigs. My wife wants to keep chickens too.

My career has involved writing really exciting and stimulating scientific papers, technical reports and dissertations... Okay, important and worthwhile, but not "me". I started writing general interest factual articles and features, as well as preparing and giving public talks. These allow my butterfly mind and insatiable curiosity to go off and play nicely together.

Then my curiosity turned towards fiction. My first efforts were dire, of course, but I hope I’m starting to get the idea a bit now. I've had several short stories published in anthologies, as well as three novellas. Supportive and encouraging feedback from other contributors to the ERWA “storytime” mailing list has been a huge help.

I’ve always read for relaxation and now I write as a creative hobby. I hope some readers enjoy my efforts.

Joining in the Sunday “flashers” with ERWA has been great fun and exposed me to a wide variety of work by other authors. Their examples and feedback continually help my writing to develop. I felt very flattered when approached about taking a turn as the flasher gallery editor.

And yes, I'd rather like to keep chickens too. Just a bit tricky in a small urban garden with two hyperactive terriers...

My third novella, "From The Top (Merely Players 3)" has just been published by Fireborn.


  1. Daddy X

    Good post, Ian. Would like to include a few thoughts: Don't ever doubt your own opinion. Plus, e-correspondence can often come across not as intended. Objective, constructive comments are what's needed. Crit with the same consideration you would want for your own work.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Excellent post, Ian. In case anyone reading is tempted to join us on Storytime, you can find instructions here:

    I just rejoined Storytime after many years hiatus. I'm really impressed by the quality of the critiques I have been seeing.

  3. Corbiin A. Grace

    Good article, Ian. What I like most about ERWA’s storytime is that it’s not an insular group where the feedback is based on how long you’ve been participating, previous commercial successes or anything in between. It’s about the writing. Yes, you’ll make friends, but I also received very useful feedback on my first submitted piece just as I did with my latest.

  4. Sam Kruit

    Totally agree with you about the art of reviewing – too many reviews seem to be little more than summaries of the plot, which can usually be gleaned from the blurb, category and title of the book. A good review should talk about the good stuff that kept the reader reading, or perhaps warn the reader about an unexpected style, darkness in theme etc which isn't hinted at through the way that the book's been titled and marketed.

    Good summary of ways of tackling critiques, too. It's a helpful model to work with.

    Tig xxxx

  5. Daddy X

    I hear that for the most objective take to only read the first and last paragraphs of a review.

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