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This is a question I've had in my mind and have been a bit curious about. Let's say I finish writing a novel but before publishing it, I want to get feedback on it. Should I publish it online somewhere? I was thinking having it online for free would probably discourage publishers from publishing your book.

Is it fine to publish it online? If yes, are there specific sites that I should/should not use for this? If no, what would be a good alternative way to get feedback and opinions from people?

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The wise thing to do is get beta readers. They will agree to read it and give you feedback.

Publishing online is publishing. Unless you managed to become a phenomena, no publisher will take a work that was already published. They want first rights.

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  • Short but to the point. I don't have enough to add to make a difference.
    – DWKraus
    Sep 15 at 1:01
  • 3
    Sorry, I'm a bit newer to the whole writing thing, what exactly is a beta reader? From their name, I would assume it's someone that you get to read the book before you publish right? Is there like somewhere you find beta readers and is it something you hire them to do? Or is a beta reader just a term for anyone that reads it before it's been published, meaning I can just get anyone to do it?
    – Fordy
    Sep 15 at 2:33
  • 2
    @Fordy, 1-like an editor but free and not as good. 2-yes. 3-yes, there are many sites. You can try the Beta chat here chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/115415/beta-reviewers-reviewing or an online service like scribophile. 4-in a way but not technically, and yes. See this related question: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/1529/… and pretty much anything else tagged [beta-readers] for more information. Sep 15 at 17:47
  • But you could post a first draft, then edit it and add extra content for the publisher version.
    – Tanath
    Nov 28 at 1:50
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A published book online or in paper form is going to be considered published and will likely make it harder to get the interest of an agent or publisher, at least for that project.

My suggestion is to look into services like betareader.io and betabooks.co.

They have some technical mojo to make it harder for anyone to access your books (you need to invite readers). Since they are fairly known, no publisher will think you've published online.

Also, at least betareader.io has a beta reader program where you might get in contact with willing readers. (You can use your own readers too).

Both have limits to what you can do for free though (number of books and readers).

You could of course create your own beta reader site, but even if you don't tell Google about it or use search index prevention measures (e.g. robots.txt) you still risk one of your readers "spreading the word" or a search engine getting in there and indexing it anyway, and it will likely be considered published by a publisher.

And if you plan to self-publish... well I heard about some guy writing a book and he wanted it to be perfect so he planned to invite 5000 people to read it and use their feedback to make it so.

It made me laugh. If you can get 5000 people to read a blog post you've published or even harder, make them pay for a book, you've pretty much found your pool of potential readers right there.

So, if you plan to self-publish, all worries about if the book should be considered published or not is of course up to you... the worry then is that all your potential customers might read it as betas and then be happy and move on...

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Regardless of publishing, this is a bad way to get feedback

In order to get useful information out of the feedback you receive, you need to build a relationship with your beta readers.

If S. Morgenstern posts a draft of The Princess Bride online, and BaseballGamer529 replies "This kissing scene is boring, you should remove it," does this mean that the quality of the scene is low, or that BaseballGamer just doesn't like romance? Morgenstern knows nothing about BaseballGamer - he has no way to know.

Establishing a relationship with your beta readers allows you to know what they like and don't like, allowing you to turn their comments into useful feedback. It also allows you to communicate with them, elaborating on their responses when necessary, and asking them to read your book looking at specific issues. None of this is possible with anonymous comments on a publicly published story.

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  • I agree, and I disagree. You should definitely try to pick your beta readers from your target audience and not just pick anyone... but with regards to the personal relation... an extreme case would be to ask mom to beta read. I think in that case the text would risk being overpraised or, depending on your relationship maybe even over-criticized...
    – Erk
    Sep 16 at 19:19
  • @Erk by "relationship" I don't necessarily mean family, romantic, or even friends. You have relationships with coworkers, teachers, students, and more. You have to know something about who they are as a person. Sep 16 at 19:48
  • I think there's a spectrum going from beta readers that tend towards critique partners in one extreme (or maybe even are critique partners) and beta readers that tend towards anonymous readers on the other extreme.
    – Erk
    Sep 17 at 3:45
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I think yes, BUT carefully.

Having it online will definitely discourage publishers, but that doesn't mean all doors suddenly slam shut. They will just be harder to walk through. First I'll tell you what I'm doing related to the question (not necessarily the best), and then a few pointers on what you should do.

I first started writing and posting my story on the mostly-dead writing site of fictionpress.com. As there are only a few people active, you very rarely (you can say almost never) have to worry about people stealing works, and since the story will always have a post date, you can easily prove which came first if it comes down to it. You will also, at some point (it may take a while) attract several readers who will follow. I have 7 (which, for the site, is pretty good when most have 2-3 or none).

These half dozen or so eventually formed the first of my Beta readers, along with my English teachers, a few others I'd Beta-ed before, and a few good not directly related family members (cousins work great here).


I think in your case, maybe skip the posting online part and just find some good friends to Beta the story. If you're on a few random Discord servers, plug there and see how many offers you get.

If you want to post online, only do the first draft as public, and keep the second and onward limited to Betas and editors and such (I find that Google Docs can do this easily). If a publisher ever asks you to take down the first draft in order to publish, do it. You will most likely get more publicity from the publisher.

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I'm assuming that your question is about publishing your entire manuscript, not just a chapter or two. In that case, I agree with those who recommend a Beta reader. If you're seeking feedback on just certain parts of your book, there are forums which are not accessible to people who are not members of the forum, so it's unlikely an editor would even know you posted it for a critique. And the submission guidelines for most publications indicate whether they will accept manuscripts which have been posted for feedback on members-only forums.

With that said, you might find the following helpful...

Critiques can be annoyingly analytical, as if the critic were plucking the feathers from a bird. Can't we just enjoy its song without taking it apart? Yes, but if your little bird has not yet learned to sing and fly very well, a critique can reveal ways in which it can sing better and fly higher, farther and faster.

Good critiques and the editing that results from them can be analytical without being heartless--acts of service rendered with informed humility, not self-serving arrogance. So ignore critiques that make you feel as if you've been beaten with a stick. You need specific feedback to help you improve clarity, flow, pacing, imagery, breath, meter, rhyme and reason.

Web-forum feedback tends to be mostly emotional rather than criteria-based feedback--comments focused on what a passage means rather than on the methods to convey that meaning. So evaluate the abilities and preferences of the people giving you feedback in terms of how appropriate it would be for your target audience. Even experienced writers can get so caught up in dissecting your writing that they can't see the forest for the trees.

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