Writing Tips: 5 Benefits of Peer Review

Just as a heads up, we are going to try and post writing tips every Thursday. Feel free to let us know if there are any topics that you would like to see, whether it’s about writing or getting published.

So this last weekend I was helping judge a writing contest. The context was for a Sci-Fi/ Fantasy symposium (LTUE: Life, the Universe, and Everything) so we had a bunch of SF/F stories to read, which we were all ok with as most of us are SF/F lovers anyway (some are more like junkies, but that’s ok). I’m not sure how old some of the submitters were, but I read three or four stories in a row that were so random, and grammatically incorrect, it made me wonder if a third grade teacher had told her students about it and some of them decided to submit something…that they had written the night before. One of them was entitled “The Reborn Lich King,” and both people who read it after me exclaimed “MONKEYS?! Where did the monkeys come from?” The story jumped around so much that random thing keep popping up like that, which therefore made it hard to follow and enjoy. I can only wish that those authors would have let someone look over their manuscript before they sent it in. So many things would have been fixed by even a cursory glance. (Sigh)

So if any of you are worried about whether you should have someone look over your manuscript before you send it in to ANYWHERE, here my list of 5 reasons Peer Review is rather beneficial

1) Constructive criticism: Does the story work?

– First, and probably the most obvious, peer review is a way to find out if your story actually makes sense. Is it enchanting or a flop? Is the character believable, or is he larger than life? You may have read your story so many time you have it memorized, but that may be the exact problem. You’ve seen it one time too many and are having a hard time stepping back and seeing it with fresh eyes. Enter the Peer Reviewer. She can look at you manuscript with new eyes and let you know, “Hey, this doesn’t make sense,” or “I like this part, but this part could be better.” And while all of us would love to be told that we wrote the next best-seller, that won’t get us very far in making our story better. Peer review is a way to find out what works for other people and what should be changed.

2) Any glaring grammar errors?

-The next thing that a Peer Reviewer is good for is for pointing out grammar errors. Like I said in the point above, sometimes you get so used to looking at your manuscript that you may just skip over some very small (or big) mistakes. Also Peer Reviewers are great for picking out words that the spellcheck may not have because the word was spelled right, but it was the wrong word.

3) Writer’s Block

-You’ve written your story, and you can tell that it is a little weak in some areas, but aren’t sure what to do. A Peer Reviewer is a perfect person to bounce ideas off of. They’ve read your story and can offer some (hopefully) insightful ideas to help your creative juices start flowing again. They have different experiences that they can call upon to help you move your story forward in the direction that you want it to go.

4) It’s not a competition…It’s a community.

-“I’m worried that they will steal my ideas.” I have heard that argument before. But you have to remember, this is not a competition. Writers should, and have, grouped together to help each other improve, to cry with each other over a rejection, to celebrate with each other when their manuscript finally makes it to press. There are plenty of outlets that publish and chances are if they have already published something similar to what you have written, they will be more willing to look at yours.

5) The goal is for other people to see it…right? Might as well start early.

-If you don’t want anyone to see what you have written, it may as well be a personal journal instead of a manuscript. Authors write to share their ideas with others. If you aren’t willing to do that when you have first begun, you probably won’t be very excited to do it later. “But I want to wait until it’s done,” I can hear you saying. By getting your manuscript peer reviewed before it’s “done” you can make smaller “course corrections” and may be able to save yourself from needing to make a major course correction later on when you do submit it some place.

So there you have it. 5 good reasons why you should give peer reviews a try. Or at least let someone look over it, so that you don’t make a judge or an editor go through the confusion and pain of reading a story that just doesn’t make sense.

If you happen to be on the other end of the stick and someone has asked you to Peer Review their manuscript check out this article by Jody Hedlund on things to look for and look out for while reviewing someone else’s work.

Can you think of any more good reasons to Peer Review? Or do you have an experience that you could share where it has been helpful?

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