Feedback is an important aspect of the writing process, but it can also be a bit of process in and of itself. When I sat down to do a post on the subject, I realized how many levels to feedback back there actually are. Which is why this will be the first post in a four-part feedback series. This post deals with how to find people to give you feedback. Part Two will focus on the importance of staggering your feedback, Part 3 will discuss how to give feedback, and Part 4 will look at how to evaluate the feedback you get. Today, we’re going to look at how to find the right early readers for your books!
Today, we’re going to start by looking at how to find the right early readers for your books!
It’s important to find people who can give you feedback as you draft and revise, but it can also be unhelpful and discouraging if you ask the wrong person to critique your work. Not every reader is going to be your reader. Here are a few things to look for when you search for the right early readers for your books:
1) People who have the same taste in books/entertainment as you
It’s nice if they’re also writers, but they don’t have to be. They just have to be high-quality entertainment consumers who like the types of stories you’re trying to write. They also should be good at understanding the basics of story construction and be able to identify a story’s problems.
How can you find out if someone has these qualities? Talk to them about books and shows you like and dislike and why. The why is the most important. If that person has the same taste in entertainment as you and is able to thoughtfully critique and explain their reasoning, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do the same for you and your book.
2) People who can find the gems the roughest of drafts
It’s important to have a reader who can see a draft not just for what it is, but for what it could be. This is a very special skill. Most people are conditioned to read polished, published products, so seeing the strengths in a rough draft can be a real challenge for them. A good early reader will be able to sift through the problems and make note of them, but still find what’s working and be able to get excited about it. Which leads me to point three–
3) People who can be both critical and encouraging
You really do need both. I’ve heard some writers say they want an early reader or an editor who will tear their book apart, not tell them what they want to hear. And while I think those are both fairly good qualities in someone who is giving feedback, I think it’s equally as important for that person to be able to tell you what is working well and why.
There are two reasons for this. First, and most importantly, I like to know what’s working so I can pull from those places and create a more consistent book. So if I were to get a note from an earlier reader that said something like, “Chapter eight is a little uneventful,” it would also be good to hear “wow, the tension in chapter fifteen is fantastic!” This way, I can look at chapter fifteen, figure out what I did and why that’s working, and then try to replicate it to fix the problem in chapter eight.
The second reason is, quite simply, it’s A LOT of work to write a book. As much as you need people to be honest, you also need support. If your early reader can’t support you and encourage you regardless of the number of problems they find, then they may not be the best early reader for you and your work.
4) People who think differently than you
New perspectives and insights will make your story better! I know when I’m writing, I often get so locked into my story that when I find a problem, it can be hard for me to see the number of possible solutions. Having early readers who approach problems differently will help open you up to the number of different directions your book can go in. I’ve found that even if I don’t take a direct suggestion from one of my early readers, nearly every suggestion they make helps me think about my story differently and consider an angle that hadn’t occurred to me prior to talking with them, which helps widen the world of my story.
5) Place to find these people
One of my writer friends, author Julie Eshbaugh, wrote a post for PubCrawl about the importance of writerly friendships and where to find them. Some places include taking a writing class at a local college or community center or joining an organization. These are also great places to look for early readers! And if your early reader happens to also be a writer, you can offer to be an early reader for them in return! But remember, these readers don’t have to be writers, so, you might want to check out book clubs and library groups too.
Before you agree to let someone read your work, make sure you get to know your potential reader’s taste in books/entertainment. (See point #1.) Then once you know they have a passion for the same types of books and stories as you, float the idea that you’re a writer working on a book. In my experience, it’s best if you can get someone to offer to read your book–especially if they’re not a writer and you can’t offer a critique in return. You can, of course, ask, but keep in mind that some people will just say because they don’t know how to say no. You will get better and more thoughtful feedback from people who truly want to help as opposed to people who say yes out of obligation.
6) How I find my readers
Here’s another place to look for early readers: your own friend groups. That’s where I found all of my early readers. Now, I recognize that I’m extremely lucky to have friends that get writing and storytelling. You definitely shouldn’t trust your book to a reader just because they are a friend. But don’t overlook your friends just because they may not all be writers. Your friends often get you and what you like better than most people, which can put them in a position to help you make the book you want to make.
It may take some trial and error to find the right set of reliable early readers, but trust me when I say they are worth looking for. My early readers have been essential to the strength and development of my stories and I couldn’t imagine writing anything without their feedback.
As always, I hope this helps! I’ll be back next week with Part 2 of my feedback series! Next up: The importance of staggering readers and feedback.
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Now it’s your turn: Do you have early readers? If you do, how did you find them and how do they help? If you don’t, what’s been your biggest challenge in finding one or concern about having one? Tell me about it in the comments!