“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly,” advises Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer C. J. Cherryh.
One of the keys to transforming a rough edged draft manuscript into a well-edited, polished book is getting quality feedback about what you’ve written.
Many writers spend hours planning their draft – creating outlines, plot summaries, and character sketches. Yet those same authors ask for a critique of their draft without any real plan of how to make sure the feedback will be useful. They are disappointed when one reader’s sole comment is, “It was good. I really liked it,” and another does a hatchet job on the text (and its author).
Two questions will help you avoid such less than useful results:
- Who should I ask to read my draft?
- What specific instructions should I give them on the type of feedback I want?
It is fine to have a close friend, spouse, or other family member read your draft. They are probably curious about what you’ve been working on anyway. Just don’t expect much insight. They love you and want to be positive and supportive. In selecting other readers for your draft consider including:
- People whose knowledge of the craft of writing you respect. Fellow writers can understand your style and what you are trying to do. They can offer useful suggestions on how to do it better.
- People who are skilled, perceptive readers. If you can find someone who does a lot of reading in your genre, even better. These people may not talk to you about technique, but they can certainly tell you what works and what doesn’t.
- People with expert knowledge of the subject you are writing about. This is particularly true if you are writing nonfiction. If you are writing fiction in which technical knowledge of a subject or profession is important, an expert can tell you if you got it right.
When you have selected the people you want to read your draft, give them a short list of specific things on which you want feedback. Here are some examples:
- Check for completeness. Ask: What are three questions you wish had been answered in the book?
- Check for clarity. Ask: Where in the book did you find things that were unclear or difficult to understand? What made them difficult?
- Check for understanding of the book’s ideas or theme. Ask: What was the book’s main idea? What parts of the book helped you see it most clearly?
- Check for cohesiveness. Ask: If you could cut one thing out of the book what would it be? Why?
- Check for the effectiveness of your storytelling. Ask: What was your favorite scene and why? Which scene did you like better, X or Y? Why?
If you have the right people reading your draft and provide them with clear instructions on what you want to know there’s a good chance their feedback will point you toward the brilliant edit that will make your book a winner.