Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback
The difference between dud and dazzle
New beginnings! Why is it we only think of them when we have spare time?
Truly. Ask anyone who has had to work over the end-of-year holidays: have they sat down to have a luxurious talk with themselves about the year past and the year to come? Probably not. What about that problem you’ve been trying to solve for months: how often did you solve it in the shower—when you weren’t thinking about anything else? My bet is: often.
When we’re in the middle of a situation, we often don’t see it for what it is. The same goes for that book we’re writing.
As you write your book, eventually you give in to the temptation to go back to the beginning, and “fix” it. Unfortunately, after you tweak one paragraph, you need to fix the next one, and the next… By the time you get to where you need to add new material, a lot of time has gone by, you’re tired, and you don’t produce much.
The more you play this game, the more likely you are to question any writing choices you make. Maybe the first way you said it was better? You can’t stop second-guessing yourself.
You have become stuck in your head, and the only fact you’re truly sure of is what language you are writing in.
Getting a fresh start: Let someone else read your book
I’ve talked before about writing the first draft with the door closed and not letting anyone else into your writing process until you have that done. The problem we are talking about today is not a first-draft problem. This is the very definition of multiple-draft syndrome. Keeping the door shut now is a bad idea.
It’s the start of a new year, so give your book a fresh start. Have someone else read it and give you feedback. Make sure you do this the right way, however.
How to ask for feedback about your book
- Be intentional. Not every reader gives good feedback. Choose someone you know can provide useful information. People you know who will only gush, or people you know will hate it, are not useful to you.
- Be selective. Don’t splatter the manuscript across the countryside of your friendships. Too many opinions are counterproductive. Choose two to three readers, at any one time, max.
- Ask for specific, yet open-ended feedback. For instance, “I’d love to hear what you think about the beginning,” or “I want to make sure this concept is clear; let me know what you think” directs your readers to provide information you desire. They’ll have other thoughts too and can share them, but provide a starting point. Make sure your questions are NOT yes/no answers.
- Realize that this is a favor. Respect the fact that they may say no—for many reasons. They don’t have time; they don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with you; they don’t feel like it.
- Don’t argue. Listen to their answers and ask clarifying questions if you need to, but don’t try to prove your point if you disagree with what they say. You are receiving information. What you do with that is your business, not theirs.
The official route: a manuscript evaluation or critique
You may also hire an editor to do a manuscript evaluation or critique. In this instance, you can set more parameters than with family, friends, or even your writing group members. You can discuss when you will receive the feedback, for example, and what that conversation will look like. You still may disagree with what you hear, so be sure to choose an editor whose input and expertise you respect.
A manuscript evaluation or critique is a high-level assessment of your work in progress. Critiques usually include a sample edit of a certain number of pages of your book, as well as a report on the manuscript as a whole. While an evaluation is not an edit, it clarifies what you’re doing right and what could be made better.
You’ll get feedback on the strengths of your book, as well as any problems in terms of concept, structure, content, style, and formatting. A good critique will also provide you with suggestions on how to deal with any of these problems, and recommendations for editing work. What kind of shape is your book actually in? A critique is a great way to find out before you publish.
The bottom line
At a certain point, you won’t make forward progress on your book by trying to do it all yourself. You will never, no matter how good you get, ever see the whole forest for the trees. The most famous and well-respected authors that you know all work with an editor. Do you think this outside perspective played a role in the quality of their books? Start the year off right: get outside feedback.