Getting test readers is super important when you’re trying to write. If you want to be a ‘proper’ (ie; paid) writer then you need to get people to see your work. If you don’t then you’ll forever think that your tale of tortoise/porcupine love amidst the hustle and bustle of the stock exchange is marketable. Test readers help with that. They help with that at all stages by saying things like ‘why would he do that’, ‘is she in love with him’ and ‘are porcupines really that well-endowed?’
Getting test readers is so important that I’d recommend that you try for ten people at all time reading your project. Doesn’t sound like much I know, but think about how many people you know. Now think about how many you like. Now think about how many you feel comfortable seeing you naked.
Your writing is your brain naked and vulnerable and exposed. How many people are you happy to have looking at your pimply arse?
Oh, and here’s another kicker; don’t give it to your parents.
Your parents are the guys that put your glue dripping pasta pictures on the fridge, seriously considered the implications of you shitting in corners and said, with all sincerity, ‘how clever’ when you gave them the ‘why I love beans’ essay you did to practice your ‘ritin’.
So, mum and dad are out. They just won’t be able to separate you from that nappy filling little blob that giggled and wiggled when they did silly voices. They are preprogramed to say ‘how clever’.
So, you are probably left with a short list of folks you feel comfortable with.
‘Wait, wait, what about forums like Absolute Write or Literotica? They can be great places for getting critical feedback.’
Firstly, shut up, Daddy’s talking.
Secondly, I would leave the forums alone for now. Why? Well, everyone can see it. That is both good and bad. As likely as you are to get someone with a PHD in giving really good feedback you are also likely to get someone who wants to wipe their arse with your feelings.
***A quick note on your feelings – you have to be tough and you have to take a beating at times, but they are important. ***
By no means are all your readers online going to give you naff feedback, but they aren’t always going to give you constructive feedback. Sites like Absolute Write are full of good writers and people who give good feedback, but they exception does not prove the rule.
And thirdly, Literotica? Really? You, you just go back under your rock. And how dare you insinuate I have anything to do with the place. It’s not like I have a profile and stories there. Ugh, you.
But back to our list of people you’d waggle your bits at.
So, we’ve got your ten friends. You send your stuff off to them and say ‘Hi, I’m giving this writing thing a go. Could you read it and see if it doesn’t suck.’
Two people won’t reply, or they’ll say sure thing and then never respond with any feedback.
Three people will give you a vague, ‘I really like this, you’re doing great.’ This sounds nice and stuff, but how much useful feedback have you got? You know it’s good – you wouldn’t really have sent it out without thinking this.
Two people will say ‘I think there is potential here, but this x and this y need work.’ That’s good, you can use that, but don’t stop there. If you can get them to expand on what they think will help. Ask if there’s anything they think you’d benefit from reading.
***I’d always recommend Hemmingway for his bleak utility of language, Aaron Dembski-Bowden for his fun speed of delivery and Jim Butcher for his pacing.***
Two will give you one time in depth feedback. They’ll dissect what you’ve written, line by line and make comments that are constructive and useful.
The last person will do that, but be ready to do it again. Now you need nine more people and start the whole process again.
Can you do anything to mitigate that? Sure.
I made a questionnaire for my lot. I don’t use it with everyone, but with newbies it’s always useful. I try to include an extract of what I consider to be really good feedback from someone else as well as specifics on what I’m looking for.
I’d share mine, but it changes from project to project, draft by draft. It adapts to the requirements of the moment.
There are a few other things you can do to make them give you the best feedback.
- Thank them, even if they’ve delivered you a steaming pile of shit. They’ll be able to feel free to come to you with thoughts and feelings anytime they have them. You can say ‘that doesn’t help’ or ‘you jackass you take that back’ as long as you think it’s required.
- Ask, ask and ask again. Make sure they know that you want them involved in this. You’re doing all the leg work but they are the guys with a towel and the sports bottle saying things like ‘You can get em, Rocky’ or things like that.
- Cook for them. People like free food. Plus people talk more when they’re full. Get a note pad and give them a cup of tea whilst they help you. Have a print out of what you’ve written. Mark on it together and keep the chow flowing.
- Make them believe by being genuine. If your employees truly believe that your leadership team cares about them then people will share. If they do not feel this way, and you cannot convince them of this, then they will not offer up insight. Ever.
- Can you do anything for them? Maybe they don’t know what sort of feedback you want from them. Maybe that sex scene you wrote between the straight laced tortoise and the powerful dominant porcupine CEO was not to their taste and would prefer to not read that aspect of your writing. For example – I have to CTRL H and find all the swear words in my work and replace them with ‘poo’ or ‘butt’ because my Mum will never read anything I write otherwise.
***I do use my Mum on occasion, but not regularly***
What else? Well, as this is a post all about feedback, so why don’t you leave me some questions and I’ll see what I can answer.