It's Hump Daaaaaay!!
And I've decided to post what I've learned over the last year about sharing one's work, one's baby, if you will, with other people--you know, critique partners, beta readers, your mom, your sister-in-law, the milkman, and the like.
It's a "hump" that's taken me a while to understand, scale, and eventually get over. What pray tell am I talking about, you ask? I'm talking about getting constructive and usable feedback from people you let read and critique your manuscript. This post mostly applies to Beta Readers and the first draft, but don't stop reading, it has relevance to every reader at every step of the critique process.
When I started writing my first novel a few years back, I was terrified to share my work with anyone, and I mean, ANYONE. Eventually, I got over that "hump" and asked my sister-in-law (an avid YA reader) to read my very first completed ms. She called me right away and let me know how much she was enjoying it, which is always nice, but I wanted details.
Why did she like or dislike the main characters? Where were any plots holes? etc. etc.
You know, the dig deep down, nitty-gritty of it all.
In the end, the main feedback I received from her mostly concerned pacing. One might assume a first draft would be too slow in the pacing department, however, she pointed out the contrary--each chapter was too fast. She wanted my characters to spend more time in each scene. This piece of information was priceless! I never would have seen this on my own. One problem: it's hard to go back after writing 80,000 words and figure out specifically where to add more details, especially for a new writer.
This feedback, while invaluable, barely scratched the surface.
Now that I'm working on my second ms, I've decided not to wait until it's completely finished to get someone or someones to critique it and submit feedback--I feel it's easier for me to make changes along the way (but to be clear, I'm not talking about line edits here--those should be saved until the end, in my opinion). Again, I've asked a slew of people, including two different CP's, and my best beta reader, my sister-in-law, to read my WIP (work-in-progress) and submit feedback. However, I've learned from my previous mistakes and instead of just throwing my work at them and waiting with bated breath at my computer for them to toss something, anything back, I've asked for specific feedback this time.
Here is the feedback I requested:
1) Are the characters likable/dislikable and/or believable? Can you relate to them? Why?
2) Does the story flow? How's pacing? Where should it pick up or slow down?
3) Are there any plot holes so far? And where?
4) Is the setting developed enough?
5) Does the first page engage you to keep reading? At what point (chapter/page) would you or did you put it down??
6) Does the dialogue work? Sound YA?
7) Specific Likes/Dislikes/Questions/Comments
8) And I saved the the most important one for last: VOICE
(Why? For me, it's the hardest to get right)
Don't get me wrong, I am open to ANY and ALL feedback of my work, and happily welcome it with open arms. Each ms I write is different, and so what I request of my readers each time will be different, but I think it is important to ask SPECIFIC questions in order to get the most useful feedback possible.
And you'll know exactly what to do with it.
Or course, always remember it is the writer's prerogative if her or she even wants to apply the suggestions to his or her work.
While I understand there is a difference between a beta reader and a critique partner, it's still important to know what to ask your readers. Most writers save line edits (spelling, grammar, typos) for their CP's, and big picture items for their Betas, but that doesn't mean a writer can't request clear-cut advice, as outlined above, if that's in the arrangement you've made together. If not, ask, and I'm sure your reader will oblige.
Do you ask your readers (CP's, Beta's etc.) for certain feedback or do you let them take the reigns? Or, maybe you're like me and it's a combination of both?