A team of readers

3 March 2013 / Leave a Comment
I like systems. At work, when the designer presents her first design for the brochure, say, I know exactly who to show it to. I know whose eyes need to see it and what kind of feedback and corrections I am seeking.


Last year, I realised that I've been lacking any sort of system with my writing. I did a series where I asked other writers how they approached their writing and got some great ideas from other writers about what they did when.


Recently, I listened to a podcast by K.M. Weiland on Wordplay and she went through just how many drafts she did of her work and how many sets of readers she organised to see her work at which point. This helped me to discover the essential ingredient that I was missing: readers. Aside from one paid manuscript assessment, some five years back, I'd been using publishing houses and the Vogel Award as my readers. It is clear now to me that this isn't a very good system for acquiring quality feedback.


I'm most of the way through my second draft of my new novel and I'm excited to say that I've set up a team of readers to read this early draft. I've got three people whose opinions I trust. They are:
  • a friend, a general reader, aligned with the audience I am trying to reach
  • another writer, whose work I admire
  • an editor (and friend), with a similar taste in books. 
My plan is to print my manuscript out, double spaced, and ask for them to write comments as they go along. I'm also creating a list of specific things I'd like feedback on, things that I'm a bit iffy about, for example:
  • what do you think about the way that I reveal information? 
  • what do you think about the structure, and the way I flick between past and present? Were you able to follow this?
  • what would you like to see developed further?

By getting feedback on these things, early on, it may save lots of work in the long run. And if big things like the structure isn't working for people, it's good to find out sooner rather than later.


I feel really scared about letting people look at my work at this stage. My biggest fear is that they'll think that it's nothing short of garbage ... my greatest hope is that they can calm some of the doubts in my mind, and help me to pinpoint areas that need improvement and write suggestions that make me think more deeply about my work.


It's a huge ask to get someone to read your work. It's not like a painting, where someone can make up an opinion in under a minute. Responding to a novel requires concentration, thoughtfulness and kind honesty, and it takes hours of someone's time. So I've thought carefully about who I would like to ask, and I'm lucky to have a couple of extra people up my sleeve for the next round.


I'm really grateful to have an editor and another writer on my reading team, but I've also heard that retired English teachers can be fantastic readers! And if you're a bit like me, and it's a nerve-wracking business getting other people to look at your work, then there are always writers sites like Authonomy and YouWriteOn. I had my work on Authonomy last year, and it was far less intimidating receiving an email in my inbox from an unknown person with constructive criticism, than it is to have to catch up for coffee with a friend who has read my work. 
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