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How to Get Manuscript Readers to Tell You the Truth

How Do You Tell Someone Their Baby is Ugly?

Most of your friends probably hope you won’t ask them to read your work. Especially if it’s your first piece.

They worry that your “baby” will be ugly.

They are afraid of hurting your feelings.

Or expect they will have to lie to your face.

But you need readers to help you polish your work. So you need to open the door for them.

I have found the best way to get the truth from readers is to not ask: “Did you like it?” That’s an easy lie for most people. “Sure! It was great!”

But you don’t really learn anything.

The best way to get the truth is to ask about their experience reading your work.

My Latest Manuscript

Last month I decided my manuscript, Under the Scup’nin Vine, was ready for readers.

Since my wife is an avid reader and the perfect target for my novel, I asked her to invite several readers from her book group to help.

I explained what I needed and what they would have to do. They agreed.

I’ve learned to follow the rules below to get their real thoughts.

The Rules to Get Manuscript Readers to Tell the Truth

  1. Find readers who match your target audience — If they’re not likely to buy your book, then their hearts won’t be in it. You need to know if you’ve captured the attention of your target audience.
  2. Help the readers feel part of the process — Explain that you are in themiddle of the writing process, not at the end. A change happens when they know this. Instruct readers that you need both positive and negative feedback so you can get it ready for submission to agents and editors.
  3. Do not share a polished copy— Whether printed or electronic, the version you share must look and feel like a draft. Share a Word draft, not a designed draft. This reinforces that you are in the middle of the process. Otherwise readers will fear that their suggestions will cause you to backtrack too much. And they will hold back.
  4. Open the door to negative feedback — Though they aren’t editing, ask them to flag any typos, grammatical errors or awkward phrasing. This opens the door for them to point out problems.
  5. Give them a written questionnaire to complete as they read — The questionnaire gives them the opportunity to share their experience with you. The written format and the questions give them the chance to be honest without having to voice negative feedback. I ask questions like:
  • Which characters did you love? Hate? Why?
  • At what point — if ever — did you root for the protagonist? Why?
  • At what points did you get confused? (Give me page numbers and the questions you had.)
  • At what points did you laugh?
  • At what points did you get bored?
  • At what points did you cry?
  • What did you expect would happen at the end? Were you happy or unhappy with the resolution?
  • Could you see yourself recommending the book? Why or why not?
  • Any other thoughts, concerns or issues you want to share with me?

The Most Important Rule

No matter what they say, don’t get defensive! They will read your reaction. If they sense you are defensive, they will shut down. If they sense you are receptive, they will share more.

You want them to share more.

Thank them for the time and effort. Be gracious.

They did you a favor.

My Results

My readers decided they wanted a group discussion — just like a book group. I was thrilled!

They brought their completed questionnaires and their notes, and we had a great discussion.

They loved characters I didn’t expect them to love.

They were moved at points when I didn’t expect much reaction.

They chided my protagonist — like a parent — for his foolish mistakes.

They had immersed themselves into the story.

I could feel that I was onto something.

They were comfortable sharing negative feedback because I didn’t react. Instead, I took notes and asked questions to make sure I understood their comments.

Thanks to them, I’m reworking parts of the manuscript now.

Their feedback has strengthened the story.

Mission accomplished.

 

Sometimes You Need a Little Creativity Boost

My free eBook might just help:

5 Exercises that Will Make You 10 Times More Creative

I use these exercises to keep the juices flowing — in myself and in my clients. (I am a marketing consultant, after all.)

You can follow my blog on Medium.

You can follow my journey to get published on Facebook.

Bryan Searing