A Different Set Of Eyes: Getting Feedback On Your Writing, by Nansi Kunze
Grab the nearest book and open it up. Go on! No, it doesn’t matter what the book is – just pick one. Right. Now hold the page right up to your face, so close that your nose touches the paper. Can you read it like that?
Writing fiction is a lot like reading it: the closer you are to it, the harder it is to see it clearly. If you’re only writing for yourself, that doesn’t matter. If you’re working on a YA novel in the hope that someday it’ll be published, however, then you’ll need another set of eyes to help you. Those eyes usually fall into one of three categories: friends and family, manuscript assessors and editors.
Most people start with friends and family as their readers. Friends and relatives are easy to access, can be pestered to finish your manuscript if you think they’re taking too long, and don’t generally expect to be paid. The drawback, of course, is that (unless you’re particularly lucky) they aren’t professionals. That doesn’t invalidate their feedback, though. You can make the most of this kind of reader by picking them carefully. This means choosing someone who fits the same demographic as your intended readership, or someone who’s well-read and critical, rather than lovely Aunty Shirley, who’d tell you anything you wrote was wonderful. You can also make their feedback more useful by giving them specific things to comment on; a response sheet with a few straightforward questions (such as which characters they liked best or least and why, or whether there were any parts of the story they found confusing or improbable) is one way to do this.
Manuscript assessors will read your work at most stages of development, but they’re often the next step for aspiring writers after showing a manuscript to friends and family. As professionals, they can tell you stuff your nearest and dearest may not be able to: what the state of the publishing industry is and where your novel fits into that, how well that hard-to-define spark known as ‘voice’ comes across in your work and whether your themes need to develop further within the story, to name a few. Of course, they’re great at checking for typos and plot-holes, too. Reputable manuscript assessors charge for this expertise, but it can be well worth it if you’re serious about your writing.
Having publishing house editors read your work can be terrifying – after all, they’re the ones who’ll get to decide whether your manuscript becomes a book or not. But, like manuscript assessors, they have the experience and the training to give you invaluable feedback on your writing. An early reader of mine once said, ‘Oh, I hope the editors don’t mess about with your manuscript too much – I thought it was perfect!’ It was lovely to hear, but there were two things wrong with that statement. One, there’s no way my first draft was perfect – no one’s is. Two, editors aren’t there to ‘mess about’ with authors’ work. If you’re fortunate enough to receive any detailed feedback from an editor, remember that editors have your novel’s best interests at heart. Yes, editors’ opinions are subjective, and no, I don’t make every single change my editors suggest, but I do follow the majority of them. Those suggestions give a polish to my stories that I could never achieve alone.
If all this has you thinking, ‘Uh … getting feedback sounds too scary. Maybe I’ll just re-read my manuscript myself,’ pick up that book again and hold it up to your face. Even the most experienced and revered writers have overlooked gaping plot holes, or left fans furious when their protagonist does something completely out of character. Oh, and if your answer to that question at the start was yes, ignore everything I’ve just said and go find yourself a good costume. That’s some superpower you’ve got there, kid.