Saturday, 9 January 2010

Be Careful Who You Show To...

The alternative to paying for a book doctor or reading service is to beg friends to read and give feedback. This has the advantage of being free, and can provide some really excellent feedback, but it also comes with draw backs.

First, choose your friends wisely. You are looking for someone who is experienced in giving feedback because I think it takes about 2 years to learn how to give and receive feedback in a non-emotional, supportive yet critical way. If you have such a friend, cherish them and feed them brownies at every opportunity.

Alternatively, grow your own. I read for, and am read by, four friends. The first I met on the first writing class I ever went on, the other three I met on my creative writing MA. Over the past ten years we've got to know each other's quirks - they all know I'm obsessed by chapter ends and structure, not so hot on line editing. Luckily, that's someone else's speciality, skewering the unnecessary adverb with surgical precision. We've all got strengths and weaknesses and no one has much truck with the 'oh that's lovely' school of criticism.

What you don't want is someone who promotes their own ideas at your expense. Blossom wrote in a comment a couple of days ago about a reader friend who'd taken exception to the background of a character and panned the novel on those grounds. I sympathise with how it threw Blossom completely. Our novels are our babies, and it's not nice to see them get a kicking, especially when it seems undeserved.

Nor do you want someone who doesn't read (or worse, doesn't value) your kind of writing. I once saw a novel that that started with an explosion on a motor boat in the South of France, then quickly transfered to Lancashire where it became a relationship novel. I asked why the explosion, and the author explained that her husband (who read only thrillers) had suggested it needed a bit more excitement and action. And you certainly don't want a reader who feels it essential to point out, with a superior little smirk, that your sort of writing isn't what they'd usually read (this happened to me early on).

So, having chosen your reader friends, you need to know how to get the best from them, which I'll write about tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Really looking forward to tomorrows blog Sarah. The only people I show my work to is Billy and my MIL because they both understand the background and customs of the country my story is set in. I would like to show it to others, for example my parents, but haven't because I know they will say that's lovely Ann, and be unable to give constructive criticism which I need far more than an amateur critics praise.

Ann Patey

Blossom said...

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the last two posts– they have really helped to clarify my feelings re book doctors and feedback from friends. Will look forward to reading tomorrow's blog too.

I'll also take your advice re the RNA and apply as soon as I hear back from them. Thinking ahead, I'm already planning to come to the Summer Party and have taken the day off work. It's good to have something summery to look forward to while we're surrounded by all this snow!

Hope your cold's now gone.


Sarah Duncan said...

Much better, thanks, and am able to write again.

I hope tomorrow's post lives up to your expectations!