Okay, so you’ve written the first three chapters of the next great novel and now you want some feedback, but this is your first effort and you’re a little nervous. Who to ask?
Get a good listener.
The most vital thing you need in the initial drafts is someone who will take the time to listen to you talk about your book before he even reads a page. You need someone who wants to understand the vision you have for book and who will help you stick to that vision. This is important because some folks hear your idea and then start telling you what should happen next and what you should add and what this-and-that until they’ve completely hijacked your faith-promoting tale of two immigrants into an action thriller about gang warfare.
Get an avid reader.
An avid reader knows how to read. That sounds simplistic, but voracious readers ask the mental questions that keep them looking forward. They know how to negotiate the written word and interpret meaning. They have a willingness to plunge in and devote some time, confident that it will yield something of worth.
Get a person who likes the genre you’re writing.
I made the mistake of giving some of my early fantasy novel drafts to a few people who read almost exclusively self-help nonfiction. It did not work well. They were uncomfortable with descriptive passages and the imaginative leaps they had to take to picture the action. Consequently, they hated reading it. It simply wasn’t their style.
On the other hand, if you get someone who likes to read the style you are trying to create, he’ll be able to let you know if you’re pulling it off successfully or if there are elements missing.
Get someone who is in your target audience.
If you’re writing a children’s book, it does no good to preview it only with businessmen. You want to know if what you’re writing is reaching its goal. You may have good content, but be presenting it all wrong. A target audience member can help you to make the necessary adjustments.
Get someone patient.
I have been very blessed with this one. One friend was willing to go through literally dozens of drafts with me. While I don’t suggest you abuse your friends quite that much, if you can get a consistent pair of eyes to say, “Yes, you’re getting closer,” or “You’re still having a problem with that,” it really helps. We are so entrenched in our own writing that it is often difficult to see progress or decline when writing multiple revisions.
Should you get a grammar geek?
That depends on how confident you are in your interpretation of the red and green squiggly lines your word processor uses to taunt you. It can be discouraging to see a page bleeding with red ink to show all your dangling modifiers and split infinitives. But if you can emotionally separate proofreading marks on your mechanics (which are there to help your coherence) from commentary on the content itself (which is more at the heart), then go for it. Bear in mind that you’ll probably do a few more drafts, and those marks may become moot.
Should you get a professional writer?
To answer that, I’d say–Does he/she fit the above criteria? If so, then it’s a terrific resource. If not, you may run into undeserved negativity.
Am I trying to set you up for a positive review?
In the first rounds. Absolutely. Because, frankly, first drafts usually aren’t that good. Second drafts are fuzzy, too. But they will never become third or twelfth drafts if they are shot down right away.
It’s like roller skating or playing the violin. The first efforts may fall or squeak, and they may be ugly to watch. But if you get encouragement from someone who sees what you’re trying to do and believes you can do it….
Good writing takes time. Get some good eyes that will help you see what you’re doing–objectively, but kindly. Eventually, the pros may pick it apart and edit or suggest tweaks. By then, you’ll be more secure in your masterpiece. You’ll know they’re just doing their job. They’re paid to make your story marketable.
But first, make it yours. Make it your best.