You think your book manuscript is wonderful—or you think it’s awful. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of confidence in what you’ve written, you need feedback in the form of a book critique.
Does that sound like frightening news? It’s your book. You care about it. You suffered and struggled through writing it. How can you trust someone else to competently and fairly judge it?
It’s because other people aren’t emotionally invested in your writing that they can read it with objectivity and fairness. You need that kind of reading.
Recently I spoke to a man who hired me to do a critical read of his book. He explained, “I wrote this over a period, and I am not sure it is any good. I want you to tell me if it flows well, is organized in a logical way, and has value.”
The Dreaded Red Pencil
Not everyone wants or values a book critique. How open we are as adults to a book critique is rooted in our school days. While that red pencil our teachers wielded on our work may be electronic these days, some of us remember when it was literal.
We’d turn in school papers and get them back riddled with circled words or phrases, underlining, marginal comments, and exclamation points. We felt overwhelmed and discouraged.
The sad truth is that many teachers, underpaid and overworked, had little interest in encouraging hopeful writers. They plowed through piles of papers, usually at night, with the sole intention of finishing them before they fell asleep at their desks. They didn’t worry about breaking your heart and helping to establish a life-long fear of criticism.
When feelings of self-doubt arise, remind yourself, “I am no longer eight years old.” If you need more encouragement, make a list of what you do well.
Because sensitivity to a book critique doesn’t vanish overnight, give special thought to choosing your beta readers.
Who Should Give You a Book Critique: The Beta Reader
Some people claim that no one who cares about you should critique your book because they’ll be too nice. You need a tough, no holds-barred critic.
If you’re feeling vulnerable even before you ask someone to read your work, a tough critic is exactly what will keep your from ever writing again. You’re not copping out by asking someone nice to read your manuscript.
One of my authors was recently devastated by what she saw as unfair criticism from a beta reader. After reacting to the comments for a couple of days, she settled down and reread the positive comments she got from other readers.
A friend may say the same thing a stranger will, but they’ll wrap up the truth in a much more sympathetic package, and you’ll be better able to take in what they say and make the needed changes.
In “Why Use Family and Friends as Beta Readers?”, Paul Kilpatrick elaborates on this theme.
Small Humiliations Now Can Prevent Bigger Ones Later On
Be aware that even a critique couched in kind language can sting. When that happens, think of this analogy. You might feel embarrassed if a friend tells you that you have a stain on your garment. You’ll feel much more embarrassed if no one tells you, and you go on a stage to speak in front of hundreds of people.
Beta readers perform the invaluable service of pointing out aspects of your work you can fix before publishing it. If you give them an outline or a first draft, their recommendations can make writing the second draft or doing revisions much easier. This will boost your self-confidence and make you calmer about receiving a new round of book critiques.
You Can Return the Favor
Someone who does a beta reading for you may ask you to reciprocate. This is a common and mutually productive practice among authors. I recommend that you welcome this opportunity. You’ll have an invaluable chance to see how another person’s writing mind works. You’ll probably learn something.
And consider what one of my Writing to Get Business Podcast authors did. John Saunders asked about 250 people to serve as beta readers. They committed a small sum ($20) to buy the book. John gained $5000 in advance money to pay for the publishing and he had a core of people who helped him launch the book.
Best of all, as you thoughtfully evaluate someone else’s reading, you’ll find yourself wanting to be helpful and to make useful critiques. You’ll realize that beta readers aren’t out to get you. They’re not that teacher who waved the deadly red pencil. As you learn to willingly (gladly will come) their recommendations, you will become a better writer.
Pat Iyer MSN RN LNCC is a consultant, speaker, author, editor and coach. She has written or edited over 60 of her own books and worked with a few dozen authors. Pat is an Amazon international #1 bestselling author. Coaches, consultants, and speakers hire Pat to help release the knowledge inside them so that they can attract their ideal clients.
She delights in assisting people to share their expertise by writing. Pat serves international and national experts as an editor, book coach, and a medical and business writer.