Should you ask friends and family to review your newly finished manuscript for you? Writers are often advised against it, because those who are close to us are likely to be more polite than honest, and may not have the necessary knowledge to make comments on the technical aspects of story writing. However, although they are unable to advise on characterisation, plot, narrative voice and dialogue, does that mean that friends and family have nothing of value to offer? I would suggest they do!manuscript

Here are three things you could ask for comments on (carefully choosing people who will be both encouraging and honest, of course!), which would be useful feedback on your newly finished manuscript:

  1. At what point did they put the story down? As writers we are aiming to write stories that are so gripping that readers are unable to put the book down. Of course readers may sometimes be obliged to stop and get on with some other activity, but if several reviewers mention the same place, it could be that you should look at tightening up some aspect of that particular scene. Perhaps you could move the plot on a bit faster, cut out a bit of dialogue or change the scene completely.
  2. Was there anything in the story that didn’t make sense? When you are so close to your story, and have perhaps worked on it for weeks or months or even years, it’s easy to overlook sometimes glaring mistakes. These could be in timing, character, sentence structure or various other issues. A fresh pair of eyes could be useful in picking up these errors so you can sort them out.
  3. What was it about the story that remained with you? It may be that your hero was an inspiration to your readers, or your theme shone through. That would be encouraging! If not, it could be worth your while thinking about how you could improve your story in some way, to make sure that you have achieved your purpose.

After this initial feedback from trusted acquaintances, and hopefully having received some useful comments and made any necessary changes, there’s nothing like a professional manuscript criticism service . . . but at least you might have already corrected some obvious mistakes before you do.

Do you let your family and friends read your manuscripts? It would be great to hear your experiences!

Should you ask friends and family to review your manuscript?

2 thoughts on “Should you ask friends and family to review your manuscript?

  • 30th September 2014 at 3:46 pm
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    This is an interesting one, I think you have identified some very useful questions to ask readers.
    Well, my husband has read, discussed, and been a really useful sounding board. But, his work is in the area of English (Oxford English Dictionary staff) and he is very able to critique anything which doesn’t work, from a long, straggling sentence with too many clauses to the bigger picture of scenes which don’t work, are unnecessary, or don’t chime properly with what we know of the characters (and to check my spelling!

    We discuss writing styles etc and the pitfalls of writing, such as using cliches of plot of phrase, the saggy middle problem, etc, within books in general.

    I would not just pass something around to any friend/family member: I reckon those in the business can be trusted to have the skills. It’s also useful if they aren’t the usual readers of the book you write, as that helps with the ‘and did you find you kept turning pages?’ test more than if the genre is something they’d lap up.

    The test of my about-to-be-out novel was, I think, our older son reading it and making some insightful and quite sensitive comments. It’s not a book for a 30-something male, and he was ‘only’ dealing with conversion to e-book formula, but reading and being moved by the emotional side of the story I think was a good test of my writing. I guess if Iwas writing for children I would try to find some to try a story out on – hopefully without saying it was my own work, though. And of course, kids do have a reputation for being honest.

    We are at present beta-reading a manuscript from another family member – she has lived a very interesting life, writes amusingly, but so far it’s a great muddle and she is going to have some useful advice on editing/re-writes passed over!

    All that said, I can imagine that in some families/among some friends, people might just want to keep the writer happy – which is not at all helpful.

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  • 1st October 2014 at 9:08 am
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    Thank you for your comments Clare – it’s good to hear of your experiences. How wonderful to have such supportive and able family to help you! I always get relevant children to review Dernier books before they come out. Some children can be amazingly expressive; others find it difficult to say what they did and didn’t like. ‘I liked it’ isn’t terribly helpful! By the time they reach eight, children can be amazingly shy about saying what they did and didn’t like – they have been taught to be polite!

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