Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It is a little strange to ask, but are there ways to get feedback from friends about the quality of fictional writing (whether they liked it, not more objective aspects like spelling/grammar/etc.) unbiased by the friendship that is likely to bias the judgment?

share|improve this question
    
Thank you all for the answers -- I found it hard to select an "accepted" answer, as many highlighted interesting parts (and many covered also feedback in general and not only specific regarding the issue that the person giving feedback is a friend, which has its own advantages and problems). –  Daniel Wessel Feb 21 '12 at 10:41
add comment

4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Choose your friends wisely! I started with a group of ten friends when I first started writing who had volunteered as beta readers. Five responded very quickly that they really loved my first book, even though I felt it still needed a lot of work. Three more came back a week or more later with glowing remarks. The last two took at least a couple more weeks, but both of them came back to me with questions, suggestions, and criticisms. Guess which ones are still beta readers five books later?

Make sure you tell your "friends" that you are looking for true, honest feedback. Tell them that they are not going to hurt your feelings (although in my case that turned out to be wrong, but I ultimately agreed with the criticism). Let them know that you truly NEED constructive criticism or feedback or suggestions and you need it to be brutally honest. Lastly, make sure you choose people that already read your genre (that was a mistake for me with two people who later admitted they really didn't read much of the first book).

Because they are your friends, their first inclination is going to be to encourage you and reinforce you, even if it means lying to you to not hurt your feelings. If a friend is willing to tell you the truth, even when they know it will disappoint you, then that is a friend you can trust!

share|improve this answer
4  
I totally agree with the part about telling them that you're looking for honesty. I would phrase the request in terms off "I'm looking for ways to improve this story. Can you give me some suggestions?" rather than the more ambiguous 'what do you think?'. If the book is perfect, they'll come back and apologize for not being able to improve it, but if they DO see room for improvement, they'll be more comfortable doing you the favour of pointing it out. –  Kate Sherwood Feb 10 '12 at 22:01
4  
The only thing I might disagree with in this otherwise excellent answer is that all your betas should read your genre. I think at least one should NOT be familiar with all the conventions of the genre, so that you can see if your book is accessible to someone who wouldn't ordinarily pick it up -- or if in fact it's the genre you think it is. Is it a crime story with a romance, or a romance set in a police station? Those are two different audiences. (cont'd) –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 10 '12 at 22:46
1  
(cont'd) Someone expecting a romance might not tell you that the dead bodies were getting in the way of the smooching, because she expects a certain amount of obstacle on the way to the smooching. But someone who reads crime novels, or is going in genre-blind, might be able to point out, "Hey, why are the two detectives kissing? I thought this was a crime novel. The romance subplot is getting out of hand!" and then you know your book is drifting out of genre. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 10 '12 at 22:46
add comment

Share your work as a revision-enabled word processor document (e.g. Word) or a cloud service (e.g. Google Docs):

  • People are more likely to add comments while reading rather than facing you with verbal criticism.
  • Their opinions are more considered because they can take time to write them. They also have the time to phrase it without hurting your feelings.
  • If shared among multiple beta readers (this is only possible with a cloud service), they get to see each others comments and compare notes.
  • This will also filter out those who are not serious about critique -- they wouldn't want to spend the time or effort to write down their comments.
  • Note: make sure you trust your friends enough that they won't indiscriminately re-share it.

Tell them to assume that they're reading an actual book that they paid money for. Tell them you already have positive comments and that you're looking for the flip side:

  • When they read it as a book they bought, they'll be a lot more critical.

Choose beta readers who read regularly. Better if you've heard them talk about other authors' works in the past

  • This will tell you exactly what level of analysis they're capable of.

As a final note. I did all these recently and it worked out very well. (It didn't hurt that I had several well-read friends with absurdly high standards!)

share|improve this answer
add comment

I like to listen to how people reacted to my writing. Frankly, I don't care what their suggestions are. They are reading your book, and I think they should act as a reader does, not as a writer. Feedback such as:

  • I didn't understand this part
  • I didn't like this part
  • I don't understand the meaning of this part

This is feedback I like because it gives me an honest impression from the reader. They didn't understand, like or find meaning about something, and this will be different for each reader. My readers find positive things about parts and areas that I never found to be a big deal, so I focused on it a little bit more.

Conversely I think the following kind of feedback is limited in how it can help:

  • You should rewrite this
  • Maybe the guy can be a ghost! (or whatever_)
  • What if blank happens?

The most helpful advice I have gotten is from people who have simply told me what they think of the story, not what they think should be in the story.

"What do you think?"

and

"What do you think it should be?"

These are two very different questions. The second question can go bad very quickly. If the person gives you genuine answers about the first question you can say, "Well that's their impression, and everyone has a different one". No hurt feelings, and even better, a look into what your audience is thinking.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I agree with the above comment that first off, you need to make it clear that advice and criticism are what you want, rather than affirmation. You also need to make sure that that's actually true; many writers find it harder to discuss their work critically than they expect to. And nothing kills a writing workshop/beta faster than having the author get touchy or mount a defence in response to each criticism.

On a practical level, I would suggest you ask for your friends' thoughts on specific aspects of your work that you already have doubts about or want comments on--say, 'did this scene work for you?' or 'do you care about this character as a person?'

Also, you can present them with specific questions about what they think makes a story good/worth reading, and then ask them how well your piece lives up to that. Basically, the more you give your friends a concrete set of criterion with which to assess your story (or make them come up with one on their own) the easier they'll find it to give you solid feedback.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.