Sunday, July 15, 2012

Putting Your Test Readers to the Test by Donna Ansari

Many years ago, before I had even thought of writing a book, I was part of a writing circle. I’m sure you all know what that is, but in case you don’t, it’s when a group of people read each other’s writing and critique it. Let me just say that I did not thrive in that sort of environment. If anything, it made me even more insecure about my writing, and I was almost left with a desire to abandon it entirely.

So after I finished the second draft of my first book, New Blood, the idea of getting test readers was truly scary to me. After all, the only two people who had read it before that were my best friend and my husband, and while I thought they genuinely liked it, it also occurred to me that they could simply be lying to be kind.

Then, when I was looking through my e-mail contacts to decide who exactly I should ask to be test readers, it occurred to me why I had such a big problem with the writer’s circle. No one else in it was at all interested in my genre of paranormal/urban fantasy. In that same vein, if someone asked me to read and give feedback on a science fiction book set in outer space or anything having to do with aliens, I would probably not be able to give very good feedback either. It’s just not that interesting to me, no matter how good a writer you are.

The lesson I learned here was that if you are going to get test readers (and you really should), make sure that they are people who are interested in your genre. If you hate stories about vampires living in New York City, then my series, Vampire in the City, is just not for you. And as a writer, I have to come to terms that it’s not anything against me personally, just like I don’t have anything against people who write about aliens in outer space.

After some time, I had finally gotten up the courage and sent my story to about a half dozen people who I knew liked reading paranormal/urban fantasy books. But I still made a very big mistake. In the e-mail accompanying the file, I simply said something along the lines of: “Here it is. Read it and tell me what you think.”  

Some very kind individuals carefully went through and let me know exactly what worked for them and what didn’t, which characters they loved, and which characters they wanted to see killed off, and what parts required further explanation or were best left out entirely. But some others just wrote back the very unhelpful phrase, “I liked it.”

This is why, when I was finishing up the second draft of Wild Blood, I actually sent along a detailed questionnaire to my test readers. I included questions like Did the novel leave any unanswered questions? If so, which ones? and Was anything in the book unclear? Needless to say, the responses from the test readers were almost infinitely more helpful. And of course, my suggested questions are just that. Feel free to get as detailed as possible in your questionnaires.

So as you are on the hunt for your test readers, make sure you only ask people who you know enjoy reading the genre you write. This means that you shouldn’t put out an open request on Facebook or to everyone in your e-mail contacts list; instead, choose them carefully. After all, they will be the ones helping you decide on the final touches to your novel. And don’t leave them floundering around with no guidelines whatsoever. If you are looking for feedback on something in particular, ask.

If you follow these guidelines, you will find the comments and suggestions you get back from your test readers to be much more helpful!

Donna Ansari was born in New York City and has lived there for most of her life. Donna graduated from Pace University with a BA in Literature and Communications. Since then, she has been working as an editor, primarily in the field of medical education.

Donna lives in Queens with her husband, son, and large black cat. She is not currently aware of any vampires in her neighborhood.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post. I like the idea of sending along a questionnaire!