Care and Feeding of Ideal Readers
Last post, I discussed how valuable I found getting feedback from an Ideal Reader (IR). But even if you think you’ve identified a likely candidate, you need to treat her with care.
Make sure the Ideal Reader knows what she is committing to
Most people are flattered that you ask them to read your work but they may not understand what they are agreeing to and you need to spell this out to avoid damaging your relationship and the quality of the feedback.
- Tell him what kind of time commitment you are asking for. A novel takes a lot longer than a short story and it needs to fit into his schedule.
- Agree on a deadline. Since your Ideal Reader (IR) is probably volunteering, it can be awkward to do but if you have to wait six months, it’s not going to do you much good. You can say something like, “I know you are crazy busy. Would it be too soon to discuss this in a month or so?”
- Let them know that you will be sending them a set of questions you’d like answered. More on that below.
Help her give you what you need
As I have mentioned in other posts, the job of the writer is to create a continuous dream in which the reader can immerse herself. The more successfully it is done, the less the ordinary reader can identify the elements which make up the continuous dream feeling. So, unless your Ideal Reader is himself a writer, it is unlikely he can give feedback in a writerly way. The IR won’t say the frame of the story doesn’t work but rather I got sort of confused.
To help your IR, you can and should provide a set of questions to be read after the IR has finished your piece. The questions revolve around areas where you are unsure. Here are some examples:
What you are looking for
Did it get boring at any point? If so where?
Does the action slow down
Did you want to know what happened to Jill or did it not matter at some point?
Credibility and persuasiveness of the character
Did you buy [name event of which you are unsure] would happen?
Believability of the plot
Dos and Don’ts
Remembering that the IR is doing you a favor and that you are friends:
- thank them profusely, write a thank you note, or send a small gift
- react to the feedback respectfully even if, or especially if, you don’t agree. See my post on feedback.
- bombard them with in-progress or repeat readings. They read for enjoyment and repetition can kill that. Use your writing group for that.
- assume you can go back to them again. Ask again if you have a new piece.
- go back months later to ask about details of your work. They won’t remember.
You need to make the experience a pleasant one for your IR, first because you are friends but also because you want them to continue to enjoy reading your pieces and not view it as a chore they do only because you’re buds.