My coauthor and I have recently started writing the last few chapters of our book on college transfer. Our publisher recommended that we run portions of our drafts by “readers”, to get their feedback on what they liked or what they felt needed some clarification or improvements. Rather than simply emailing the pages to my first batch of readers, I chose to bring hard copies with me to Phoenix. My plan was to have them mark these up, after which we’d discuss their suggestions and brainstorm ways to make the book better. The beauty of choosing old pals for this assignment was that I knew I didn’t need to worry about them mincing words or editing their true reactions for fear of hurting my feelings.
This plan worked out even better than I had dreamed. Melissa (an avid nonfiction reader) and Judi (a past transfer herself who works in a college) gave me all sorts of ideas about the tone, the format, and the student and parent quotes I had chosen to accentuate the points I was making. They were also able to point out a few awkward sentences and areas they felt like I should expand on. The best part though was when we talked about why they had found the topic intriguing and how the pages they read sparked their interest college transfer, in particular how it impacted students’ lives after graduation. Better still was when they volunteered (unprompted by me!) to read upcoming sections as I complete the drafts.
Another unexpected bonus was when Leonard, Melissa’s husband, agreed to look my book pages while I read a short story he was working on. I had completely forgotten that Leonard was a guidance counselor who worked with many high school students and colleges in Arizona for over twenty years. Not only that, but his mother was an English teacher. With this level of knowledge and experience he added a whole new dimension to the critiquing.
This mixing of business and pleasure reminded me that your friends can be invaluable resources when you need someone to provide honest feedback that will make your writing better than ever. And-no need to pay for their editing services. A post-critique glass of Chardonnay at Postino Wine Cafe will do just fine!