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The Trick To Receiving Good Manuscript Feedback From Your Family and Friends

I often read articles about self editing which tell you to not ask people close to you to act as beta readers for your work. The reasons vary: “they won’t give you their real opinion” or “they don’t know anything about writing a book” or “they don’t know how to give you good, usable feedback”.

All of which are good reasons, but there is a way to get past all of this: you have to know what to ask from them.

My wonderful mother read the first half of my first draft, and although I questioned her about her thoughts and feelings she’d only respond with “it’s good” or “it’s easy to read”. Now this is an exact description of what I wrote above, except when I went over the copies I received from her she had corrected my grammar and spelling and highlighted passages that didn’t make sense. Although she didn’t give me a structural critique, she gave me a copyedit, which is an extremely valuable part of the editing process.

You may be thinking, but I’m going to hire a copyeditor anyway, or the publisher will have one, why do I need to go through the time and trouble of getting a relative’s feedback when they aren’t even a professional?

They are free! That is the first and foremost thing I love to think about with family editing my work. I pull on that relative bond and get their copyediting service for free. Yes they aren’t professional, but it doesn’t take a university course to spot spelling mistakes and minor grammar issues. They may not be able to point out the more in depth things which do require professional knowledge, but you want your manuscript as polished as it can be before asking for professional, paid, work. It will save you money and help foster a good relationship with your editor. They will want to work with you and they will be delighted to have your email come into their inbox.

Okay but can I use my relatives for structural edits?

Yes you certainly can if you know who to ask. It may be obvious – maybe you are related to an English teacher or your friend did a creative writing course at university. Those people are the first to go to, to ask and see if they would like to help. Key word: ask. If they don’t sound keen, I wouldn’t bother. You want good feedback from people who are interested in helping you.

However not many of us are that lucky (I was lucky with one uncle – avid reader and went to uni), but you can always find sneaky editors. I call them sneaky because it’s not always obvious at first. Two of my most trusted, and favourite, critiquing help are sneaky editors.

  1. My cousin, who is four years younger than me. She reads almost as much as I do, and has always had an interest in writing, which has grown as she saw me write more. I often go to her when I’m stuck in a plot hole or I don’t know if something makes sense or if simply I’m convinced the scene I just work is brilliant and I want someone else to praise me (which isn’t always the case). The great thing about my cousin is she is very opinionated. No matter if what I’m asking her to critique is good or bad she’ll sure and shit let me know. She is also writing now herself and therefore knows more than the average person about structure and plot.
  2. My guy best friend John is also a sneaky editor. When my cousin wasn’t available to talk to I’d message him, and within ten minutes I’d always get a reply (invaluable trait in a person when I’ve got a major plot hole and want to work things out straight away). My favourite thing about John is, although he doesn’t read a lot, he will give me a teenage guy’s opinion, and he also causes me to really think about my characters and their actions. He is as passionate about parts of my book as I am.

I will ask those two (among) others to pick up the structural issues. I am lucky to have a wide variety of people around me who I believe are going to be excellent to review my novel. For the sake of naming names and giving a heads up to those I will be asking to be my beta readers here’s a list of names:

  • Meagan
  • Amber
  • John
  • Brooke
  • Brett
  • Darren
  • Leanne
  • Lee (Mummy!)
  • Holly
  • Jessica

I think that is everyone, but if anyone else believes they can be some help to me I will of course love more help, and if you are a fellow writer I would be happy to trade off and critique your work.

I’m going to have rounds of critiquing. Meagan is getting in first because she’s starting university in a few weeks and will be too bogged down. I’m (hopefully) finishing up the last scene tonight before I run my manuscript through Grammarly and/or the Hemmingway app to try and make it as less-clunky as I can. I’ll be buying printing supplies on Monday so I can give it to her on Wednesday at my birthday dinner with my friends.

(Yes that’s right I’m turning 20!! I will no longer be a teenager from the 5th of February 😀 )

After Meagan has given me her notes – and I’ve given the MS distance – I’ll be going through again with her notes and making it as polished as I can before giving it to those lovely people listed above. But again in rounds. I’ll be giving it to the people who will be the most structural help first, and then the grammar people.

What is your self editing process? Who do you ask? Have you asked your family/friends? How did it work out? Tell me in the comments below or shoot me an email on my contact page!

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P.S. Do you like my new signature? A lovely lady named Maria, on Etsy, made it for me 🙂

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