No writer lives in a bubble. Every one of us has an audience we need to reach to be successful, but we can’t let our audience see our work before it’s ready. We need to find ways to test it out on a smaller, understanding-of-mistakes-and-unfinished-work audience before we let it out the door.
One of the best ways to do this is to have a group of trusted people who you ask to give you feedback. But who should you have in your circle of confidants? Here’s a list of six types of people you’ll want to make sure see your work before you call it done.
This is a person who loves everything you write. They are already convinced based on your previous work that you are brilliant. You’ll want their feedback for a few reasons.
First, a Fan can tell you if you’re living up to your standards. Because they are familiar with and enjoyed your other work, they know what you’re capable of, so they will be able to give you valuable feedback on whether or not you’ve done your best.
Second, they will be thrilled with your latest story and want to share. This is the person who will blog and tweet and Facebook about how excited they are about your new story. That’s valuable from a selling standpoint, and we all need to eat, right?
And third, this is the person who keeps you encouraged. They love your work and they have no problem telling you so. Keeping that fire of “somebody likes what I’m doing” alive is vital, and a Fan will help do that.
A Pusher is somebody who sees potential in you. This is sort of like a Fan, and can sometimes be the same person, but it’s different in that this person wants you to raise the bar. Your Fan is content with your work, but your Pusher always believes you can make the next story better.
This is an important member of your feedback team because you do want to improve. Every writer has looked back at older stories and gasped at the difference between how they wrote then compared to how they write now. In school, you had a teacher who pushed you to do better. Now that you’re writing on your own, you need someone to show you that far horizon and tell you that you can make it.
We all sometimes get stuck with our stories, and that’s where a Problem-solver comes in. You want somebody whose opinion you value (perhaps you’re even their Fan) to help you tinker with your story and find a solution. This person does two things very well.
First, they understand your writing. You need a person who knows how you write and where you want to go with it. They need to be operating on the same wavelength in terms of the story’s direction, even if they might suggest some solutions that aren’t necessarily what you had in mind.
Second, they need to be able to decipher your ramblings. Let’s face it: We writers can sometimes be too close to our own work, and we aren’t always coherent when we bring our story problems to people. We’ll refer to characters and situations willy-nilly without a thought about whether or not our friends know what we’re talking about. A good Problem-solver is able to make sense of your pile of notes and actually emerge with ideas for fixing what’s wrong with your story.
It also helps if your Problem-solver is a particularly patient person, since it may take lots of back-and-forth before a satisfactory solution is found.
The Idea Person
An Idea Person is somebody who, well, has ideas. Sometimes they take things in a radically different direction than you’d intended. This can be useful, because they’ll help you explore nooks and crannies of your story that you might not have considered.
This isn’t limited to ideas after you’ve written the story, though. You might want to let your Idea Person in on the early brainstorming process. Let them see your outlines, loglines, synopses, and so on. They’ll have ideas at any stage, and if they give you something brilliant, you’ll probably prefer to hear it before you finish writing the first draft.
You’ll often find that your Problem-solver is an Idea Person, but not always. Problem-solvers can come up with creative solutions, but an Idea Person also has the story sense to know when to fight for a really good idea. You don’t necessarily have to take an Idea Person’s suggestions, but you’re hopefully going to be open enough to at least consider the radical ideas they put forth.
Hugely important to the technical quality of your work is the Nitpicker. This is the person who spots grammar and spelling errors and makes sure you fix them. Ideally, they also have an eye for formatting and design, especially if you’re self-publishing a book. Make sure you have somebody with a good style head look over your work before you embarrass yourself by unleashing a story full of typos on an unsuspecting world.
Don’t forget to consider your story’s medium when choosing a Nitpicker to ask for feedback. If you’re writing a screenplay, make sure your Nitpicker knows about good screenwriting style.
Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to have a Newbie in your group. This person is possibly the hardest to find, because they should be as unfamiliar with your work as possible. Largely unfamiliar is okay in a pinch if you can’t find a totally new test subject.
You’re looking for somebody who is not a Fan. You want a fresh pair of eyes on your story, so find somebody in your intended audience and let them have an early preview. This gives you a test audience without the problem of publishing to find out if you got the story right.
As I’ve hinted in the descriptions of these people, you’ll often find that your group may have folks who are more than one of these types of people. (My usual feedback minions tend to be four or five people.) But these six types of people should be given early access to your story before the world sees it, regardless of how many people actually encompass those roles.
And don’t forget to thank these wonderful people who’ve helped you. These are your friends and compatriots, and they made your story better. A little mention in the special thanks, a free e-book copy, or a small gift goes a long way toward showing your appreciation for their willingness to make time to help you improve your story.
Even better, offer to help with their stories. You might be one of the types of feedback people that they need.