Thursday, August 7, 2014

What Do You Request from Proofreaders?

Smart authors realize the wisdom of getting others' input on their manuscripts. Some authors use "Alpha" readers, which some define as readers who provide feedback on a story as the book is being written. Others rely on "Beta" readers, who take the finished the manuscript and comment on the whole work before it gets submitted. (And yes, the two groups can overlap.)
No matter what you label the friends and colleagues who provide feedback on your manuscripts, you need to decide what it is you're asking them to do. Unless you tell them upfront, those helpful ones won't know for sure how to help you.
I call upon different friends to read and comment on various projects. A couple are fellow authors, but not all. Successful authors are busy people, so they might know their stuff, but they have many demands on their time. I prefer to call upon well-read acquaintances who love books and can articulate what works and what does not in a story.  
I don't keep a formal checklist of questions, but I here are some points I especially ask my readers to keep in mind:
1. Do NOT worry about hurting my feelings. Writing is business, and if anything about the story is ho-hum or worse, it does me no favors to pretend the manuscript is fine exactly as it is. Be brutal! Point out things that need more polish no matter how badly I might like to finish the project.

2. If you sincerely do like the story, that is great. BUT, don't just tell me you like it. What could make it better? Can a character be improved? Are there scenes that drag? Anything about the title rub you the wrong way? Could you see what was coming too easily? Anything that might add intrigue or suspense? Other ways the story could be strengthened?

3. Is the ending satisfying? If not, what went wrong for you personally?

4. If my readers have the time and inclination to catch typos, grammatical errors, mechanical glitches, etc., I love that. But I ask them to put more stress on the story itself. If the story puts them to sleep, no amount of technical perfection will help it to sell. (By the way, line-by-line editing is time-consuming and tedious. Consider hiring a professional if you want this kind of help, since it's quite a huge chore to request as a free favor.)

Are there other points you writers request of your proofreaders? If so, please share them!

Rick Barry has freelanced hundreds of articles and short stories, had two novels published, and has more projects in the works.

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