The Good, Bad and Ugly Of Using Friends to Edit Your Manuscript

Why are Friends and family generally poor critics of your writing?

●They already have strong opinions about you.

●They want to please or perhaps wound you.

●They’re busy and time is valuable.

●Often friends become invested in the story and could care less about the writing.

●Family or friends don’t want to be included in the work; or they want to be in the book, and when they are, they object. Vehemently, at times.

ImageAbout 10 years ago, I made the mistake of asking several friends to edit an early draft of “Sugar Hill.” To paraphrase Stephen King — I hadn’t learned to “Kill my babies,” so the manuscript was bogged down with little gems that did nothing to advance my story. Bad though it was, they plowed ahead. Perhaps my friends were thinking, “it’ll get better.” It did, around chapter 12, but the point is that first draft wasn’t ready for anything except a rewrite and I probably should have know that. When friends are kind enough to help you, their time should be well spent.

Fast forward to 2011. I asked each of 12 women in my book club and 4 other friends to read one chapter each, explaining that I didn’t want praise. I needed them to find mistakes and tell me what wasn’t working. My friends are voracious readers who know books, and whose opinions I respect and sometimes share. This time, the friend-editor process worked, because good writing outweighed the bad. Result: I received invaluable and free help. A few examples why:

The Good

●One friend was so professional and thorough, I discussed hiring her to edit the entire book. Result: In the end — I decided enough already, although my book designer did a last read as she put it all together.

●Most helpful comment: “I want to know what happened to the kids you write about.” Result: At the end of book, I added “Where Are They Now.”

●Most helpful but embarrassing comment: “Foreign words need to be italicized.” Result: Oops, I should have known that, but didn’t.

The Bad

●A few friends said or wrote very little. Result: I worried I’d been I’d presumptuous and put them on the spot.

One person was pedagogically inappropriate and rigid. Result: Ignored most of what she wrote. “Sugar Hill” is about Harlem, not aristocratic Victorian virgins.

Received fewer comments than I expected. Result: Puzzling

It’s extremely difficult to find every error in a manuscript, but you have to do your best. Result: Ending with a perfectly edited book is probably within the realm of possibility, but I doubt it.

The Ugly

•I discovered that I’d made some ugly grammatical and punctuation errors, plus one extremely distressing factual mistake. Result: God willing, there aren’t any more egregious errors in “Sugar Hill.”

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