On being a helpful reader and not an a-hole

I have the privilege to know several brilliant people who, for some reason, value my opinion and ask me to read and comment on their manuscripts. The problem with that is when I’m caught-up in my own nonsense, I can be an Omega Level a-hole. So, to remind myself and anyone else in that position to not-be an ineffective and potentially damaging reader, I’ve put together a list of guidelines to keep in mind. (Note: I’m writing this at 2:37AM, so if I ramble, there’s your reason).

Deliver what the writer requests

If the writer has specified the kind of feedback they want, stick to that. Anything else will be confusing, distracting, and generally unhelpful. if they haven’t specified, see the next guideline and go nuts.

Offer character feedback beyond “He’s a d-bag,” and story feedback beyond “I liked it”

Noting character inconsistencies is useful because as writers we’re often too close to our fictitious friends to see where they veer-off and say or do something that feels wrong (for them). Expressing issues with the story can be just as helpful, especially when it loses focus or meanders. Often, these two things are connected – as the writer I do something in the story that forces a character to act in an out-of-character way – so pointing either issue out can reveal the other.

Remain unattached

It can be difficult to not-invest in an early manuscript, especially if you’re friends with the writer, but you must try. Becoming too invested will infuse your feedback with emotion, preventing you from offering the writer what they really need at that point – for you to cleanly and effectively tell them what you like and don’t like. There are many more revisions to come, so don’t approach the one you’re reading as if it were a published book or you’re going to find fault with almost every line. (I find myself consistently guilty of this one.)

Keep your personal crap away from your feedback

I recently broke this guideline (‘broke’ as in I took it behind the woodshed and beat it with an axe handle). I’d promised a friend (see the next guideline) feedback on a chunk of her manuscript, and had a family issue arise at the same time. I should have let her know I was dealing with something and pushed my reading off, but instead felt obligated (not by her) to stick to my artificial deadline. The result was a batch of unnecessarily-aggressive comments that were difficult for her to parse. She didn’t deserve that, and neither will the writer for whom you’re reading.

Remember the writer is a person

Chances are, if someone’s asking you to read their manuscript and offer suggestions, they’re a friend. We do this strange thing with friends where we assume we can say anything and they’ll be OK with it. That might be true for light, everyday stuff, but when you’re talking about someone’s book, which they’ve invested so much time and energy in, and about which they’re probably already feeling a-bit-to-a-lot insecure, it’s another matter. I ask my readers to be as brutal and direct as possible, so I often forget this one until I pre-send reread my comments to someone else. There’s nothing wrong with shooting someone straight about what you think, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show some tact.

OK, it’s now 3:41AM and I have a headache. I’m going to bed.


Thanks for reading,


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