How to get useful feedback on your memoir from a trusted reader

If you’re working on a memoir, or any long-form prose for that matter, chances are you’ve spent a large chunk of time sitting alone in front of your keyboard or with a pen poised over your notebook. Either way, your words grow into sentences, which turn into paragraphs and chapters, and eventually you have that funny feeling you’ve got a manuscript in your hands.

While you should feel proud of yourself for getting to this point, it’s also the stage where you need some constructive feedback. What you really have is a first draft, and unless you have been publishing books for years (and probably even then), there’s a lot more work ahead of you.

Fiction writer and novel publicist Emlyn Chand has published this letter to her “beta reader“, with a list of seven questions for such a reader to consider as she reads a draft fiction manuscript. The questions cover many crucial elements of any manuscript, namely:

  • the authenticity of characters
  • the plot
  • the style – to do with the author’s use of language and whether she uses a word or phrase repeatedly
  • the effectiveness of dialogue
  • the overall length – some manuscripts are too long, while others need expanding
  • inconsistencies or things that don’t make sense
  • what works best overall / what is the most striking weakness?

Reading memoir manuscripts
I’d like to make a few additional suggestions for those writing memoir, because the issues of who those trusted readers might be is more complex, especially if you’re writing  about complicated family and personal history.

  • Is this story bigger than me?
  • Will anyone else care about this other than me?
  • How do “I” come across in the manuscript – as a complex, rounded, open individual, or as someone who is always presenting as a victim?
  • What do you want to read more of? Less of? Often I find what’s interesting to readers can differ from what’s interesting to the author, who skims over details that the reader needs in order to connect.
  • Is there a sufficient sense of context – historical, political, cultural, geographical (whatever is relevant to the manuscript)?

I’m leaving this list short because I’m writing this post while procrastinating over writing a book review. I’d love to hear other questions that authors have found useful for soliciting feedback from that first trusted reader.

Perhaps I need to write another post on how to give constructive feedback. That’s an art unto itself.

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