This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
I’ve always found it difficult to give my book to test readers for a number of reasons; knowing who to trust, wondering whether I’ll be able to take the criticism and thinking that asking for help is cheating. But with my latest novel those test readers have been invaluable.
I made sure that I widened my number of test readers and I deliberately gave it to people that I thought would be honest and critical. I didn’t just want to know if people liked it – I wanted to grill them about what they liked and why, and more importantly what bits could be better.
The book is about two characters who are the same women but have swapped places into each other’s parallel universe. I wrote the whole book with both characters called Amy and their surnames written at the beginning of each chapter. My line editor told me it was difficult to edit with the two characters having the same name and alarm bells started ringing.
How would readers be able to tell which Amy they were reading? Would it be confusing for them to put down and pick up again to remember who was who? On TV and films it’s easy to get over this. Adding a different physical attribute or accessory for your character. Think Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in Sliding Doors and the difference in her character’s hair cut. But how do you do that for a book?
I spoke to a couple of my test readers and probed them about this and they did admit that it was a little confusing. My sister suggested changing the names, maybe having one of the characters called Joanna and the other Jo. It was a perfect solution – they’re now Jess and Jessica. It actually fits really nicely with the type of characters they are, and more importantly makes it much easier to read and follow.
It must be difficult being a test reader, wondering how the author is going to take the feedback. One of my test readers gave me a list of areas that she thought could be improved with a few suggestions. Before she wrote it she added a massive disclaimer telling me that she was sorry that they seemed negative. But they were far from negative it was just constructive criticism and often they were in areas of the manuscript where I had struggled.
The novel is set in New York and whilst I do know the city fairly well, I haven’t been in the last couple of years, so I was really wary that things might have changed. Whilst I’ve been using Google streetview and googling every restaurant/bar/hotel etc but I still was worried that I’d made a really bad NYC faux pas. To make sure that doesn’t happen, I’ve sent my latest edit to a friend who lives in Manhattan just to check exactly that!
Whilst I get terrified when people I know read my books, I’d rather a friend I know point out the weak parts then a review that will last in perpetuity on Amazon!