When I wrote a short story for a contest a few months ago I gave it to my wife and to a friend for feedback. They both love to read, but I hadn’t anticipated the results.
My wife felt comfortable telling me that it was terrible. My friend just said it was alright.
I thought they would both say something similar, but my wife ended up giving me the feedback I needed in order to rework my story. She was right. The original one didn’t work.
Paying $15 to enter a lousy story into a contest is not my goal.
Just about every article that passes the “wife test” is accepted by an editor or at least receives praise. One story, that passed the wife test, even received an honorable mention in a Glimmer Train contest.
I’m lucky to have such a talented reader in my home that I can trust implicitly to provide honest feedback. She is my secret weapon who has saved me a lot of disappointment and frustration in the long run.
I have read similar stories from writers who rely heavily upon one trusted reader who is sometimes a spouse and other times a member of a critique group. Keep in mind that a spouse is not always the best choice for feedback.
What to look for in a reader:
- Interest in the same subject matter.
- Attention to the details in your genre (eg. what makes for a good plot in a novel).
- Trust and comfort to tell you the truth.
No writer can catch all of his/her mistakes. If there’s a hole in an argument, a weak point in the plot, or an explanation that falls flat, oftentimes an attentive and critical reader is one of the safest bets in finding them. If you’re waiting for an editor to catch your mistakes, chances are you’ll just receive a form letter saying, “Your work does not meet our current needs.”
That could be a clue that you really need better feedback before you submit your work.