How to get free feedback from your editor friends/family

My colleagues will kill me. This is like taking pictures in the co-ed team locker room and putting them online.

Here’s the problem: everyone seems to want to write, everyone seems to think his or her personal story is fascinating, and everyone is realizing that self-publishing has perforated the Great Wall of Publishing. Yet most people don’t write very well, most personal stories are no more interesting than anyone else’s, and most people don’t want to do their own marketing.

What is it you want feedback on?

My whole story, damn it! No. Don’t ask your editor friends for that. I’ve gone into the reasons before, but in short, you put your friend in a position where s/he cannot win, and will invariably disappoint you and damage the relationship.

My writing ability. Okay. In that case, ask your friend if s/he will dissect a single paragraph for you as if you were a paying client, with commentary and corrections–with the proviso that it’s all you want, or will want. I think most would go that far.

My storytelling ability. No, can’t do, because that means reading the whole thing. Then I have to explain the difference between writing and storytelling, which are very different skills. Don’t believe me? Okay. How many wonderful oral storytellers do you know who couldn’t even write a decent marquee for Grocery Outlet?

My story/book concept. That’s doable. Offer to digest it in 300 words (not 301, not 299; show some discipline), and ask simply for an evaluation of the strength of the concept, and what it might lack/need.

My kid’s writing. Never, no, absolutely not, and do not ask unless you’re perfectly happy to impair the friendship. It’s the ultimate no-win situation for your friend, simply because you asked.

How to get published. Doable. Take your friend to lunch, saying that you’d like to pick his/her brain on the various publishing choices. Lunch is a fair bribe for that.

How to market a book. Please don’t ask unless you are willing to make effort beyond “self-publish it and hope for the world to discover my greatness.” If you are passionate about marketing, then yeah, ask away, but always remember this. If editors were any good at marketing, or enjoyed it, wouldn’t they be doing that?

Where to get all of the above without paying? I’ll just answer that here. You have to endure a writers’ group. Take time to find a good one, bearing in mind that you will be asked to read and comment on plenty of types of writing you may not enjoy. You don’t like screenplays? Too bad; one hand washes the other. Your ego is fragile? You’ll either get over that, or you’ll leave the group. You find other writers to be narcissistic, pretentious, addicted au bon mot, and conceited? You will just have to deal, because there are probably few “writers’ groups for writers who do not have the customary personality tendencies of writers.” Your best option may be online, where at least you don’t have to send any words you haven’t reviewed and massaged before you commit to them.

If this seems cold, do remember that it emanated from a good number of bad experiences, and from a sincere desire to be helpful in spite of those experiences. It would be unfortunate if one could not construe that as kind at heart, because the easy route was to say nothing at all.

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