When I review a story, whether for a client or a peer, I’m always happy when the author points out their concerns.
“Is the voice consistent?” “I’m worried that my child narrator sounds too old.” “Does the nautical language throw you?” “Is the love scene too graphic?”
Although I have my own method of critiquing, I’m willing to address what concerns a writer. Recently, however, a client took this to a new level. He sent me a list of questions after I’d completed the edit. I was taken aback, I admit, until I read the questions. They’re good questions. I answered them, and then asked if I could share.
With my client’s permission, I am printing below a list of questions you might ask a professional editor, a beta reader, or anyone who critiques your work.
1. Is this story complex enough and interesting enough to be worthy of a novel length effort? If not, what, in your opinion, would make it so?
2. Did the mystery work for you? If not, why not?
3. As a reader, would you care enough about the characters and plot to continue reading if you were not doing an edit? What, in your opinion, can be done to make the story stronger, more intriguing?
4. Are the characters developed well enough? Are the characters credible, real enough, emotional enough? Are there characters you would like to have seen more fully developed?
5. Are the sub-plots engaging and well enough developed? What can make them stronger?
6. Was the ending appropriate? Was it what you expected? What ending would make the story stronger, more intriguing?
7. What did you expect to see in the story but didn’t? Does the writer fulfill his promise to the reader?
8. If a friend asked you about the book, what you liked, what you didn’t like and if you would recommend it, what would you tell them?
9. Was the writing professional? What would make it stronger?
10. Assuming your edit recommendations are followed, would this manuscript be ready for submission to prospective agents? What would make it stronger?
11. What three things would make this a better novel?
Don’t be afraid to share your concerns about your writing with your editor or trusted reader. You are on the same team, with the same goal–to make your story stronger.
4 thoughts on “11 Questions for Your Editor”
Your client sounds like a smart pragmatist. I am printing out these questions for later use. It’s hard to put aside my emotions and think in terms of how others read my work. Having an ally who sees things clearly is a huge advantage, and this list is a terrific document to include with manuscript pages!
Smart pragmatist is right on the money. Isn’t it a good list?
Great questions, and if you’re hiring someone to analyze your book, you should absolutely ask them. But as a book doctor myself, I encourage you to do so with a thick skin. For most people and most manuscripts, many of the answers to those questions will be “no.”
I’m not trying to be a buzzkill or anything, that’s just normal. What I see from the manuscripts clients send me is that the vast majority of them have serious problem with the quality of the writing, the deep story structure, the development and portrayal of the characters, and/or the premise that underlies it all.
Ask the questions, but perhaps ask them of yourself first. It’s a great set of questions to get you thinking a the mindset other than your own. I know what it’s like to write a manuscript, to be filled with the zeal of the writing, and to love what you’re producing. But I also know that probably the hardest thing for a writer to do is to be objective about his or her own writing. That’s why you hire a book doctor in the first place, right? But before you do, you can at least try to think honestly about your book through the lens of these eleven questions. Hold yourself to a high standard. Don’t let yourself get away with anything. Doing so will help you look at your work a little bit more objectively than you might otherwise do.
Jason, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree that it is a true challenge for a writer to distance herself from her work and look at it objectively. I’m not sure it is possible to be objective; you can only aim for pragmatic, as Nancy pointed out. I think this writer was brave to pose these questions, and ask for honest answers.