• Chris OBrien

The importance of a review group

Updated: Jul 1, 2019

Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.

Hand your rough draft over to one person and you are only receiving one perspective. They may dislike one of your favorite characters. They may say you spend too much time writing about the scenery because they prefer more dialogue heavy books.

Or maybe they waited until the last minute, read the book the day before their feedback was due. They skimmed through parts. They were in a rush. They put down random notes just for the sake of having something to turn in.

Or what about a literary agent. They've received 50 emails that morning with other manuscripts. They just came out of a stressful meeting at work. Opened your email attachment. Skimmed through one page of the Word document and said, "Eh, not for me."

Writing a rough draft is a very solo experience. But reviewing your rough draft is best done with a group of people.

When multiple people read your story, you can start to see if there are common themes. One note that kept showing up for Strawberry Moon from Joy's Long Overdue reading group was a comparison to the feel of an Agatha Christie novel. We kept this note in mind once we started running Facebook ads. Let's run promotions targeting fans of Agatha Christie.

And the story itself, multiple people liked the way Joy wrote about the scenery. Multiple people wanted more of James (Maisie's childhood best friend) in the story; so we threw him into more scenes. Different people had different favorite characters. Different people pointed out spots where they were confused and wanted clarity.

You want to cap the reading group at 5-9 people. More than 10 and now the information starts to get confusing. What do you do if 25 people say they dislike something, but 22 people said they liked it? More reviews is not more helpful.

One of the best pieces of feedback I've ever received was for my short story, "In Their Prime: What if Hollywood put old movie stars in new movies." In the story, the two main characters are putting together the ultimate guy action movie starring Sly Stallone, Arnold, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. Kind of the premise for The Expendables movies before those were released. I titled this fictional movie, "Goddamit."

Only one person made a note about the title choice. It was my Mom. She said she wouldn't feel comfortable recommending this story to anyone at church because of that movie title choice.

Was my Mom being overly protective? Did I need to listen to this one suggestion to go PG when everyone else was fine with it?

Instead of being defensive, I looked at it again and said, "Is there a better name? Is there something that could be funnier?"

I played around with a few options until I arrived at "Dag Nabbit." And, to me, that ends up being a whole lot funnier than "Goddammit." It's more unique. More original. Plus no one is going to miss the G'D option.

Sometimes feedback accidentally guides you to a more creative choice.

We have written a few other articles focused on the review group stage of your project. What type of readers to bring into the mix. How to create some variety of opinions. How to create a balance of fans and tough critics. How to narrow down the feedback so it's more specific. And how to be open to the feedback and suggestions that might sting a little to hear. Check out these articles below:

[Editing] Step 1: Take Six Weeks Off

[Review] Some of the best feedback is right behind your back

[Revision] Biggest fan, toughest critic

If you have any specific questions about your own rough draft/second draft, or would like to explore setting up a reading group through Long Overdue, send us a note at library@longoverduestories.com

Keep writing!

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