How to get feedback on your book

There comes a time in every ghostwriting collaboration when the big question needs to be asked: shall we let someone read this book?

OK, I know that the eventual aim is that lots of someones eventually do just that. But what I am talking about here is getting a third party involved for feedback on the finished draft. Up until this stage, there will only be two people on the planet that will have read the manuscript, the ghost and the author.

Feedback can often be very useful. Think of it as a form of test marketing to see if it fulfils the purpose of why it was written in the first place. It’s also a good way of getting valid suggestions on areas for possible improvement to get the strongest end product.

All of which gives rise to the next question: who? When I wrote my book on ghostwriting, The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting, I sent my first draft over to my brother. I did this for two reasons. One, because I knew he was an avid reader of business non-fiction books and would therefore have a good handle on what makes a readable book. And two, because he is always brutally, brutally honest with me. And I’m cool with that. Or, let’s just say, I’m used to it.

And that’s a key point about feedback too. It is not about someone saying: this book is the best book ever and will definitely, without a doubt, be a bestseller. Praise is not feedback. If you want praise send it to a kind-hearted friend, or a tactful family member. If you want a commercial product, or indeed simply just to get your story told properly, you need to be prepared for the fact that not all the early reactions are going to be 100% positive. In fact, that’s a good thing. Even though I am a professional writer with dozens of books under my belt, I don’t expect to get it 100% right the first time. I am completely open to criticism and welcome ways to improve a first draft.

Since you won’t have access to my brother and his feedback services, I recommend that the focus of your initial approach should be via one of two sources. The first is someone with experience as an author, or an editor. In rather the same way that you wouldn’t give a broken car to a mate and ask them to take a look, it makes sense to go to someone who is qualified to understand what it is you are trying to achieve. The second category is a person who is the exact audience for your book. Thus, if your book is about how to be the best salesperson ever, it makes sense to test it on someone who is involved in sales training. They’ll be able to tell you what parts they found useful, where they found the content a bit thin and whether or not there are any places where they felt confused or lost.

If the book in question is non fiction is quite likely the author will have at least one, and possibly a number of, colleagues who will willingly take a look. I always recommend that anyone seeking feedback reassures the person being asked that they are not looking for a complete, line-by-line edit. What is wanted from the volunteer reader is an overall impression about the feel and goal of a book, and any particular areas they consider are not quite right.

Once the feedback is in, it will need careful analysis. If more than one person has flagged up a similar issue, then the chances are it does need careful attention.

As a rule of thumb, I take much more interest in the parts that are queried, rather than the suggestions on how to ‘fix’ any of them. Although the readers can see that something doesn’t necessarily work for them in a particular spot, it doesn’t automatically follow that they have the writing experience to be able to make it better. That’s the ghost’s job.

Most books, even those by experienced writers and ghostwriters, will go through some sort of redrafting process. It can often really help to get a critical third, or fourth, pair of eyes to take a look to make sure it stays on point and finishes up as the best possible version of the book it was intended to be.