The friends who read our books after we release them are great, but the friends who read our books before we release them are priceless.
Their input helps us mold our books into the shapely works of art that the rest of the world gets to see. Without these friends, our books would be very different. They might even collapse before they make it off the pottery wheel!
Below are the 3 types of friends who have been invaluable to me in shaping my debut novel, Eleanor.
The Target Audience Friend
Most of us have curated a diverse gallery of friends. We have our Jane Austen brunchmate, our non-fiction life counselor, our suspense-junkie adventure buddy, and our chick-lit cubicle neighbor. (Note: if any of you guys work in a cubicle, get out now!)
Most of your friends will volunteer to read your book when you release it, but they probably won’t be reading your book for your book. They’ll be reading your book for you, because, spoiler alert, they love you!
Before you release your book, pick out the few friends who you can imagine reading your book for your book. These friends represent your target audience, the kind of person who would read your book even if they didn’t know you. They have valuable insight to offer about how your audience will respond to your book.
If you have a friend proofread your book, whose tastes are not naturally aligned with your genre, you might get some feedback that is detrimental to your book. For example, when I gave Eleanor to my sweet, non-fiction loving husband, he told me I should make the setting a real place, because it would be more exciting to be able to Google pictures and read Wikipedia pages and possibly even visit the real place.
However, my target reader is much more like my friend Katelyn: whimsical, innocent, and sensitive to imagery. Katelyn loves the setting of Eleanor; to her, it’s more exciting to envision a fairy tale island than to try to conform her mind to a real place.
The English Major Friend
Not all of our friends are bookies, like us, but it would be a pretty ho-hum life if we didn’t have at least a few friends with whom we could geek out about the symbolism of Dr. TJ Eckleburg’s eyes in The Great Gatsby or the merit of first-person plural in Hans Christian Anderson stories.
Your most well-read friends can do a whiz-bang job of content and copy editing your book. Not only do they have the faculties to sense when something is off with your work, they probably also have the verbage to articulate the problem. They can say “your pacing hits a snag in the third chapter” or “this pronoun has an unclear antecedent.”
I am fortunate in having a dear friend, Suzin Seaton, who is a retired editor and English professor. Her feedback about Eleanor was not only insightful, it was extremely practical and precise!
The Tireless Cheerleader Friend
There will be days when you think your book is nothing more than a slimy, slow-moving slug on the flower of literature. It’s irredeemable, no matter how much more work you put into it. You should probably hide it in your sock drawer, with all the other manuscripts you’ve been senselessly creating since you were sixteen.
On those days, you need your tireless cheerleader friend. Get a copy of your manuscript to this friend as soon as possible, so they can be with you through all the ups and downs. Your friend will read the manuscript overnight, call you the next morning to declare that it’s brilliant, and then nag you about how talented and magical you are and how much the world needs your writing, until you finally give in and publish the thing.
My tireless cheerleader is my Granny Dara, who has taken many a 2 am call from me when I am convinced that Eleanor is irredeemable (and I need a recipe for homemade brownies to console myself). My granny’s motto is “don’t worry, be happy,” and she has dragged me through a lot of life crises with that motto. She’s pretty spectacular!