Earlier this month, I sent a copy of my manuscript to a few friends for peer review. This is the second book I've written but the first I want to see published. In fact, it's getting o be quite the obsession.
I sent the manuscript to six people. Each is different and will give me a different perspective on what my book is worth. That is valuable. First amongst equals though is a friend who is a voracious reader, a lover of words and someone who works in the publishing industry. While I'm eager (and terrified) to hear from the five other test readers, I was especially anxious to hear from that particular friend for reasons that should be obvious. Predictably, she was the first to finish the book and over the weekend took an hour of her valuable time to give her impressions.
For anyone who wants to be published, that is an ordeal that you will have to go through. It is the difficult but necessary process to have someone look upon your work, a project you most likely love and have poured hours into, and give it an honest evaluation. Draw whatever analogies you must, but if you're going to have someone judge you and your performance on something personal, it's very reassuring to have it be a friend.
The critique I got was perfect and what, in my uneducated opinion, every aspiring author should hope for. Let me explain. I've never published anything. I don't have a degree in English literature and I've taken a very limited number of creative writing classes. I'm the portrait of the idiot at Starbucks, sipping lattés and trying to write the next great American novel or whatever writers aspire to these days. If I had walked into this evaluation of my work with hopes my manuscript being deemed flawless, what kind of self-important, delusional idiot would that make me? In fact, after talking for an hour, I discovered that, for a book I technically finished writing almost a year ago, I still had a ton of work to do.
The entire first third of the book needs to be reworked to prove the pacing, I need a new prologue (which I mistakenly called a preface) and I need to tweak the ending a bit. I have to go over the whole manuscript and hunt down instances of head-hopping, drawn out sentences and a laundry list of other gimmicks that do nothing to improve the legibility of my book. That's 90, 000 words to go over on top of the re-writing that hastily happen. You may recognize this as a lot of work.
So why do I think this review is perfect? First, it's because now I know what I need to do next. I have focus and a next step. More importantly however, my friend said I had a good story. I can fix anything about the book, as long as I have that important foundation. Moreover, she gave me the tools to make those corrections.
So there you have it. Are you writing a book? Some short stories perhaps? Are you stockpiling your work somewhere, polishing it over and over until it is perfect and ready to be sent out into the world? If so, do yourself a favor and cut it out. Find a handful of people you trust (or in at least one case for me, barely know) and get some opinions. Maybe you're not lucky like I am and you don't know someone super competent to give you a quick, informative critique, but if the five others who have my manuscript in hand are even half that helpful, it will have been worth it.
So yeah, peer review. Do it.