So your good friend just handed you a manuscript of their first book. They look at you with those hopeful eyes filled with excitement as they practically shake with anticipation in lieu of your feedback. Dread settles into the pit of your stomach as you take it and return the smile. What if it’s bad? How in the world would you break it to them? Should you be honest? Should you lie? Maybe you could drop off the review and take that long overdue vacation to avoid the awkward conversation. All of these questions and more flash through your mind as you commit to the possible death of your friendship.
Today we are going to break down some of the techniques for giving and receiving a writing review. Please note that this is not a technical guide of how to revise, edit or clean up a writing draft. This is an insight into the communication and necessary exchange of information between both writer and reviewer.
Giving A Review
When you have been asked to give a review, you should keep the following in mind:
- Clarify what kind of feedback is wanted. Before you even crack open that masterpiece, ask the writer what kind of review they desire. Are they looking for simple insight into subject matter? Are they wanting you to look for grammatical errors? Are they in need of a spelling check? A clear-cut understanding between both parties pertaining to the type of feedback is essential.
- Read through the material more than once. No matter your initial opinion on the writing, it is imperative that you look over the content multiple times in order to ensure that you are giving as thorough a review as possible. A good deal of time and effort was put into the writing you have been given; the writer deserves your time and effort in return.
- Take notes as you go. Take detailed notes and outline the items you like or dislike that are relevant to the review you are giving.
- Balance your feedback. We all have the tendency to sometimes lean towards the negative when it comes to giving a review. Do not let that be the case. While it may seem difficult, be sure to find both good and bad qualities about the piece you are reading. It is always recommended to begin with the good.
- Be expressive. However you intend to deliver the feedback, verbal or otherwise, include as many helpful details as possible. There is nothing more frustrating to a writer than being handed back a review with shrug and a two-word “It’s alright.”
- Be honest and kind. It is the natural instinct of a human being to defend one’s self against harsh words or verbal attacks. As much as you may want to spout out words of advice without a filter, keep in mind that when you put a person on the defensive, they will more than likely not listen. Do your best to be articulate, honest and kind when delivering your review. Be sure the writer knows you are attempting to help them improve, not cut them down or discourage them from continuing to try.
There is a lot of pressure on the reviewer when they are handed the potential land mine of giving an honest writing review. The suggestions above will help alleviate some of that pressure and help to cultivate the communication necessary for a successful end result. As always though, if you do not believe you can give an honest or fair review, it is always better to decline to review the writing than to damage the relationship you have with the writer.
Writing reviews is a two-way street. Both writer and reviewer are required to work together in tandem to make the situation work. Due to understanding the struggle of accepting, receiving or understanding a review, we have put together a secondary list to help those who receive a review.
Receiving A Review
- Keep an open mind. As much as the instinct to defend your work against any perceived slight may scream at you, keep that in check. You have asked for this review and the reviewer deserves an open and unbiased ear to listen or read through all of their feedback.
- Take time to consider the feedback. Do not simply dismiss portions of the review out of a natural need to defend or justify your work. Mull over the details and the reasoning behind the suggestions before making any kind of conclusion.
- Ask for clarification. Just as it is possible to misconstrue a verbal exchange, it is possible to misunderstand the reviewer’s intent behind an edit. If you are unsure of a correction or desire more information, be sure to reach out and have that dialogue.
- Choose your changes. Receiving a review containing any negative feedback does different things to different writers. But no matter your reaction to the suggestions of improvement, be sure you are making the changes to your writing because you choose them. No matter how many reviews you may get, it is still your work. Take pride in either embracing the mistake and changing it or choosing to stick to what you originally wrote.
- Don’t get discouraged. We all have our ups and downs when it comes to confidence in our writing. It is natural to have pits of despair and moments of jubilation. But no matter what, do not allow a review to discourage you from soldiering on. Each review helps you gain further insight and grow as a writer.
- Thank the reviewer. While this may seem obvious to some, many of those who take the time to review the writing of their friends or peers are forgotten the moment a suggested change offends the writer. The reviewer is there to help you, and they deserve respect along with encouragement to keep at it as well.
Overall, it is very important to keep the lines of communication open between writers and those who review, edit or revise a writer’s work. Together, writers and reviewers can help grow and improve the literary world.
What methods have you found work best for you? What are the pitfalls you’ve experienced?