How to self-publish step #2: get your book reviewed while you’re writing it

This post is part of a series on self-publishing. You’ll find links to all posts in this series in the first post.

When you’ve completed a draft of your book that you feel good about,

  1. Ask people to review it.
  2. Decide how you want to manage your reviews.
  3. Pay attention to the feedback.
  4. Consider using a survey tool to get feedback.
  5. Keep track of your reviewers.

Find reviewers

Ask twenty to thirty people, a mix of family, friends, colleagues, and strangers, to read your manuscript and give you feedback. It should be easy to find reviewers.

  • Make a list of people you want to ask (family, friends, colleagues), then ask them.
  • Post to Facebook or other social media asking for volunteers to review your book. If you get too many volunteers, decide how you are going to choose: on their background? Their interest in the subject matter?

Some people will say not because it’s too much of a commitment; that’s okay. Don’t pressure anyone to do this; you don’t want someone’s resentment coloring their feedback.

Decide how many reviews to hold, and how to manage them

Decide how you want to have your manuscript reviewed. Do you want to send it out

  • Once only, when you feel you have a good draft?
  • Two or more times, once after the first draft, and at least once more after you revise based on feedback?
  • Two or more times, with incomplete sets of chapters to start with (for example, asking reviewers to review the first five chapters after you’ve written them)

And decide whether you are going to ask all your reviewers all to review your book at each stage, or whether you’ll have one set of reviewers for the first draft, a different set for the second draft, and so on.

Your reviewers are all volunteers doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, so don’t ask too much of them.

My preference is to have my reviewers review the first draft, then ask the same people to review the revised draft.

On the practical side, decide how you want to distribute your book to your reviewers. For my forgiveness book, I placed a PDF version of my book into Dropbox, and reviewers downloaded it from there. You could also use Box, Google Drive, or another file-sharing service. Or you could print your book and mail it (or hand-deliver it). Although printing and mailing a manuscript is expensive, it saves your reviewers the step of printing it themselves. Some reviewers will be content with reading it in digital format.

Treasure every bit of feedback

When you read or hear your reviewers’ comments, listen to their feedback with an open mind. Do your best to not get defensive or hurt.

In my experience, the people who pay attention to feedback become better writers.

To an extent. Be sure the person giving you feedback isn’t trying to sabotage your confidence or your work by giving you bad advice.

Don’t be dismayed when only a handful of people give you feedback. Not everyone in your reviewer list will follow through, even if they make solemn promises to do so. When that happens, assure them that you understand you were asking a great favor of them, and that if their life circumstances didn’t allow them to keep their commitment, that’s okay.

I rewrote and revised my book on forgiveness five times before I felt it was ready for a first review. I asked twenty-two people to review it. Seven followed through. I revised my book based on their feedback, then again asked all twenty-two people to review it. The second time, only three people gave me feedback. Maybe the fact that I rewrote/revised it five times before I started the review contributed to the low level of feedback, or maybe the fact that the topic is daunting contributed. I could have followed up and asked why, but I didn’t want to pressure my reviewers.

If you don’t get any responses, or only get one or two, follow up and ask for more information. Maybe the story/book didn’t keep your reviewers’ attention. Maybe you didn’t give reviewers enough time. Maybe you gave them too much time, and so reviewing your book was never a priority. (Never underestimate the power of a good deadline.) Or maybe they were afraid to give you honest feedback because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings. If they were afraid to be honest, consider creating a survey for feedback.

Create a survey for more honest feedback

One way to get anonymous (and potentially more honest) feedback is to create a survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey (or some other survey tool).

But if you do use a survey tool, educate yourself on how to create good survey questions. SurveyMonkey has a nice set of guidelines, though there’s a lot more to it than they can cover. The basics for creating a good survey are to

  • Keep it short
  • Keep it focused on what you want to know
  • Ask open-ended, not leading, questions (“What did you think of the main character’s story arc?” is opened-ended; “Did you like how I made the main character turn out to be a bad guy?” is leading)
  • Include a variety of answer types, such as choosing from a list of options (where either your reviewers can only choose one answer, or can choose as many as apply), yes/no answers, ratings (for example, scoring from 1 to 5 or from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”), and (this is essential) a text field for general comments

Read the answers and pay the most attention to the negative feedback. If people say they love your book, that’s great, and useful in a way, but that kind of praise doesn’t help you make it better. The negative feedback, properly integrated, will.

Keep track of your reviewers

Keep a list of your reviewers and their contact information. Remember to (a) name everyone who helped you in your acknowledgments, including your reviewers, and (b) give each reviewer a signed copy of your book.

Note: This is the third post in a series. The first post is an overview and, as I write each new post, I add links to each of the other posts to that first post.

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