Pre-Readers: What They Are & What to Ask Them About
You finish your novel. Now what? While it can be tempting to send it to editors right away or even jump to literary agents, there’s an important step you should take before that: share your story with pre-readers.
Pre-readers are the people who read your story before you release it to the general public—even before you send it to editors or publishers. They give you insight into the reader appeal of your story by explaining their opinion of your story’s big picture. They generally critique your literary elements and how you convey them, while avoiding editing things like typos and sentence structure.
Who Can Be My Pre-Reader?
Anybody! That is, except you. Everybody is unique and can give you different but valuable insight into your story.
Of course, your most relevant advice will probably come from readers in your target audience, so try to find friends or family members who read the genre your story is in. They will be well-versed in the genre and have a strong handle on the structure of typical novels in that genre. They can also point out clichés and tropes.
However, anyone who can read and understand your story can give you advice and open your eyes to things you may not have considered. Anybody you trust with your story can be your pre-reader.
Things to Ask Pre-Readers
Character Development: Ask your pre-readers to name and describe your main characters. If you notice that they leave a prominent character out, maybe that character is not as prominent as you thought. If the description is off, you might have scenes that are out-of-character. Or maybe their description is focusing on tiny details of the character that aren’t too important to the plot. That means you’re probably spending too much time on unimportant scenes, pieces of information, or dialogue.
Clarity: You know your characters, world, and plot inside and out. If you re-read your story, there is a good chance everything makes sense to you. Unfortunately, however, there’s also a good chance that not everything makes sense to everyone else. It’s natural to leave gaping plot holes or make casual references to things readers don’t understand or have several chapters that tie into the story so subtly that only you can draw the connection. Also, complex plot lines and action scenes might be supposed to generate some amount of confusion, but you don’t want to leave your readers completely lost. Pre-readers will help point out parts of the story that don’t make sense.
Summarizing and Inferences: What if your readers think they understand the story, but are actually imagining a plot different from the one you had in mind? For instance, they might predict a romantic relationship between two characters who really see each other as siblings. Asking your pre-readers to explain what they think happened in a certain chapter or part of the story can help you decide whether there are any misunderstandings you need to address.
Pacing: Ineffective pacing can also cause confusion or make the story hard to read. Ask your pre-readers if they ever skimmed over any parts. That might imply you had too much information slowing down a scene. If your readers had to re-read any sections, you might want to add more details to slow their reading down and emphasize important parts.
Reading Experience: Obviously, all of the above play a role in a reader’s experience, but it’s important to ask your pre-reader about their reaction to the story. See if their emotions while reading reflected the feelings you were trying to stimulate. Did they cry when an important character died? Did they feel hopeful when your protagonist saw a light at the end of the tunnel? As for the overall reading experience, did your readers feel satisfied with the plot? Was it what they were expecting or hoping for? You probably have hopes for how readers will receive your story, and pre-readers can help you assess whether you meet these hopes. Understanding how strongly your plot affected your readers’ emotions will show you how invested your readers are in your plot.
A Grain of Salt
Importantly, the more people you show your story to, the more opinions you will receive. You may notice patterns between the responses of your pre-readers; odds are, if multiple people think you should change something, you probably should.
However, you may get individual pieces of advice that you don’t completely agree with. That’s okay! You are the author of your story, and ultimately you have final say over what goes in your story and how it is written.
You should be open-minded and welcoming of advice, but you don’t have to implement everything you are told.