The demonstration draft, along with the upcoming decisive draft, are the most unfamiliar of the five essential drafts to the new writer. Think of the demonstration draft as a test drive of a new vehicle or the delivery of a prototype from a manufacturer. As a writer, you will be seeking input from actual readers as to the quality and clarity of your writing. The process of developing this draft is filled with both anxiety and excitement. People will be reading your book for the first time. Prepare yourself well for this experience and you will gain valuable insights. Take this process lightly and you will miss an opportunity to hit the home run you are looking for.
You must be wise in understanding the purpose of the demonstration draft. Here you are looking for feedback to tell you if you are saying what you actually mean to say in a way that the reader can follow. One of the most common mistakes new writers make is to not address their own assumptions as they write. Test readers will readily point out these assumptions. It is important for you to recognize what doesn’t work for the reader before your print your book—before you set those assumptions in stone.
Two common assumptions new writers make are: 1) thinking they have developed their point sufficiently, and 2) thinking readers will follow their lead just because they are the author of the book. The presence of these assumptions will become immediately apparent as you receive feedback on your manuscript from your first test reader. Don’t personalize the comments and react to this feedback. Take it in and respond deliberately and with conviction. Be determined to communicate well. Learn how to improve on how to say what you mean.
Suggestions to focus feedback
It is important to prepare well for the test reading experience. Here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of the demonstration draft.
1) Carefully screen the readers you choose.
Make sure your chosen test readers are familiar with the material in the manuscript. These readers should represent potential buyers of your book. No one is going to buy a book that does not interest them. Don’t pick a person to be a test reader just because they are your friend or a member of your family. Make sure they “get” the topic of your writing. You need feedback that will help you move forward. Readers that don’t “get” your writing will return your manuscript with lots of content questions that will require you to explain what you said, not how you said it.
2) Give the readers an idea of the feedback you are looking for.
You can do this through a short description of your desired feedback or a list of questions. This is a real help to your readers, as well, and will help them help you more effectively. In order to do this, you will need to determine the issues within your writing that you want to focus on. Maybe there is a section within your writing that does not feel just right to you. Test readers may be able to provide an idea that will give you the new direction you are looking for. Maybe your concerns are more general. Test readers will be able to give you a realistic feel for how others will receive your writing.
Give this request for feedback some serious thought. Be strategic in your approach. You will be receiving some valuable insights into the structure, clarity, and overall readability of your manuscript. Here are some sample questions that you might ask:
- Do I leave any thoughts unfinished? Do you need a thought developed more completely?
- Is there any section that you don’t understand? Have I made too large of a leap to get to my point? Have I missed including some critical information to clarify my meaning?
- What thoughts grab you as significant? Are there thoughts that are unique to this presentation—things you haven’t really thought of in this way before?
- Have I generalized from my own experience to the point that I limit the scope of people I can reach? Am I too focused on a limited number of causal factors? Am I not addressing other potential outcomes?
- Are you motivated to read the next chapter? What questions do you have that you would like answered as you continue to read the book?
3) Give the reader the time to read.
A feeling of overwhelm will not be uncommon for most of your test readers. Chances are they will not be familiar with reading a manuscript. Let them know you appreciate them taking the time. All of us have busy lives. Taking on your request for a favor requires that your test readers will have to adjust their lives to complete the task. Give them the time to make the adjustment.
You will be feeling both excited and anxious during this time for at least two reason. First, you will be excited about engaging in this process for the first time. You will be looking forward to receiving the feedback from your test readers. Second, you will be anxious about the content of the feedback you will receive. You will have no control over how your test readers will receive or carry out your suggested instructions. You will have no control over what they think of your manuscript.
Because of this tension between excitement and anxiousness, you will want to receive your feedback as quickly as possible, but you will have to wait. I suggest that you put these test manuscripts out of your mind until you receive them back. Take a break from your project, or start working on the next one. Don’t stress over the feedback process that you have just set in motion.
What to expect
You will know if you picked the right test readers by the feedback that they give you. The right test readers will “get” what you are trying to say and help you say it better. Their suggestions and comments might sting a bit, but they will motivate you to take the next steps to clean up and develop this draft. Remember, these are only suggestions. Use them as you feel comfortable. Your writing must remain in your voice. Your message must be clear and focused.
Don’t forget to thank your test readers. If this process is done well, you will have received valuable insight from them. Along with your gratitude, give them a free copy of your book.
Take a moment a start a list of potential test readers. Make a plan on how and when to get your manuscript to them. Please leave a comment or a question from your experience with test readers. Enjoy this process!