Do your family and friends a favour. Don’t ask them to read your novel

Four of us went out for a long, lazy afternoon tea yesterday. Sherylyn, myself and two of our closest friends. The subject came around to books, as it is wont to do when we are together. Both friends work in public libraries, and are extremely well read.

We meandered from books in general, and shopping for books, on to novels in particular, and then on to writing novels.

H., one of our friends, had been asked to read an acquaintance’s unpublished novel. “Because she worked in a library and read lots of books.”

She’d had it for six months and still hadn’t managed more than the first two chapters.

“It was very heavy,” was the only way she could describe it. “Extremely personal, and really difficult to read.”

We discussed whether the writing was the problem, or the subject matter. The book was a personal memoir, not something any of us read by choice. We finally decided that her reluctance to read it stemmed from a combination of:

  • It was a first draft, and messy in the way first drafts often are, with typos and a story that was all over the place
  • The style of writing was heavy and hard to read. Not a style she normally read
  • It was extremely personal. Although it was a novel it was obviously autobiographical, and far more intimate than she ever wanted to become with a casual acquaintance.

Someone who read mainstream novels may have enjoyed the book, but H. was like the rest of us. While she reads widely, she reads a lot of genre, but little literary or mainstream fiction and she wasn’t into slice-of-life stories.

It wasn’t the first unpublished novel H. had read. We had given her Potion (Draft 4), and she said she had enjoyed it, even asked when the second book would be out. (Another one on our to-do list, waiting for us to finish some of our current projects.)

H. is a close friend. We think she would be honest enough to say she liked the book if she did, in fact, like it.

But we will never really know for sure.

You should never ask family and friends to read your newly finished novel. Especially not that first draft you are so proud of.

Polish it first. And then take it to your writing group, or an impartial bystander, or even a writing tutor if you are doing it as a school assignment.

Just don’t ask your friends and family to read it and then expect valuable feedback from it. Not unless you really trust them to be honest.

They don’t want to hurt you.

Most of them don’t even want to read your book, but you force it onto them until in the end they feel obligated to take it.

Chances are they’re not going to like it. Particularly if it’s a first draft. Particularly if it’s your first novel.

What can they say to you when you ask them what they thought of it?

“I’m sorry, but your novel stank.”

Of course not. They will mumble something polite and try to avoid the subject. Or put off reading it.

They probably glanced at it, and read a couple of chapters when they first received it, then put it aside to read later, when they have the time. Like H. did with the novel she was asked to read.

Now, you tell me. As a reader, if you read the first two chapters and it’s a really good read, are you going to put it down and forget it for six months? Of course not. You will keep reading. So if your family or friends have put off reading your novel for months, even years, what does that say?

They don’t want to read it, and they don’t want to tell you they don’t want to read it.

Do your family and friends a favour—don’t ask them to read your novel in the first place.

Unless, of course, they offer.

That’s a whole different ball game.

Accept with alacrity. Be grateful they offered, and polish your draft before you hand them a copy.

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