Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advice from Real Live Kids

Although I have been a member of a critique group for almost my whole writing career, first in Maryland (my "Soup Group") and now, for the past 17 years, here in Boulder, I've never made a a serious effort to solicit critical feedback on my manuscripts from their actual intended audience: kids. I did make a couple of fitful attempts and found the feedback from young readers unhelpful. Either they liked everything willy-nilly, or their criticisms were too trivial ("You said that Gus lives on Maple Street. I think he should live on Pine Street") or not criticisms of THIS manuscript as much as expressions of a wish for a different manuscript altogether ("You show Gus learning to ride a bike without training wheels. But what if instead he got captured by space aliens?").

But I've heard authors who are much more successful than I am say that they depend on pre-publication critique from kids, so I decided to give it one more try. I hired my friend Kate Simpson's two sons, J.P. (sixth grader) and Jack (fourth grader), to read the manuscript of my new chapter book, instructing them to mark places they liked, places that were confusing, places they didn't like, and anything else they thought would be useful for me to know.

I met with my two young editorial consultants yesterday. It was a wonderful afternoon. I loved finding out which parts they thought were "halarious" and which parts they flagged with question marks. Jack thought I had too much underlining of various bits of text: "This shudent be under lined." J.P. was very good at noting places where Mason's behavior was just "weird" or "not what I would do." He also ruthlessly crossed out lines where I was talking over the reader's head, taking more of an adult perspective. He had good suggestions for two other plot twists that would increase dramatic tension and interest toward the end of the book. I'm still trying to decide if I'll take the suggestions or not - but I bet if I do, I'll have a book kids will enjoy reading more. And of course, it was SO gratifying to have Jack write at the end of the book "I love the book" and J.P. write "Amazing loved it very emotional super job." Well, it's going to be more amazing, emotional, and super because of their help.

Thanks, Jack and J.P.!

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