There is nothing better than firsthand feedback from readers. But when a novel is not yet published, the writer is on his own to find them. Friends and family aren’t necessarily the best market, critique groups have chewed over the manuscript too many times, and so I was very thankful to share the first 50 pages with freshmen and sophomores at New Tech High School.
Our group consisted of 31 percent girls and 69 percent boys, ages 14-18. They’d each received 50 pages and a survey with questions like “Does the story draw you in?” If yes, at what point, if not, why not? Other questions asked about authenticity of characters and setting.
Assisted by doughnuts and oj, teachers in the background just in case, we formed an impromptu book club to discuss plot, dialogue, characters and setting. But mainly I wanted to know if they enjoyed reading. Yes! If the story And would they want to read more? Yes!
What They Didn’t Like
- The title is too long and confusing. The name THE EARTHRIDER CHRONICLES received a lukewarm reception. Tacky. Some liked THE DUKE’S WRATH, some didn’t. A Max Nerds Adventure has to go for sure. Too cheesy. Thanks guys for being frank. Students suggested something indicating a game and evil. So back to the drawing board.
- The button as Max starts playing the video game. The gamers in class made it quite clear that a menu is needed. Thanks again, the menu is coming right up.
- Two students wanted more grunge, one thought the medieval mother was too mean.
What They Wanted to Change
- Details about Max’s father (later in the story)
- Title (yes, definitely!)
- Bero’s character needed to be more stressed about his dream to become a squire (great idea)
- Max should have an advantage (special powers no, knowledge yes)
- A more realistic game button/menu (on the way)
- Trading his way too valuable pocket knife (mmmh, yes, but it has to hurt)
- Bero’s medieval mother should be nicer
- Since first sentences are so important, I wrote three choices on the board. This is the one that got the majority vote: “On the computer screen, a castle glowed orange in a setting sun, plunging into shadows what lay beyond.”
- They also liked the original draft which starts with this dialogue: “What’re you playing?”
I just love how one can take a real-life poll to see what intrigues, what works and what doesn’t. A marketing/research degree does come in handy sometimes. Something else that struck me was one student who admittedly read a lot said he bought books based on title and cover. So the pressure is on to find that cool, evil gamer title that is irresistible.