I am currently in the process of editing my first novel. As part of the process I sent the novel out to a small group of test readers; friends whose opinion I respect and (at least most of whom) new little or nothing about the novel beforehand. Well, I recently heard back from my test readers. I was very happy to receive generally positive remarks. Everyone liked the novel, thought it was well written, and easily worth what I plan to charge (or at least that’s what they told me ;)). However, as I asked, every one of my test readers gave me comments on how they thought the novel could be better. Most of these comments were helpful and quickly implemented. Some of them are going to take a little bit longer to actually work in but will happen. A few were confusing or nonsensical and I had to sit down with the person and ask what that person meant…
And then there were the areas where people disagreed. These actually cracked me up at first. One reader would say, ‘I really like so and so but I think you get rid of him too early,’ while another reader would say, ‘I didn’t like so and so (same character) very much and I’m not sure why you put him in the novel in the first place.’ Or one reader would say, ‘I love the pacing of such and such part of the storyline, I though it was perfect,’ while another reader would say, ‘I thought the pacing of such and such (same thing) was way too slow. You definitely need more on this earlier.’
Obviously we, as authors…or as people, can’t make everyone happy. In fact to try is relatively foolish. On the other hand if we just write exactly what we like with no attention paid to anyone else then…well we’ll like what we write…but most other people probably won’t. However, if we keep a specific audience and purpose in mind as we write, then we can take contradictory comments like those above and weigh them accordingly.
For my novel I can look at the comments and say, this reader didn’t like this, but that reader did like this. Well that reader is closer to my target audience than this reader is, so it will serve me better to weigh that reader’s opinion as heavier than this reader’s opinion.
At the same time when multiple readers agree (e.g. All of my test readers mentioned that they really liked one character and felt that he disappeared from the novel too early) then it obviously behooves me to listen (in this case to do some rewriting and expand said character’s role). All in all, I am very glad that I sent the novel out to test readers and I have received some very valuable feedback from them. Of course that means more writing and more work for me to do…but if it makes for a better novel…well, that’s not a bad thing.