Interpreting Children Readers’ Feedback

Published August 14, 2009 by Eli Stutz

Since I write books for kids (middle graders) it’s important that I send out my manuscripts to be read by kids. At the end of the day, if I have a manuscript that adults love but kids hate, then what have I accomplished?

But here we enter the mysterious world of child feedback, which is much, much different from the charted territory of friend of family feedback. The question is – how do we interpret a child’s feedback? Of course, any answer here will be a generalization – all people, including kids are unique. But there are some trends I’ve noticed, and here are my tidbits of advice:

The kid probably didn’t like your manuscript if:

-You had to ask him if he liked it. If a kid likes your manuscript a lot, chances are he will come out and tell you that of his own will. If he has to be asked, this is a clear sign he is trying to avoid the topic.

-The kid said “yeah, it was good.” Or “I liked it”. Here you must pay attention to the intonation and enthusiasm. Most of the communication here will be non-verbal. Monotone is not good.

-“The beginning was good, but then something was different.” Probing will not help. Don’t get into “what was different?” The point is moot. “Something was different” really means “Something sucked big time. Start over.”

-The kid doesn’t ask “when’s the next book?”. If a kid really liked something you wrote, he will want more. Not asking for more is a sure sign he didn’t love the one you gave him.

The kid loved your manuscript if:

-He asks you questions or gives you advice about parts of the story. This is a great sign. That means he actually liked the story and is interested enough in it to get involved in the process and want to know more. Of course, way too many questions is not good either, because it means the kid didn’t make sense of it. A few questions or suggestions is perfect.

-He calls you or emails will glowing words of praise, of his own initiative. This is almost a sure-fire sign of success, besides the infrequent but very real cases where the kid’s parent has pushed him to do this. But you can usually tell by the extent of enthusiasm if the kid really means it or not. “Hi, I really liked your book, Eli,” in a monotone means there’s a parent on the other side of the line too.

-He asks when the next book is coming every time he sees you. This is a good sign. You are on the right track.

-He starts making random references to your book when you are talking about something else. By George you’ve got it – the book has entered his consciousness. Well done!

What it comes down to, is that most kids don’t have the guts to tell an adult that they didn’t like something the adult has given them, and clearly worked hard on. Adults have this same problem, but to a lesser extent. With kids, you really have to read them differently and understand that simply “I liked it,” is just not good enough. I also recommend giving your manuscript to kids who like reading a lot and who are connoisseurs of the field. You will get more meaningful feedback from such advanced youngsters. And when you do hit the mark, and write a manuscript that makes kids call for more, then you’ll know it…I hope.

Eli

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