Beta Testers, Focus Group or Guinea Pigs

bigstock_guinea_pig_reading_26347682Writing a book for young adults and middle school students is a bit of a challenge. I think I remember being that age and what I liked to read, but how can I be sure that I am writing to my intended audience? Will average middle school students understand what I am trying to convey? Am I using vocabulary that is over their heads? Or alternatively, have I underestimated their abilities? Will they find the story gripping or too drawn out? And how will I know?

Being a novice at writing I have decided that I should see if my intended audience likes my writing.  I need a focus group. I need middle school readers to tell me what they think. This week Crossroads Academy is having a non-academic week. The students rehearse for the spring musical every day, and then there are a few periods each day in which they are given the opportunity to do various activities led by teachers and parents.

I have bravely (or possibly foolishly) volunteered to let 6th, 7th and 8th graders sign up to read my 2/3 written manuscript. Eighteen students signed up. I sent my file to the local copy store and I have acquired eighteen red pens.

On Tuesday and Friday I will be giving my 136 page draft to these students. I plan to tell them to go at it with the red pen as if they were the teachers. I want them to tell me what works and what doesn’t work. I want them to critique the writing. I will ask them to tell me if they are getting confused and want me to describe situations in more detail or if I have bored them. I will ask them if they find the characters likable. And most importantly I will ask if my story makes history interesting? Does it make them want to know more about the Holocaust?

I want them to be honest, and yet I am a bit fearful of their opinions. What if they don’t like it? What will I do then? Will it stop me in my tracks or will it give me the motivation to dig in deeper and make it better? Is this a good idea or am I a fool for putting myself out there?

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