Monday, September 23, 2013

Don't squander your readers!

When I get through with writing a story, my first reaction is to want to show it to people. And since I thrive on critique, I always like to get multiple views on a story, which means showing it to more than one person at a time.

I have to remind myself to have patience.

It's really a better idea not to have everyone read the first draft. In fact, it's better to have only yourself read the first draft (ok, maybe one more person if you're feeling like you can't get distance on it). Have other people read it when you personally can't see a way to improve it.

And even then, have patience.

This may not be as much the case with a short story, but with a novel, at least, there will be many iterations. If it's the novel you're teaching yourself to write with, it will have many, MANY iterations (trust me). That means it needs to be looked at lots of times, to help you move forward. Each person who looks at it will be able to give you unique feedback, and sometimes, the same person will be willing and able to look at the project more than once and help you determine how close you're getting to your vision.

However, there is always value in the opinion of an outside reader - and by that I mean someone who has never seen the story before. Preferably, that person will not even have spoken with you about the story in depth. After all, those agents and editors you'll be sending it to won't have seen it before, or spoken with you about it. And your audience, the readers you're hoping will love your book and buy a million or two copies, they haven't seen it either. Thus, an outside reader can give you an impression that a close friend who has read the story a thousand times cannot.

This is why I recommend not just showing the story to everyone, even if you are super-enthusiastic about it. Outside readers are a precious resource, and you should not squander them.

When my mother was visiting a couple of weeks ago, I asked her to look at my synopsis. Not the whole novel, mind you - just the synopsis. It was a big deal for me, because I'd never asked her to have anything to do with this novel before. I may have mentioned it obliquely, with warnings that it was an adult kind of novel dealing with current social issues. It's hard to ask your mom to look at a book you wrote that has sex in it for some reason - go figure! Anyway, she looked at it, and gave me wonderful feedback. She was able to see where things weren't fitting together, because she didn't have all the extra world knowledge and baggage I had that helped me fit things together in my brain, whether or not they were there on the page. She had a little bit of world knowledge from having read a short story set in the world, but that was it.

It was incredibly refreshing feedback. It was also a really awesome bonding experience!

It really brought home to me - again, and this time literally - the importance of outside readers, even very late in the process of writing. So don't squander your readers, people. Keep a few in reserve at all times, just in case.

They'll be knights in shining armor when you need them.



  1. Oh, I hear you. As a writer of suspense, its key that people don't have the whole story...but its so hard to keep those details from my critique group.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  2. I agree. You need people to read it who haven't any pre-knowledge. Then you really get the "huh's?" and "what is this suppose to mean's?"

  3. I have a rule: if it isn't as good as I can make it, the beta readers don't see it. I am not torturing someone who is doing me a favor by throwing typos at them.

    But it IS nice to get feedback once I have put a chapter through the wringer. And the (few) remaining typos do get flagged.

    My biggest problem is finding more beta readers - the more something is seen before publication, the more likely there won't be major plot problems.

    Any suggestions on that?

    1. Alicia, I guess my suggestion is always to keep networking. I've asked random people who I think are fun and cool writers at about my level to beta-read things, and they've been very willing to help me out (lucky me!). I do have a writer's group for official critique, and that of course is super-helpful, too. I never ask people who are "ahead" of me to read, because I'd be impinging on their work time. If someone offers, though, I always take them up on it because it's such a gift to have the eye of someone with greater experience. I hope that helps...