December 27, 2010

Your writing success can soar with an honest but kind first reader

You’re your own first reader of course, so, hopefully, you make a habit of reading aloud every word you’ve written, listening closely to what you say and how effectively you say it. If something seems “off,” change it! Then, when your manuscript feels and sounds ready to you, find a good first reader.

If you just want a pat on the back, fine. Pick whoever knows and loves you a lot to read your manuscript and tell you how great it is.

If, however, you want an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses in your work so you can improve your writing as you revise, excellent! This means you’re aiming for professionalism, so your requirements for a first reader now need to be higher too.

But, where do you go or to whom do you turn?

For that important first reader, look for a friend, family member, or writing peer whom you trust to speak truthfully without putting you down.

If you’re fortunate enough to have several people in mind, pick the person who likes and often reads published works in the genre you have chosen.

As you choose your first reader, age will be a factor too. For example, if you write for preschoolers, read your story, poem, or nonfiction picture book text to young children who enjoy being read to in this fun Read-To-Me stage.

You do not even need to know your first reader! For instance, ask your local librarian about reading your work to the appropriate age group who regularly meets in the public library. This may be a weekly story time for preschoolers, a daily after-school program for older kids, or a literary discussion group for adults who get together each month. Regardless, take notes of the feedback you get, writing down exactly what was said, so you can carefully consider each comment later when you’re alone, ready to revise.

If your area offers a writing or critique group, this can provide yet another option for you to find a good first reader. Just give yourself time to get to know the individual members and the quality of their writing as you look for someone with whom you connect.

Look, too, for someone who shows respect for your work. Although you want to find someone you can count on to give you an honest assessment, you certainly do not want or need a first reader whose “honesty” is actually cruelty or jealousy in poor disguise!

Often, a first reader can spot rough spots in a manuscript, pointing them out matter-of-factly, which can help you to see what to do to improve the work. If this doesn’t happen, try putting your manuscript aside long enough to be able to return to it objectively.

If your first reader writes in your genre, s/he will be better equipped to advise you about ways to revise more effectively. If not – or if you know something is not working but do not know what to do to correct the problem, it’s probably time to get a professional critique.

How? Where? For your poems, children’s picture book manuscript, or book proposal, you can find this help – or, to be more specific, my help – through The Poetry Editor website. You’ll also find information about what to expect, including the fee, quoted on the site.

But maybe you don’t want to pay for help. Maybe you’re not ready. No problem! Just go back to finding a first reader who provides what you need right now. Then, when you’re ready for an honest evaluation with workable suggestions and encouraging feedback from a writer who is well-published in your genre, great! That’s what you and your manuscript will get - not for free but for a fee - from me.