Who are your early readers?

June 17th, 2010 • Kate

YoungReaders_Getty_400As is one of the perks of my job, I often get to read my clients’ manuscripts at a relatively early stage — if it’s material that hasn’t sold yet, well before anyone else knows how awesome it is, but also, when we’re talking about books already under contract, either with or sometimes even more the editor gets a chance to read it. And I love it!

I love that sneak peak of something that’s going to be great — something that I know the author’s fans are going to utterly fall for in a year or two when it’s published.

But I hope that my early read isn’t just a source of pleasure. I aim to provide comments and feedback that the author can use to make the material even stronger.

And that’s what your early readers need to do, even if you haven’t yet signed with an agent. I always mention how vital it is for an author to have a critique group, but even if that’s not possible, you really need to have a couple of early readers you can trust for an honest opinion of your work.

So here are my questions to you: who are your early readers? Where did you find them? When do you use them? (First draft, third draft, to work out the missing bits, etc.) Any hints or tips in working with them? To the comments!

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20 Responses to “Who are your early readers?”

  1. Gordon Says:

    When I finish my first draft of something(which is more like draft fifty-seven, the way I end up writing it usually), I have three people read it: my mom, my older brother, and Vicky, one of my best frends.

    My mom is an english teacher, and is very critical. And, as I learned when she taught me in school, she doesn't sugarcoat the truth…even for her son.

    My brother is widely read, and he's kind of the target demographic for what I write.

    Vicky is most likely going to immediately dislike anything I write(She hates fantasy/supernatural storiess), and, like my mom, won't spare my feelings.

    After they read it, and I try to address any criticisms they've given me, I send it to three different people, all friends of mine. Johnny, Lizzie, and Brianna. Johnny is a fellow writer. Lizzie and Brianna can appreciate a book for it's technical qualities, even if it isn't something they'd ever want to read.

  2. Feliza Says:

    My early readers absolutely rock. I know some people say that you shouldn't use friends and family as early readers, but honestly, I'd be worried that anybody else would sugar coat their criticisms. I guess that's just how I roll ๐Ÿ™‚

    I use my best friend since first grade for awesome words of encouragement during my first drafting process, then as my beta reader after I'm done with my second draft. After I've gotten her input and futzed with the manuscript accordingly, then the Husband gets a look at the almost-finished manuscript.

  3. Jen A Says:

    A dear friend, theames, recommended finding readers at Absolute Write. First time, was horrible. Actually, she might have been ok but I don't think our personalities meshed well. Second time, was better. Third time, even better! I guess the lesson here is to never give up on finding the right reader for you.

    My current work, I asked my reader to take a look during the early stage. My thought was to get some feedback before I got too far.

    I'm really new at the writing process and haven't yet had the pleasure of finding an agent. But like my dear friend told me, dont' give up and keep writing.

    Thanks Daphne!

  4. Olivia Says:

    I'm part of the writing club at my local independent bookstore, and there's one guy in particular there who has a great critical mind and doesn't hesitate to tell me exactly what he thinks. I start reading to them until I decide that a huge reworking needs to be done, and then I take a break. Earlier today, my novel reached the point where I felt comfortable sending them all of it (5th or 6th draft, I think). Now I'm waiting for feedback, and while I am, I'm going to be working on my query letter.

  5. Adam Heine Says:

    My wife reads each chapter as I write them. She gives me a combination of encouragement and redirection when necessary.

    For each subsequent draft, until I'm happy with it, I try to find one or two critical readers, usually writers. I know a couple from real life, but mostly I find them online in critique groups and through blogs.

  6. Becky Mahoney Says:

    Much like Gordon, my mom is my most important early reader. She's a technical editor who deals with other people's lazy writing all day, and she's not about to put up with mine! She pointed out some truly stupid mistakes of mine in my MS. For example, 14 – 6 = 6! And baseball bats are made of STEEL! Who knew? I also tend to leave out articles and such when I really get into it, and Mom is great at spotting that kind of thing.

    My friends are also wonderful readers. My best friend in particular likes it when I read aloud to her, which is helpful for me, because then I notice mistakes I made or hear when something doesn't sound right. And if she doesn't understand something, she'll ask, so I know if I'm not getting my point across.

    My fabulously sarcastic fiction teacher from college, while not a fantasy fan, was also a huge help when my early query didn't net me any requests. I went through a bunch of different drafts with him, but he really wanted me to get it exactly right – to the point where he called me up after a meeting with his editor to grill me on what the book was about. It was pretty embarrassing to talk about the story to someone who doesn't like fantasy ("So… he has some kind of… magical powers.") but he helped me get my query to a good place. And then I started getting requests! So he was very much integral to the process.

  7. kelljones Says:

    Mine usually look something like this:

    1. First 10,000 words or so of an early draft – submitted to the Online Writing Workshop or a writing-focused live workshop like the WisCon Writers' Workshop, so a small group of people I don't know can take a look at it and point out the big things I can't see before I polish too much.

    [Rewrite so it's the best I can make it.]

    2. Polished draft – given to a mix of readers and writers, some of whom like my style of book and some of whom really don't (found through library work, past critique groups, past workshops, etc).

    [Rewrite so it's the best I can make it.]

    3. Small, select group of writers who haven't read it yet who really understand what I try to do with my work and are not shy in their feedback (found through library work, past critique groups, past workshops, etc).

    [Rewrite so it's the best I can make it.]

    4. Fresh set of eyes (if I can find them) to catch whatever I've broken in the last round before sending it out (I look for picky, excellent past critiquers and anyone who hasn't read it yet).

    [Final polishing/tweaking]

    5. Out for submission!

    I give all of my readers a list of questions I have and things to look out for, so they have something in mind as they're reading. I ask them to give me their response as they read it, so I can try and catch when they went in wrong directions, etc. Then, I often follow up with them with tons of questions about things I want to see if they noticed, etc.

    I'm always looking for new readers when I have conversations about books, writing, etc. — I look for how people talk about books they love, and what they think of books we've both read. I generally try to swap critiques, since full novels are a big time commitment; I also feel like the trust is more equally given that way, if that makes sense.

    They all may be sick of me after this last book, though — we'll see! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. kelljones Says:

    (Just to clarify, after step 1 my readers are reading the whole novel, not just the first part.)

  9. Trish Says:

    I started out on Absolute Write when I was querying and met a friend who has become my most trusted writing partner. She's the one I go to with ideas, early readings, and a kick in the pants when I get stuck.

  10. Erin S Says:

    I have a good friend who is an avid reader critique the second or third drafts (NO one gets to see the first, rough draft! LOL). With my completed novel, which is YA, I had my friend's daughter and daughter's teenage friends read it and give me feedback. They've all been great and very encouraging! It was really important for me to have teen beta-readers to make sure that the fantasy world I'd created made sense and that the characters were engaging.

    I also had the first five pages critiqued by people over at the YALITCHAT site. I definitely recommend this for YA writers! The feedback is very helpful! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Krista V. Says:

    Like Adam, my spouse is my first reader (although in my case, it's my husband :)), reading along as I write. And up until my most recent WIP, he's the only reader I've ever used.

    This time around, I plan to share my WIP with several lovely ladies I've met around the blogosphere. (One of them only lives about forty-five minutes from my house, so we've actually gotten together a few times.) We've been communicating via blog comments and e-mail for months, so I really feel as if I know them a lot better than someone I may have stumbled across a few days or weeks before I needed a reader. It pays to network for the long-term, I think, not just in the holy-crap-I-need-a-beta-reader-pronto moment.

  12. Trading Plan Templat Says:

    I guess I do not have the confidence to have early readers. There's one and that's my nine-year-old daughter. I guess, I really need to open myself up to others if I am to survive this industry.

  13. Delilah S Dawson Says:

    I have a thread on Absolute Write right now hoping to find a beta reader/critique partner. I tried an online critique group, but it wasn't a good fit. Although I have a great first reader and a couple of wonderful, sharp-eyed friends, I'd really like to find another agented writer who understands the business.

  14. Creepy Query Girl Says:

    I have an online critics group. The other members and myself all knew eachother through The Word Cloud- writer's social network. We created our own 'group' with its own forums so we could discuss eachother's work and bounch ideas off of one another. It's worked out great for us. I'll usually send out the whole ms to a couple family members to see if they like it as a whole or if there was anything major that they didn't like. But for the real editorial feedback, my critics group is really priceless.

  15. Cyndy Aleo Says:

    I might be extremely obsessive, but I actually have tiers of pre-readers. Some got the ms after the first draft. Some after the fifth when I thought it was ready to go out on submission. And I have two stalwarts who I'll seriously have to, like, set up in an MTV Cribs-style way if I ever win the Lotto who read every time I edit.

  16. Shannon Says:

    Unfortunately, I don't have that many people who are willing to read something that is unpublished. My husband reads my MS's, but that is about it for me. It seems that I am not a writer until I am published. Right now, most of the people I know consider it a "hobby."

    I wonder how many of my friends will step up and offer to read my MS's when I am a published author?

  17. Mandy Says:

    My early readers consist of the following:

    1)My extremely sarcastic friend who absolutely loves pointing out when things don't make sense and when he thinks its stupid.

    2) My friend who pretty much never reads. Because of this, he's really honest about whether a book sucks him in or if he's so bored he doesn't want to keep reading.

    3) My BCM secretary who is pretty much just uber supportive all the time (she balances out the two guys above).

    4) My extremely well read in the genre friend who points out when things have been done before and that I'm not doing them better.

    5) My critique group. They're pretty unmerciful. We don't know each other personally that well, so they have no reason to spare my feelings.

    I like having people read chapter by chapter – it helps me identify stupid mistakes sooner. Not everyone is willing to do that – but I definitely let everyone see my first draft pretty much right after I'm done with. It's like handing it off to the sharks, but it always helps my books get better!

  18. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I have a group of writer friends online who are my earliest readers. 2 in particular really helped me finish the book. I would send them chapters as I finished, and knowing they would be waiting made me stick it out and finish when I would probably have thrown in the towel and gone to sleep.

    I have a crit group I meet up with in person who have gone over the finished book to help me fine tune it.

    They are invaluable.

  19. Suzanne Casamento Says:

    Great question! My critique group was formed during a YA UCLA Extension class five years ago. They're an excellent group of writers. They read pages as I write them and are now doing an overall read of the first draft of my WIP.

    I have another great group of readers who I met through SCBWI. We also trade manuscripts and provide feedback for each other.

    And for the first time, with my latest WIP, I'm experimenting by sending my manuscript to some writer friends I've met through the blogosphere. So far, they're providing excellent feedback. I'm excited to read their work too!

  20. Abby Minard Says:

    I was very lucky to find a critique partner about halfway through my ms. He is someone I work with, who is also writing his first novel, and it's also fantasy. He has been a huge help and has really great comments. I also have my mother, who is a children's librarian (I am writing YA), my best friend, and my sister reading my ms as I go along. I send them a chapter at a time, and with my crit partner, we get together every few months and trade what we have done. We also converse through email with comments, questions and observations. I like that I work with him, because we see each other at work and are able to encourage each other with our writing. My husband says he wants to read it when I'm done, and he'll be reading it mostly for grammar. So he'll probably be last, after all my revisions and I'm ready to query agents. I like the set up I have- crit partner for major and unbiased critiques, my mother from a librarian's standpoint, and my best friend and sister to bump up my ego ;p, and finally my husband who knows grammar like the back of his hand.