It’s been said that a writer is the worst judge of his/her own work.
And it really is true.
For some, it’s because they have a strong ego; for others, it’s because they are too self-critical – but for all of us, it’s because we are just too close to the work (either emotionally attached, or have just looked at the thing day in and day out for a few weeks and have become blind to its faults).
Regardless of the reason(s), we are the worst judge of our own work. That’s why every writer should have at least one (preferably more than one) TRUSTED FIRST READER.
A “First Reader” is, simply put, someone who reads your first draft (or subsequent draft) prior to finalization and submission of the manuscript for sale to an editor.
There are a number of terms out there – First Reader, Alpha Reader, Beta Reader, Critique Reader. Different writers ascribe different definitions to those terms, and have varied expectations for those roles. But for our purposes here, I will just call them all “First Readers.”
Speaking for myself, I have a number of First Readers.
1) My wife. She is brutally honest, usually punctual in getting the reading done, and offers thorough, high-level feedback (and is full of great ideas). She is not a professional writer herself, but does enjoy reading and has a very good sense of story. She also has a good eye for catching typos.
2) My wife’s sister. She is a voracious reader and can give me a good “consumer’s” perspective. Once again, it’s high-level feedback.
3) My best friend. He is not a writer, but he is an avid reader, and can be counted on for honest feedback at a high or mid-level.
4) My best writing buddy. He is a professional writer at about my level of fiction experience, or a little more. He has read a lot of my stuff, is brutally honest, provides very constructive feedback (at the high, mid, and detailed line-by-line level). I can count on him to catch typographical errors, plot holes, and voice or POV issues. We’ve attended many of the same professional fiction writing workshops, share the same perspectives on the writing craft and business, have similar taste in reading material, and know each others’ writing styles quite well (I am also one of his First Readers).
Each of these First Readers fulfills a slightly different, often-overlapping role. Each can be counted on for sound, honest critiques of my work.
[Notice my mom is NOT on that list. I love my mom, but - being my mom - she would provide nothing useful - only pats on the back and endless praise. That's great and all, but it doesn't support my business model or assist me in improving my work. Love you, Mom!]
I do not send every story or every novel to all four of my readers. Sometimes all will get a particular novel, but not always. Sometimes I’ll send a certain short story to my wife and my best writer buddy. My best writer buddy probably gets the most short stories. Regardless, nearly every short story goes through some first reader or combination of first readers at some point. Every novel is read by at least two of the four.
Do I make all the changes that are suggested? Of course not. Sure, I fix all the typos. And I often will make story changes – but only if I agree with the suggestion and I am inclined to make the changes.
But the additional perspectives are absolutely invaluable to making that second (final) draft the best it can be.
First Readers. Get yourself some today!