First Readers

Many writers advocate having a “first reader,” one person whom you trust to read your work first, and tell you the truth, while being gentle about it. Some, like Stephen King, even go so far as to suggest you write the book for that first reader (provided, of course, your first reader shares some traits with your eventual readers). I wrote my 1st two books for my 1st reader – and I must say, I agree completely.

Sadly, shortly before I completed the 2nd book, my reader developed blinding headaches that limited her ability to read for fun. She’s still not read the 2nd book, Awakening, although I’m sure she’d love the story.

Now I struggle, as I no longer have that 1st reader – mine was the person I trusted the most, my best friend, and a fellow writer. Without that voice – honest, but gentle – I have to rely on instinct. Instinct is overrated. I’ve had others serve that function, as early readers, but so far, none has replaced what’s missing. Nor could they: I’ve changed, and my needs for a first reader have changed.

Some readers think you need cheerleading. You do not. Others think you need critics or coaches. The Absolute Last Thing a writer needs is a writing coach. (Unless you are fortunate to have one whom published million-selling books.) There are plenty of books that can serve as coaches, and they won’t get annoyed or pushy if you choose to ignore their advice. No, a first reader should be, most of all, someone who is in harmony with you, someone who “gets” who you are and what you are trying to do.

So I wonder. What do other writers do? Coming from the Business World, I am surrounded by people who rarely, if ever, discuss fiction. In short, I know few readers. So where to find first writers – the real kind? It would be great if there was a website for that, but alas, I don’t think that would work.

Sure, I can pay a proofreader and then a copy editor, but what I want is someone who’ll come before a copy editor. Someone I trust, and that gets my work. I know what I want my stories to say – all I need is someone who can help me discern if I’ve said it. Maybe I’ll take out an ad:

First Reader / Friend Wanted. Must like fiction, violent movies, in-person (not online) conversation, being bought meals and coffee, and silliness. Gentle nature preferred, brilliance desired. Coaches, know-it-alls, and those lacking the ability to think metaphorically need not apply. Candidate must be comfortable with cursing and romantic relationships between two attractive females (in literature, at the very least). Free trip to the Caribbean for the perfect candidate.

Interested parties Apply Within.

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My ideal first reader. I’m just sayin’.

8 Comments

  1. ceciliag says:

    I bet you get piles of offers, but what pushed a button for me was the comment you made that you should write the first draft For your first reader. This is an excellent suggestion. I was a script reader for a few years, i read and wrote notes for the script writers and another set of notes for the director who was considering the work, but if those writers had been friends i think it would have been harder to do the job accurately .. mm, actually i miss that work .. but I had another call! there you are.. hope you had a lovely sunday.. c

    1. I wish I did get piles of offers; so far, I get piles of indifference, but that’s okay. 🙂 I think I do better as a reader when the person isn’t a close friend. Even when they aren’t over sensitive, I find myself concerned more about feelings than I am at helping them improve the story. I tend to be more positive than negative when critiquing (or teaching) anyway, so people don’t generally get too upset.

      Yeah, I can’t imagine you’d have time in between newborn lambs and all.

      I’ve had a lazy, first rain in weeks Sunday. Hope yours was good.

  2. If we lived close I’d ivite you to join my critique group. I’m in a group with two amazing woman- each who catches different things. It’s perfect. And even when I don;t agree and make the suggested changes (which is rare) they still support me and contunue to help me create the best book possible. They tell me what works, what’s iffy, when I’ve used the same word ten times in a chapter, when my pacing fails, and when my chracters need to grow or take a risk. I’m a better writer because of them.

    1. You are fortunate. I had a critique partner for poetry, but not yet for fiction. I haven’t looked very hard yet, either. I will probably have to start doing that.

  3. I love doing transparent reading, where I comment in the story as I am reading so the writer can see my thought process when there is a hiccup. I have been dying to find someone who does the same thing in a way that doesn’t crush my ambition under their feet.

    It is a tough thing to advertise for…

    1. I think it calls for people who’s style of critiquing is compatible with you, and, frankly, someone who likes your writing. I’m still trying to decide if I want to find someone local or not.

    2. By the way, if you want me to read your stuff I will. Gentle, I know how to do.

      1. I would love that – let me pull some stuff together.

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