|Photograph by Jennifer Zwick|
You've finished your first draft. You're giddy. You know it may need a tweak or two, (heck, who are you kidding? It needs to be rewritten till the cows come home) and you're wondering who you should get to read it and give you all the love and praise you deserve. After all, you've written a complete novel, for jiminy's sake.
Back when I started writing--in the Mesozoic age--this was the sort of mindset I had. I shudder when I think of the first novel I wrote, which I happily shipped off to agents in first-draft stage, expecting to unleash a tag-team wrestling frenzy to represent me. I wish I'd kept the rejection letter which essentially said, "yes, we'd all like to be published, but wouldn't it be nice if we learned to write first?" Ouch.
I'd had my wife read my novel, and my in-laws, and all of them had declared me a genius. They're intelligent, well-read people--so how could we all have been so wrong?
The answer is that there is a span as wide as the Gulf of Mexico between those who read for pleasure (most people) and those who read for business (everyone in the publishing business.) Fortunately, I'm a 60W bulb, and not a 40--and I realized I needed help. I took writing classes, I read and read and read, and I joined critique groups, members of which were published authors or working journalists. These were people who liked me but didn't love me, and who were all too willing to point out my flaws--and give me the tools to fix them.
These critique group members are now my first readers. I think my wife feels sad about this, but the reality is she is my first beta reader--the first person I let read the draft I think is done.
(I've yet to let the following be my first readers: my uncle, the lawyer finalizing my will, my gastroenterologist, assorted students, and my dental hygienist. Yes, all of them have asked to read my novels at one time or another. I'll remind them of that when I'm out in hardback.)
Who is your first reader?