There are a lot of things to consider when you start writing a book: Who will be your agent? Who will design your cover? Who will publish it? But before all of those things, you must decide who will read it.
The decision is yours whether or not to let anyone read your book before it is released, but I believe the best books are those that have had an extra pair of eyes on them, or two or three. I believe the rule of thumb is to have 3 or 4 people read your book (at least one of those should be an editor). You may ask, why not make them wait until it’s finished? Because other people can alert you to problems with your writing such as grammar, spelling, plot, characters, etc. They can identify your strengths as well.
When do you let people read your work
I know a lot of writers who don’t let others read their book until it’s considered “done.” To be honest, I think it’s more beneficial to send a rough draft to them so they can spot plot holes and major character issues before you’ve wasted hours on grammar and re-writes.
How rough is too rough? The term “rough draft” is relative–like the word “pretty.” A lot of people call the first draft the rough draft. I prefer the term “throw away draft” that someone coined on their blog.
This is what many call the first draft. This is your writing when it first crawls out of the primordial ooze, before it gets fully-developed legs and loses its gills. I think this is too rough to send to readers. My suggestion is to revise it once or twice so that you can give them an accurate representation of your writing style, voice, the story, and the plot.
If a draft is too rough, your reader will get so hung up and slowed down by sentence fragments and unfinished thoughts and scenes, they won’t even be able to tackle your big picture. On the flip side, don’t wait until it’s too far along, or you might not be able to make the suggested revisions because you’ve spent so much time on each scene, you won’t be willing to change them. It’s easier to make changes while something is still being developed.
Example: The Lord of the Rings
In early drafts Aragorn was a hobbit and his name was something stupid like Trotter or Fosco. After it was read by another pair of eyes (the editor, or whoever he was), Tolkien agreed that there were too many hobbits in the story. Aragorn was eventually changed to a man and the rest is history.
Characteristics of a good reader
Now that you’ve agreed to let people read it, you must decide who those people should be. Beta readers, critique partners, and experienced writers and editors make the best readers, but what about friends, co-workers, and family? It might be tempting to let everyone you know read it, but you don’t want just anyone and everyone reading your writing. Choose wisely. It’s less of a time waste to find good and bad readers than to sift through good and bad suggestions.
Your readers should possess these traits
- They should be your target audience
- Their goal should be to help your writing
- They should be objective
- They can criticize constructively
- They are regular readers
- They are honest
- They have good communication skills
So looking at this list, it may surprise you that you are more likely to find a good, reliable reader in a complete stranger than your own family. If you think your loved ones don’t lie to you, wait until you hand them a snippet of your writing. Their best and worst qualities will come out. Here’s how:
- They take it personally
- They are not constructive
- They are biased
- They sugar coat
- They make it about them and not about your writing
- They are either upset because they think you wrote about them or because you left them out
- They are not your target audience
- They will look for hidden context
Really the list goes on. The only relative I let read my writing is my sister, and I often make the mistake of giving her too much context before reading. Because she is familiar with the plot and characters, she is not technically a fresh pair of eyes. But she is as objective as family can be, and her goal is to improve my story and my writing, not to spare my feelings or make me feel good. Believe me, I don’t come away unscathed by her criticism. I have a bag I put over my head that I drew a meme face on to hide my expression when she critiques. The faces I make behind the bag are much worse.
Where can you find good readers
- writing groups
- twitter and other social media sites
- referrals from other writers you know
- Google (when all else fails)
Some will be happy to read for free, but be prepared to pay a little for good readers, or you can offer a free download of your book upon release. Gift cards are also nice. Sometimes the only payment expected is for you to return the favor.
So before you design your fancy cover, before you send out queries to agents, put your feelers out for readers. When you are ready for feedback, keep the qualifications in mind. Don’t waste your time with bad readers who will do nothing but offer bad advice. Find people you know will help you polish your work.