First, to clarify the title. The ‘readers’ implied are not the readers who pick your books up off the shelf and read. The readers I mean are those who work closely with you prior to publication. They are friends and family you let read your book in the process of writing it and revising and editing it, and they are those who will critique your work prior to you sending it to any publisher or editor. So I am not directing this to anyone picking up a book to read it for the first time. Everything I’m talking about is before the book is even published. Now, with that clear, let’s move on.
For writers, it is unnerving when our VERY first readers read our books before it’s even published. We might have written the entire story without telling a soul what it was about, or we might have told everyone we encountered about our story, but now is the time of reckoning—the time to see what someone truly thinks of it. Now it is time for the story to stand up and speak for itself—be the brilliant story you claimed it to be. Like you letting go of your child’s bike as they attempt to ride without the training wheels, you have faith they’ll find their balance and their freedom in being independent, but at the same time, you’re worried they might falter and fall and scrape their knee. Even if they do fall, you know you can’t rush to them and cuddle them and carry them into the house. They have to grow used to the pain of falling down, and they have to learn to get back up again. It’s part of growing up. The same thing applies to our writing.
Once we’ve written the story, we trust it’s ready for anything, but at the same time we’re terrified of being told that the ideas in our head are not entertaining, enlightening, inspiring, or original. We hate being informed our writing is cliché or boring or that people just don’t ‘get it’, so what are we supposed to do?
Let’s define some terms and then go into detail.
First up, we have the Casual Reader. This would be what I described in my previous post when you let a friend or family member read your story while you’re working on it (especially doing the revision/editing process). Their primary purpose is to be a cheerleader but also to wave a red flag when they’re confused at a point. You can let a Casual Reader read your work as soon as you finished the first draft or while you’re revising and editing your work.
Beta Reader: This is the individual you give your work to when you are ready for some real critiquing. You should have already done a revision or two or three and edited it as best you can. These are the people who are looking for inconsistencies, grammar errors, plot holes, and they will challenge your decision to have this scene unfold that way or that character to do that and not this. A lot of Beta Readers have the inclination of becoming editors, so they’re using this time as practice.
So let’s go into more detail about each kind of reader. Let’s start with the Casual Reader. Why let people read your work before it’s even completed and absolutely polished? One of the most irritating things I’ve discovered as a published author is working hard on a book, get it published, and the only response I get are vague like, “Oh it was a good story.” Now, to be fair, some are more definite in their responses, but still it’s easier to say “It was great,” rather than go into details as to why you absolutely loved all 600 pages of the book. Meanwhile, I labored hard to work that twist in Chapter 5, to kill that character in Chapter 10, to show the emotional and fundamental but silent moment in Chapter 26—doesn’t anyone appreciate it? I almost killed your favorite character, and all I get is, “Oh, that was nice.”?
Your Casual Reader will give you feedback you need to motivate you along the way. They will be your fans. You might not be famous with thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, but these few devoted readers will make you feel like the best writer in the world—not because they’re trying to make you feel good, but because they really enjoy the story and can’t contain themselves.
When you let Casual Readers read your work, don’t overwhelm them by sending in the entire story at one time but rather a chapter at a time. Letting someone read the story as a whole is like watching a movie. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it’s all wrapped up nicely where it may or may not have a sequel. However, allowing people to read it only a chapter at a time is almost treating it like a TV show rather than a movie—you drag it out. They get really attached to the characters, and that’s exactly what you want.
Casual Readers will give you feedback such as this (taken from a Casual Reader of mine who has given me permission to share):
“Oh my gosh that is so AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT!!!!! 😀 I especially love the part when Vixen asked the guardian to hold her glove thing and she knocked him out. I cracked up laughing on that one.”
“Don’t make me cry you cannot make me cry I cannot cry STOP MAKING ME WANT TO CRRRRRYYYY!!!!!” :'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(
“Hahahahaha!!! This was hilarious! And surprising. You made me think that Ardden was going to be okay but who knows (except you) what’ll happen? I thought it awkward then hilarious when Lorrek found out Vixen and she disappeared so suddenly. And I so love it that everyone loves everyone yet they hate them so much.”
“Finally I read it. I was so busy. I Love iiiiittttt!!!!! 😀 it kind of looks like Verddra is going to the good side, but you left a quote in there that Honroth said. Something about enemies. Anyway, it left me thinking that Verddra is acting good yet she isn’t.”
As you can observe, this kind of feedback is the best. It tells me in real time what my readers think and feel about characters, things they experience, and decisions they make. So if you want some responses from your readers, try sending it to them a chapter at a time and tell them in order to get the next chapter, they need to tell you what they think in detail of the chapter they read. This might not work for some readers because of time restraints, but communicate with them and see what works best.
Now, sometimes the Casual Reader will have questions, and that’s a good thing. Do not take offense or be discouraged when you get this kind of feedback. Remember, you’re letting the Reader read while you’re likely revising and editing, so you can always and honestly say, “It’s the rough draft.” In this context, errors to expected and forgiven. The Casual Reader is more like highlighting the AWESOME parts while tagging the vague parts. They are not the Beta Reader, so don’t expect them to give you too much detail as to what is wrong.
This is what you can expect from a Casual Reader. So, what kind of people are good Casual Readers? Not writers. I have about five Casual Readers, but only one is a writer of any kind. All others just enjoy reading. So find friends or family members who have the time to read, and ask if they’d be willing to read your story a chapter at a time.
I had fully intended for this to be one post discussing the Casual Reader and the Beta Reader, but as I wrote it, I realized it was getting long, so I’ve decided to split the two. Next week we will discuss the Etiquette for Beta Readers.