Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calling in the Experts

By Annette Dashofy

On Monday, Gina wrote about critique groups. I love my critique buddies. But reading one chapter at a time has its limitations. Therefore, I have a second line of defense, known as my first readers.

Currently, I’ve completed my second draft, and am now sending that complete manuscript to this select group of “experts” to read and vet the story as a whole.

How do you go about choosing your own first readers? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are writers. But here is a list of who I’ve chosen and why.

A friend who writes in another genre and who also happens to work in the field of psychology. There is a psychological aspect to my story and I want to know that my characters are reacting and responding in an appropriate manner for the circumstances.

A non-writer friend who works in the computer field. Part of my story revolves around an old computer and some data contained within it. I need to know if my technological details are correct. I’ve done the research in advance, but does it work in the context of the story?

A non-writer friend who is an avid reader of all genres. She can tell me if the story works for her as a reader. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Have I answered all the questions and wrapped up all the loose ends to suit her?

Then I have three mystery writer friends who will vet the story from their trained perspective. Did I play fair? Are the necessary clues hidden well enough? Too well? Plus, they will also comment on the same stuff that my non-writer/avid reader does.

I should mention that our own Joyce Tremel is in that last group and I expect her to vet my police secretary character and thread, too. What did I get wrong? What wouldn’t happen that way, even in a fictional department where I have some leeway to make up the rules and procedures? And, yes, what did I get right?

So my last bit of advice for the month is this: find a good critique group, finish the book, and THEN compile a group of experts to be your first readers.


PatRemick said...

I've not quite reach the "first readers" stage but I'm curious whether you thank these folks in some way, other than acknowldgements, for doing you this wonderful favor? Do you also read the stories written by the mystery writer friends? And what DON'T you want in a first readers group?

Jennie Bentley said...

Wish I had that many friends... I started out with a writer friend or three, and as we all got busy with our own books and contracts, we got too busy to read each other's work. Now I'm down to one. She's wonderful, but starting to get too busy to read for me too. Of course, there's my agent and editors, who are wonderful. But I get less and less input on my manuscripts before I send them off to my agent. May be a good thing, since I don't have a lot of time to reciprocate in any case. :-(

Alan Orloff said...

For me, my first readers are invaluable. I wouldnn't even THINK of submitting something to anyone (even my agent) without getting their trusted feedback. I guess I'm more insecure than Jennie :) Actually, my writing probably needs more work!

Annette said...

Pat, I do reciprocate with my three mystery writer friends and do a first reading for them when they're ready. I think my two non-writer friends would be hurt if I DIDN'T let them read it.

As for what I don't want...I don't want someone who won't offer useful commentary.

Or someone who just wants to read it for free instead of paying for it when it's published! Ha!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Annette, my "Beta" readers are similar. I have a Doctor and several surgical nurses. I wrtie bioterroism so far. I also have a suspense writer and a business writer/line editor that reads it.

These are my rules:

BRUTAL honesty. If you hate it, tell me you hate it and why. I'm a big boy and I can take it.

If you like it, tell me what parts and why.

If there is a moment of confusion or doubt, circle it. Maybe I intended it, maybe I didn't.

Jot down first impressions as you read.

Don't bother with line edits.

I ALWAYS schedule dinner (on me) to discuss it. (Except Dr. Kerzweil, I bought him a Coke in the Doctor's lounge at Jefferson Memorial Hospital between surgeries.)

Gina said...

Jennie -
Please consider us among your writer friends!

Jennie Bentley said...

Alan - I'm sure that's not true. My writing needs plenty of work, at least according to my agent. The pages I get back from her, around 90% of the total manuscript, look like they've bled. I write maybe 30 pages out of 300 that don't need some kind of tweaking.

Gina... really? If you're offering to read, I might take you up on that the next time I've got something ready.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Jennie, if I'm not mistaken, my daughter was an early reader for you once. Remember that YA project?

She wants to know what happened to that.

Gina said...

Jennie -
I'd be willing to do a first read; just don't expect a detailed line edit, okay?

Jennie Bentley said...

Will, you're right; I did inflict that on your daughter, didn't I? It never went anywhere. My agent didn't like it, and I put it away and got busy with other things. One of these days maybe I'll bring it back out again.

Gina, I don't have anything right now. Sent in a manuscript in February, and one this week. My next isn't due till September. If you're still willing to read in July or August, I may take you up on it then. And no, I don't need a line edit. My writing's pretty clean; I'm more concerned with flow and whether it all hangs together and makes sense and I'm not giving away too much. I'll keep it in mind!

Norma said...

Annette, I'd love to find first readers too. Actually, I do have some sources to inflict my prose upon, but one can always use more. I should have given my manuscript to my hubby to read, because he caught errors my editor, my proof editor, and myself all missed when he read the published book. (Actually, I was a bit surprised that he read it then, because mystery is not his preference.)