Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Other Writers Might Not Be Your Best First-Reader

Writers need a great deal of ego to withstand the constant beating they receive in the writing profession. From editors, publishers, and/or agents before the writer's story is published. From critics and readers after the writer's story is published.

So writers rely on folks just like them, in the trenches of publishing, for feedback. However there are pitfalls to consider.

1) How widely read is the person?

I've run into so many would-be writers that DO NOT READ. Anything. Not novels, not newspapers, not even church pamphlets. If this person has no idea what kind of standards by which to judge your work, how can they? What criteria will they use? Have they even read a book in your genre?

My mistake: Years ago, a writer published in romance offered to read one of my novels. I told her it was urban fantasy, and she said she'd still read it. A few days later, she returned the manuscript and said, "This isn't romance. It's urban fantasy." I shook my head, found someone who liked to read urban fantasy, and went on my merry way.

2) How far along is the writer in their career?

Some folks make that first sale, and BAM! They think they're an expert in what sells--to agents, to readers, to editors. Uh, no. They know what sold to that editor or that reader at that particular time.

My mistake: I sold a short story in a particularly niche subgenre to a small press ages ago. Since the editor loved it, I wrote another almost exactly like the first story and submitted it. The editor, who had several decades of experience, wrote back and asked me to write something different because he wanted to see me grow as a writer. Ouch! Sure he hurt my fee-fees, but he was absolutely right.

3) How wrapped up is the person in being right?

Then there are the writers that have the overabundance of ego. They like being the go-to person. They like telling other writers what to write and how to write it, and if you deviate from their "rules", you are not only wrong, but you will never be published.

My lesson: Oh, the rules I've heard over the years! "Zombies don't sell." "Married people do not have sex in erotica." "Women cannot be the dominant in a relationship." UGH! I sell a lot more volume of the books that break the rules. So keep deviating from the "rules"!

Notice at no point did I say anything about education. Why? Because I have relatives who didn't graduate high school who read more than the relatives that are college professors. Today's MFA programs are, unfortunately, more geared for producing English teachers than they are writers.

Which is totally fine if you want to be a teacher.

But when it comes to them being a first reader, they can often fall in the #3 trap. Find someone who enjoys the genre of your current work and is well-versed enough to give you solid feedback. They don't have to be a writer, just someone enthusiastic about the types of stories you want to tell.

Good luck!


  1. Agreement, pretty much across the board.

    Another issue with having a writer read your stuff is that sometimes they'll try to tell you how to fix problems (I'll admit I have a hard time not doing this, since I like to Help!) which isn't useful if your style is different from theirs. Or sometimes they'll see Something Funny and make an assumption about where the problem is, and insist you need to change that, when in actuality the problem was five pages or five chapters earlier. I've had that happen with professional editors a few times, where a misunderstanding or contradiction on page 218 let me know that page 79 wasn't as clear as I thought it was.


    1. That's actually assuming it's a problem to fix to begin with. To me, a clarifying sentence and a major plot hole are two different things.

      But yeah, the writer in my first example gave me a list of things to "fix" which would have turned the novel into a romance. *smile*

    2. Well, yes, I was assuming that the, "There's something funny right here..." comments would actually be accurate. :)