First Readers


Yesterday I was doing some research on an author whose scholarly works I find interesting, and my online search landed me on the acknowledgments page of her book, where she thanked her husband, whom she described as her first and most careful reader.

I’m not a writer per se, but this line of work calls for a good deal of writing–pitch letters, edit memos, correspondence that attempts to strike that fine balance between “authoritative and rude” (see Jim’s very funny post)–and if I can prevail upon him, my husband is my go-to reader, and vice versa. This is not always the case. In fact, I know plenty of writers who believe that romantic partners, married or otherwise, ought not be part of the process. That talking shop, evaluating drafts, and giving candid feedback is best done by a person with whom there exists some emotional distance. 

How about you? Who is your first reader? If you have a significant other or a family member who reads your work in progress, is her role as a booster or a critique partner? There’s no shame in the former. Frankly, I think all writers could use at least one of each.

14 Responses to First Readers

  1. hhharkins says:

    Ought not is right!!! From the second I let the pages slip out of my hands until the time my husband had basically rewritten my PB manuscript an hour later, my jaw was clinched. I knew it was important for him that I shared something so important to me with him first, but it was sooooo not worth it!!! But, I would say it depends on the relationship. I knew better.

  2. Joelle says:

    My husband is more often my final reader. After my critique group has weighed in and I’ve done all the editing I can, then he reads for me. He does this with most drafts, so the last thing he ends up reading is the copy edited manuscript. He’s invaluable for the little things…”You used this word twice on one page,” etc. He also takes things very literally sometimes, which is helpful when I meant something else!

    I have three members in my critique group who are my main readers now, and one who was a teen when she started reading for me, but is now technically a grown-up who reads for me too. When I first started it was my mother (also a writer) and my husband. Now my mother usually only reads one draft, later in the game. She doesn’t really like to critique me anyway (I’m terrible with commas!) and would rather read my books for fun.

    Honestly, without my group and the experts I drag in for each book, I don’t know how I could even hope to write a book.

    My husband does a lot of correspondence for his volunteer work and I often edit it for him. We’re a team!

  3. My husband doesn’t read fiction, sad to say. My first readers are my critique group members.

  4. Tammy says:

    My first reader is my favorite cousin. I can show her any story, at any stage and she’s always has something nice to say. When I need a good pat on the back, she’s always there. Also if I write something that just doesn’t work she has a way of telling me without making me feel bad. I think in the early stages of a project you need all the encouragement you can get.

    When my work is in the final stages then I let my best friend read it. She lacks the finesse that my cousin has, but if I really want the truth she will tell me. She will rip my work apart and tell me like it is. The only real way to improve a project is to know what’s wrong with it and nine times out of ten she’s right on the money.

  5. My significant others are my most trusted team. My husband is a detail-oriented geek like me, so he catches the continuity issues (“Butane is a gas. It doesn’t slosh.”) He’s also great at finding information when I’m researching something.

    My sister is a writer, and I can depend on her to tell me where I need more character development, where the action sags, or whether I’ve just gone sideways somewhere.

    My step-mom and my best friend offer suggestions occasionally, but they’re mainly boosters.

    I couldn’t ask for a better group of readers, but I think the key to success is that they offer criticism constructively, and I can appreciate the criticism on my writing without feeling as though it’s about me personally.

  6. Ciara says:

    My partner is my first reader, not because he give me great critiques but because he does nothing of the sort. He says “that’s brilliant honey” and that’s it. To be honest that’s all I want to hear on the first draft. Then I’ll rewrite and send to critique partners. But for the first draft I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a bit of a boost to get me over the hardest part!

  7. Tracy says:

    The only other person besides my husband (who doesn’t read anything other than the newspaper and I don’t think I’d trust for criticism because “more stuff needs to blow up” in his opinion) who knows I’m working on a book is my friend who is a high school teacher. And she is my first reader.

    Using finesse with criticism is nice and she has that but its not necessary for me. I need honesty not sugar coated beat-around-the-bush type honestly, I’m okay with brutal truth. I don’t want boosters, as nice and encouraging as they are, I need someone to say “this character is not believable” or “this scene isn’t relevant to the story”. But that’s what I like; a cut-to-the-chase type person. She’s honest in a professional way and will not spare my feelings if it will help my improve my MS. But that’s just me, it’s not for everyone.

    But I will say I am the one my husband comes to for spell checking, wording, proof reading and over all criticism for his work related emails and memo’s.

  8. My husband is my first reader, but he doesn’t critique my writing. He does tell me when he wishes the funny scenes were longer, which is great since I’m writing a boy book. I live for the moments when he cackles at what I’ve written.

  9. I think it really depends on your loved ones’ qualifications. The first reader for one of my manuscripts was an aunt I am close to, but I trusted her advice because she is an editor (for a newspaper, but it still means she has good English skills) and a prolific reader in my genre, and I trusted her not to sugarcoat any critiques. I’ve let a few other friends read some of my stuff, but more just to get a general sense of whether the story was working and not for serious critique or revision.

  10. PJ says:

    I have a group of friends who read and tell me that, no, I’m not crazy, there may actually be a story there, but then I take it to critique groups. I think you need someone who doesn’t have a vested interest to get the necessary perspective to make something better.

  11. My husband is often one of my first readers because he assumes that if I’m hiding something from him, it must be juicy. After he reads it, he often behaves the same way my dog used to when she realized I’d “duped” her into eating something healthy. He pushes it aside and says, “Meh. Girl stuff. No exploding spaceships.”

    I just dismiss him as having no taste.

    Of course, on those rare occasions when he says something I’ve written is brilliant, he’s the most refined person I’ve ever met. I don’t know how two such disparate personalities coexist in one adorable body.

  12. Suzanne L. B. says:

    My first reader is a friend who is more like a sister. She was the type of kid (like me) who was told to stop reading and go outside, and when she went, she brought her book with her. She’s honest, brutal in the best way, and encouraging.

    My husband is more of a non-fiction reader. He’s great for query critiques, though.

  13. My husband has never even asked to read my ms. I have a few crit partners, but one in particular who I will make read anything I write because no matter what it is, she always makes it better. And she’s now my best & closest friend though we live 2800 miles apart & have never actually met in person.

  14. Bethany Neal says:

    I can’t trust anyone I know that closely to give me non-bias feedback. I’d be afraid they wouldn’t be able to separate how they feel about me and how the felt about the book.

    My writing group is where my 1st readers are. I know them well enough that I trust they won’t sell my prose on the literary black market, but I don’t hang with them on weekends where they’ll have to face me if the crits were harsh–and probably needed.

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