I’m often asked this question when I give presentations or teach writing classes. Should it be family, friends, critique groups, beta readers, contest judges, or copy editors/proofreaders? My answer is all those, and in that order. You can never have too many readers.
My three sisters like to read my manuscripts. They are wonderful, intelligent women who love me, and are great at making me feel that they love my writing too. But they also correct my grammar and pay attention to plot details.
My friends are nice, supportive, and are willing to help me out as long as I don’t abuse their time. Friends and family like mine can bolster one’s ego as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s face it, even after the grammar corrections, we tend to focus more on gushing accolades—at least I do—whereas in truth, there are always more changes to be considered.
Members of my critique group are my most important readers. They read my work as it is proceeding and again upon completion. They are talented writers who scrutinize every word, sentence, and paragraph—even the names of my characters. They know my weaknesses and gracefully point them out. Their criticism is always on the mark.
After my manuscript has been thus corrected and polished, I’m ready to send it to a beta reader (a non-professional reader who reads for content and grammatical errors). It’s a good idea to choose someone who is also a writer whom you don’t know personally or very well. I always look for someone who hasn’t yet read any of my writing so there are no expectations. A beta reader can be a member of a writers’ organization you belong to. Since reading a manuscript and making notes is time consuming, I barter by offering to do the same in return.
It’s also a good idea to submit your manuscript to contests. Even if you don’t win, you’ll receive at least one or more evaluations, just for the price of a small entry fee.
If you’re an unpublished author, or moving to a genre that is new to you, it’s worth the time and money to have a professional copy editor or proofreader read, edit, and critique your work. Be cautious when selecting one. Ask for references and get the details up front. State specifically what you want done. I recommend a complete, substantive critique. Most allow you to send them the first ten pages for a preview of what’s to come and how much it will cost.
Finally, who should not read your manuscript? Anyone who doesn’t read much. You’d be surprised how often people at book shows or promotion events tell me they don’t like to read. So if someone doesn’t want to read your work, don’t twist arms. You’ll easily find enough willing readers elsewhere.
Kathleen Kaska Marketing Director