Monday, June 21, 2010

Mentor Monday: Who's Your First Reader?

I give first readers two thumbs up. I don't care who you are, or what writing credits you have, everybody can use a good first reader. I'm lucky enough to have six of them, but all you really need is one.

I attended the NESCBWI Annual Regional Conference in May and found myself chatting with a small group of writers I'd never met before. These folks were all first-time conference attendees and as yet unpublished. The conversation turned to critique groups, and I voiced my opinion that a good critique group is a great thing. One of the writers said that she really didn't need a group because she had a master's degree in English.

Oooookay. Forget that that was kind of a slap in the face to those of us in critique groups. I know she didn't mean it that way, but that's exactly the way it came off. I explained that critique groups aren't about correcting grammar and spelling. If you can't put words together coherently and cohesively, writing professionally may not be your destiny. Seeking critique does not mean you are a weak writer. It means you are a human writer, and we humans aren't infallible.

Before all of you infallible lone wolf writers out there get your hackles up about not needing critique, let me ask you something. How many times has your editor called you up after a first read of your manuscript to tell you it was perfection and not to change a word?

So, have we established the importance of good critique? I'm not going to get into what exactly constitutes good critique. Mur already did a great job of that last year. What I will do is leave you with author Ann Patchett's thoughts on first readers. (In case you don't have time to listen, Ann gives first readers two thumbs up.)


Diane Mayr said...

Oh, does a Master's degree in English guarantee she has the sensibilities of a 4-year old or a 4th grader? Does it guarantee an insight into the current publishing scene?

Mur said...

The big issue is that too many people think "critique" is a synonym for "criticism."

I'm Jet . . . said...

Right on.

I've always relied on my first readers, first in my Derry group and now with the Sisters. In the Derry group, I appreciated the comments of those whose voices I didn't necessarily think were pertinent or wise or appropriate, but truly relied on and felt blessed by the voices I did trust.

I am so lucky to be in a group now where I trust everyone to be great first readers.

Thank you, Sistahs!


Andrea Murphy said...

I'm sure part of the problem for a lot of folks is that they haven't connected with the right people. Maybe we're lucky?