Skip to main content

The Importance of Honest Advanced Readers



A couple of weeks ago, I tried to read a book from an acquaintance. They'd been religiously promoting their book and I decided I would give it a shot.

Sadly, I never made it past the free sample that Amazon offered.

What I was most shocked by is that this book made it through editors and was published by a publisher. Which is a different lesson: watch out for scam publishers, though I'm not sure who got scammed harder here, the author or the publisher. The writing was largely incomprehensible, the repetition of words was the mark of a middle-school writer, the scene setups and action descriptions sounded more like a game master bluffing their way through a scene they have no idea about. The characters were paper thin, the diversity was lacking in every significant degree. In fact, the only female character in the preview was a victim of severe male gaze in a situation the author seemed to have no first-hand experience with, either. The preview was littered with errors on every page. It was obvious no one had gone over this book. They skipped editing and went straight to layout.

I struggled with reaching out to the author and the publisher and the authors who somehow blurbed the book. I wanted to write a review but felt like it wouldn't be welcome. (And no, I won't share the identity of the author or the book with you.)

But one thing that could have prevented embarrassment on the part of the author and the publisher would have been some honest feedback from advanced readers. This is something that would have allowed the author more time to work on the book (and scrap it, even, if it wasn't working) and would have given the publisher a better foundation to work with.

It's the very reason I use advanced readers. I have readers go through everything before I send it out. By the time I've sent my work out to a publisher or an agent, it's been through three or four different drafts (minimum) and I've had at least a half a dozen pairs of eyes on it.  And it's not just friends and family (though there is some of that, too.) I try to make sure my peers are reading it. And I'm showing this work to peers whose taste and level of craft I trust. They'll be able to look at a sentence, a paragraph, a story, a novel, and say, "This is amateur hour, man."

Also, find people who have experiences vastly different than yours. Find people who don't look like your, or have backgrounds or lifestyles similar to yours. You'll be amazed at how many different things they'll point out that you would have never noticed.

They're all able to guide you. Or to confirm your suspicions. If half of your advanced readers report back that something you weren't quite sure about doesn't work, you know exactly where your work is. But if they all come back with the same complaint and it's something you didn't even realize, you've just been shown your blind spot.

You also need to be able to choose people to read who are well versed in what you're trying to do. If you're making a piece patterned after old pulp serials, make sure one of your readers is well versed in them. On the other hand, try the opposite as well. Try to find what makes sense and works for both audiences. Don't water down your story to meet anyone else's vision, I'm not saying that, but you definitely need a clarity to your prose that comes with understanding what readers are thinking when they get to any given point. Advanced readers will help you figure all of that out.

They're invaluable and just about every writer has them.

I can think of a couple who don't. And it's not good. Not good at all.

How do you find people like that? Well, start with a writing group local to you. Start attending. Find out if they do critiques. Find a friend who reads everything. Find a friend who reads nothing. But make sure you have readers who are also writers. They will be able to help you diagnose issues with much better precision. And expect to have them be brutally honest with you. Tip-toeing around your feelings will not do at this stage. And, frankly, you don't want people to pat you on the back. You want brutality. Because you want the best story you can get and this is one of the best ways to get there.

How much of their advice you take is definitely up to you, you're still the artist here, but they will certainly give you a roadmap worth looking at.

So think about it. Take that next step. Have someone read your work. Don't take it personally when they find things to fix. It's a rough draft. Of course, there will be. And don't rush to publish. You want the story right, not fast.

--

As for my writing, I've got three pieces I'm working on that should be out soon.

I'm also about to publish a short story on my Patreon that I can't wait to hear your opinion of.

AND: If I can get 100 backers on my Patreon, I'll start a science fiction serial every month. Help me get to that point.

--

As a reminder: Please join my short story Patreon here. Your contributions to the Patreon help me write more like this.

The Aeronaut and Escape Vector are still out and still need your purchases and reviews. If nothing else, they can use you telling people about them. If you want signed copies, visit the shop here on this page. 

Also! here's the full list of "rules and guidelines" I've been collecting over my years of studying writing advice and process. 

 As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you.


 And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Anatomy of a Scene - City Lights

We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made. 
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it.
City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …

Anatomy of a Scene: The Third Man

It's time again to break down a classic scene. One that's well-written and, in my view, a fine example of excellent craft.

I've done some of these articles from books (like The End of the Affairand Starship Troopers) and other movies (like Citizen Kane, City Lights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), but now it's time to take a look at a scene from The Third Man. It blends the best of Orson Welles (as he's in the film and drives this scene) and Graham Greene, who wrote this particular screenplay.

Before we get to the scene, we need some context.

The Third Man is a tale of the black market in Vienna, just after World War II. It's about a cheap, dime-store Western novelist named Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton) and his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles.) Lime offered Martins a job in Vienna, so Martins leaves America and arrives, only to find that Harry Lime is dead. Penniless, without a friend or reason to be in the country, h…

Anatomy of a Scene: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might be one of the most meticulously well-written movies ever made.  William Goldman scripts are almost always something special. He's a master of creating something that's interesting, every scene has a kinetic energy to it that keeps you moving. He's a talented prose novelist as well. His novel of The Princess Bride might be even better than the screenplay and the film.

But today I want to talk about a scene in particular for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:



This scene comes early in the movie and we're still working to understand the relationship between Butch and Sundance, as well as Butch and his gang.

Goldman does something amazing as he's able to mix humor, character building, excitement, suspense, and an advancement of the story into the scene. There are so many building blocks at play here, and because the scene is so entertaining we hardly notice.

And the dialogue is so sharp I can't even stand it.

One of the mos…