Monday, November 15, 2010

Wise readers, where do you find them?

By Emily Mah

I'm to the point in my latest novel where I've sent it out to my usual wise readers - different people have different names for these, if they have them at all. The term "wise reader" comes from Orson Scott Card, as far as I'm aware (he may have borrowed it from elsewhere), but in any case it refers to readers who know you well enough to be willing to read your draft work but are also invested enough in your career to give you honest feedback, even when it hurts. They don't so much tell you how to fix your writing, but rather give you a blow by blow of what they felt when they read it, i.e. "This part dragged" "I really don't like this character" "I don't understand what happened here" "This part was nice! Can you do more of that?" You then need to figure out why they had the reaction they did and thus be able to retune your manuscript accordingly.

It's taken me ten years to get a stable of wise readers. They include people from my Clarion West class, other writers I've met through conventions, my husband, and by far the most miraculous, a former housemate. Said housemate became my housemate when I didn't really know her very well, but her living situation and mine were compatible, timing-wise, so we moved into the same house. I soon learned that when she was a teen, she read in one of her favorite author's books a thank you to a best friend who read all of the author's rough drafts, and she really wanted to someday be that best friend to an author. She also has a degree in English. I forewarned her that I was probably not the author for her, since my stuff was still far from publishable, but she's stuck with me all these years and pesters me when I don't have anything for her. You'll always find her at the top of my acknowledgements. She must like me if she's been so devoted, but at the same time, she'll send me blunt, straightforward, honest comments. People like her are rarer than diamonds.

Where do you guys get your wise readers? I assume many of you have each other, but does anyone else have any quirky stories of unexpected helpers found along the way?


  1. Emily, that's a great question, and boy are they hard to come by.

    My wonderful group of wise readers has been years in the making. We've had an ongoing writers group since 1999 and many people have come and gone. But personality and writing feedback-wise, four of us really clicked and formed our own group. Now we meet once a week, power through each other's manuscripts, cheer each other on and do final read-throughs. None of us are afraid to be candid and honest. They're priceless! Thanks gals!

  2. I have a great couple of first go-over readers but am still working on the rest. I have someone I just met online going over something of mine now and she's AWESOME! Hopefully she won't get bored of me because she is the exact voice of reason I need for a completed project.

  3. Emily, hooray for wise readers!

    I do have friends that are bluntly honest with my work. They tell me through their veiwpoint as readers. There's one who is very savvy with the human mind and he will do the best critique as a beta reader because of it (believable MC, behavioral reactions, so on). I've also picked up friends by beta-reading their work and/or critiquing their MSs.

    For me, finding my stable of wise readers is still a WiP. I'm so happy that you've found yours.

    Feed them well.

  4. Yeah, it's always a WiP, I think. People move on in life and don't have time, or are busy when you've got a deadline looming. That's why it's always interesting to hear where other people have found theirs - the ones they have so far, at least!

  5. Loved this post, Emily!

    I've got some of my favorite test readers right here at Scribblers Cove. There's Elizabeth, who taught me the importance of describing emotions, and Sue who gave me the courage to go forward by pronouncing the manuscript "ready to shop around." Chersti, Amber, and Leisha have all critiqued my work in workshop settings, and I'm eternally indebted to Rachel for warning me when my boy pov character was "thinking like a girl." THANK YOU EVERYONE!

    I'm always on the look-out for more test readers, and whether they're willing to do a line by line critique or just want to read and talk about their general impressions, I say every pair of eyes counts!

    It took me a while to learn how to best use feedback from test readers. That could be another post!

  6. I love my readers! I feel like they are one of my writing organs. We all have them: hearts, lungs, brains, livers, stomachs. Each have a differnt function and you just can't do without even one of them. Readers bring the story to life and filter out the bad stuff. They also act as a warning system for me, blaring loudly when something is off.

    I find them at conferences and at writers groups. Some of them were instant fits, others grew on me. I had one who seemed to object to everything I wrote. Everything. He questioned every character, every line of dialog, you name it. The funny thing is, I loved it and missed his input greatly when he moved on.

  7. I got insanely lucky and found three wise readers in one fell swoop when I joined a local writing club. They are incredibly supportive, give excellent advice and let me have a go at their work too. If I ever get published they will have a big spot in my acknowledgments and more free copies than they would know what to do with =)

  8. Yeah, my editor was annoyed with how long my acknowledgments were, but hey, these people all needed to be thanked. It was amazing to get all their names in one place and see how many there were!

  9. I was so lucky to have a friend who had been an editing intern in college, and who actually volunteered to edit a manuscript for me.

    That manuscript will never be published, but her efforts taught me invaluable lessons. If my grammar and punctuation skills are impressive, it's all thanks to her.


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