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?