All writers need readers–otherwise, there would be no point in getting things published–but writers who strive to write well need more. Just any reader won’t do. We need readers who get invested in our characters, who are willing to point out faults, who take the time to notice when we spell things wrong or use the wrong name for a character, when we wax eloquent at the cost of the story and when we just plain muddled things.
Which is why we need critical readers.
They come in many different forms. Developmental editors, book coaches, beta readers…they’re all out there for one purpose: to help writers. They can be hired or found in writing critique groups. You can even start with friends and family who are picky readers (if they’ll be honest with you).
But why is is such a big deal? Why do we need to hunt or hire people to read our books before we publish them? If we have a decent grasp on grammar, spelling, and characterization, why can’t we just release them to the wide world without all that trouble?
- We Know Too Much. As authors, we created the story, the characters, and the world, and because of that, we don’t always know where the holes are. For us, there aren’t holes. We can’t tell if we need more details, because we probably can see the story unfold in our heads. We don’t need to be told the color of our character’s hair or skin or the way they looked. We can see it, even if the words necessary to get anyone else to see it aren’t there.
For example, we know that a character has a certain ability before their first sentence, but if we don’t weave that into the story, somewhere, we’ll have frustrated readers who feel like our story is contrived. Similarly, we can give too many details, modifying dialogue tags and adding extra fluff just because we’re worried that readers won’t see what we meant…and critical readers can tell us when enough is enough.
- We Have Too Much to Think About. I can’t tell you how many times my critical readers have sent a problem sentence of mine back to me, and I’ll reread the passage, and reread it, and still not see the mistake…and I’m a book coach! But I can’t see my own problems because I can’t approach my story as a book coach. No matter what I do, when I come to my own work, I come as the author, and so I’m busy worrying about diction, and characterization, and plot, and worldbuilding, and a thousand other things that keep me distracted from the grammar problem staring me in the face.
This is why, no matter how good you are in grammar and what your degree is, you still need outside help. No matter how many errors you spot in other people’s books, you can’t always spot your own because you might be thinking about the big picture at the very moment when you need to think about the little picture…and that’s okay. It’s a good problem to have a story that sweeps you away, to have characters that are so alive that you’re busy hearing their voices and seeing their faces and thus you miss recording exactly what it is they said, in proper, intelligible English.
- We Can’t Afford It. You may think you can’t afford good outside help (though, with writing resources like A Writer’s Path Writers Club, you should be able to find something, free or otherwise, that fits your budget), but the truth is, you really can’t afford not to. There are so many books out there to read, thanks to indie publishing, that readers have more choices that ever. If they encounter too many frustrating moments due to grammar, plot, or other, fixable little things, they’ll probably stop reading…which is a shame, because they might’ve been just the sort of reader who’d love your book.
Your story is already up against a lot of competition and yes, a lot of it may have more problems than yours does, but that won’t stop readers from giving you bad reviews or just not buying it in the first place if it isn’t written well enough to pique their interest. They’ll just stick to old favorites or hang out on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube while they wait for another book where the author decided it was worth the extra time and money to give them a polished story…and not just a glorified rough draft.
For those interested, I offer book coaching reports for as little as $25, and the first 2,000 words is free for any coaching tier.
I hope your writing goals are going well this new year and that everyone finds the help they need, wherever they are in the writing stage. 🙂
Copyright 2018 Andrea Lundgren
Image by diannehope, Creative Commons