I was walking home from the T tonight, chatting with a playwright I’d met just once before. We were comparing people we knew in the theater community. He mentioned a name, and I said that she was one of my favorite people. He told me about their long friendship, and then mentioned that she was his first reader.
A good first reader is a gift to a writer. This is the person to whom you hand your baby. You want it treated gently, but with a firm hand. And you want honestly, but not cruelty. That first reader can’t be too fawning, but she needs to be kind. And the first reader has to be willing to risk you being very, very unhappy with her for a while.
Your first reader is also not your last reader. She may not be good a a close edit. But that isn’t her role. Her role is to give you a big picture critique. Does the story hold together? What did she think of that plot point? Was that character sympathetic?
My first reader is my friend Jason. Jason likes the genre (mystery) that I write in. He has opinions, but also is one of my cheerleaders. When I ask him if he is willing to read, he always claps his hands and says “Yay!” in a way that makes me really happy. He turns the manuscript around quickly. I go through his notes, and sit with his suggestions for a day or two. If I disagree or have questions, we talk. But more often than not, I use them to do edits.
Finding your first reader is a tricky business, at least I think so. Who is your first reader?