3 tips for getting the most from early reads

gollumMy first novel, Vintage, would have never landed an agent and gotten published if it had not been for the help of my posse of early readers who helped me whip the manuscript into shape. They included, in this order: me, two different critique groups, me, me, me,  my college roommate, my law school roommate with a background in journalism, me again, lots of agents, me again, MY agent (once I got one), my agent’s colleagues, me again and again, a handful of editors, my editor’s assistant, a friend who lives in India, a friend’s mom, moi, my editor again and her assistant again, at least two or three copywriters, and… sheesh, I lose track.

Anyway, each of these times, the novel went through changes, and each time it got better. So if you’re questioning whether you need someone to read your manuscript before it goes on to its next step (queries, submission, contests), the answer is probably YES.

Here are a few tips to help make the most of those early reads.

  1. Make sure your manuscript makes sense. Before you bestow your friend/family/acquaintance with the buden–er, honor–of reading 300+ pages of your precious precious, make sure you’ve given it a good, critical read yourself. You’ll save your readers and yourself frustration and time down the line if you make sure that, even if it’s not 100% polished, the manuscript makes logical sense when you hand it off to your early readers.
  2. Grow a pair. Yes, even if you’re a lady. You’ll need some serious cojonoes to be able to read the feedback you’re going to get. News flash: not all of it will be positive. This is good. This means your readers are doing their job. Toughen up, have a shot of whiskey or what have you and listen to what they have to say.
  3. Settle down there, sparky. If you’ve asked more than one person to give you feedback, there’s no reason to scramble and let your head spin every time you get a set of notes. Read through them. Digest them. Give yourself time to figure out what resonates with you, as well as what you’re not willing to change. It is, after all, your precious. Don’t be rash.


Author: Susan Gloss

Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

7 Replies to “3 tips for getting the most from early reads”

  1. A tip from my MFA program that might be relevant here is that you shouldn’t share your pages too early because then the advice you get will be advice at that too-early level. Take the manuscript to the point at which you don’t know what else to fix, and then let people help you at that level. You won’t be wasting these early readers, then.

    1. Hmm. Advice that tells me I’m not there yet….
      My comment is late, but your point is taken, and thank you.

  2. I think the third point is particularly important. I’ve seen a lot of people get whipped around by feedback. It’s not only toughening up (point #2), and it’s not only that the manuscript is your precious, it’s also that _you_ know what kind of result you want to achieve, what you want the reader to feel as the book goes along.

    For example, if your readers get hooked on your characters (which is what you want, of course) they’ll probably want your main character to succeed. Which is fine, but it might make a better story if the character doesn’t succeed.

    I just read a good blog post about that: http://maasmith.com/2014/05/20/you-cant-always-win/

    And as I said over there, my all-time favorite movie ends with the main character, after defeating his adversaries, dying alone and unnoticed in a snow bank. Beta readers and test audiences (let alone anybody thinking of a sequel 🙂 ) might root for him to survive, but it is absolutely correct that he doesn’t.

  3. I love how you call it my precious, precious. I will never look at my MS the same way again.

    I think #3 is SO important. Part of maturing as a writer is knowing how to take feedback but also learning how sift through it all and trust your instincts.

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