I have two favorite readers:
1) Someone who reads my work in progress and helps me make my book the best it can be.
2) Someone who I imagine will read my novels after they are published
In my long journey to publication, I’ve had countless people read my manuscripts and critique them to help me improve as a writer. From fellow-mystery writers in a writers’ group to my dear, departed mother-in-law, readers have given me the suggestions I needed to revise, revise and revise again. But, and sometimes more importantly, they gave me the support I needed to keep me in the game while I waded through years of rejections.
Sometimes—like with my mother-in-law—all I want to hear is, “this is wonderful.” But from fellow writers, I want more. My favorite of this kind of reader is one who doesn’t pull punches. Of course I want to know what they like about a book—but it’s even more important for me to get their unedited opinion about “what doesn’t work.” I’m so grateful for the readers who take time out of their busy schedules to read my works in progress and struggle to convey what I can do to make them better.
Two years ago I asked Bette and J.J. Lamb to read a book that I had reworked about 100 times. I had sent it out and got very good feedback, but no offer of representation. Bette and J.J. liked pretty much nothing about the book. They apologized profusely for tearing it to pieces. But I knew their opinions were honest and came from long experience as writers and readers. I realized that they had identified the source of discontent that made the book an “almost.” So I ripped the book apart once more and put it back together—and then I let it sit for a long time while I moved on. A few months ago I dragged it out again, put in a few more edits, and had one further realization that meant turning a motivation upside-down. Suddenly the book worked. I sent it to my agent and she said, “This book shows that you’ve grown as a writer.” This is what I mean about a favorite reader not pulling punches—it helps you grow as a writer.
My debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, will be published in July. Who will be my favorite reader? Someone who loves every single thing about my brilliant, witty, insightful, prose. I hope he thinks my writing conveys what I love about the landscape and people of small-town Texas. I hope he finds on the pages a Texas that the myths and caricatures sometimes dismiss—a Texas where people are just regular folks.
I hope she senses that I feel great affection for my characters, including their flaws. I hope she finds the book laugh-out-loud funny in spots. And that she finds, as Carolyn Hart did, that I understand “the mysteries of the human heart.” I hope she is surprised and informed, and that the mystery engages her and that when she realizes whodunit that she feels satisfied. I hope that the reader is drawn into the fictional world and makes herself at home there. In short, I hope my reader thinks I’ve done my job well. And in the end, I hope my favorite reader tells everyone else how much she enjoyed the book and that she can’t wait to read the next one!