The Journal, Tuesday, 8/22

Hey Folks,

Yesterday, in response to my topic On Bad Advice, I got a very good comment. Be sure to check it out at

Topic: How to Choose a First Reader

I mentioned first readers yesterday, almost in passing. Today I want to cover the topic a little more thoroughly.

The perfect first reader, first of all, is not a writer.

She (to avoid the he-she fiasco) is an avid reader, one who consumes novels like most people consume air and water.

She is also someone who either has read and already likes your work or wants to read your work. In other words, if you write across several genres, but if your first reader only likes SF, send that reader only your SF stories.

I mentioned yesterday that a first reader shouldn’t be paid, or should be paid only with the opportunity to read your work free. (Send her a free copy after publication.)

IF you choose to pay a first reader for her time, settle on a per-word amount up front. This might be one cent for every ten words (so 1/10 cent per word) or 1/4 cent per word. Up to you.

BUT, impress on the first reader that you want blunt honesty. Her job isn’t to make you feel good. The first reader’s only purpose is to point out flaws in your story.

To that end, she should keep a notepad close at hand. This can be electronic or paper and a pen.

Then she should Just Read. She isn’t “looking for” anything except to be entertained by your story.

That is to say, like all readers everywhere, she will read with the subconscious mind engaged. This is a natural state when we read for pleasure. It isn’t something she will have to think about or do intentionally.

Then, when anything in the story “jumps out” at her, she should note it and return to the story.

If you’ve mailed a paper manuscript to the first reader, she can make a few notes in the margin.

If she’s reading on her phone or e-reader, she can pinpoint the problem area on her notepad with a short series of three or four verbatim words copied from the manuscript. (This is so you can type those three or four words into your Word Find & Replace function and find the problem area much more quickly.)

Then she states the inconsistency or other issue: “John was wearing a blue jacket when he entered the bank. It was brown a few minutes later on the sidewalk.”

Or “I can’t be sure why, but something about this passage confused me. It pulled me out of the story.”

I usually tell my first reader to ignore sentence structure and punctuation and paragraphing. That’s because, sadly, most people only “know” what they’ve learned in English class about those factors.

That being said, even with specific directions to ignore those things, my first reader probably will note sentence structure or punctuation or paragraphing issues if they interrupt the story for her. And that’s a good thing.

If a wrong-word usage pops out at the first reader, she should note it. If a misspelling pops out, she should note it. (But if you ran a spell check, any misspelling should be an inadvertent wrong-word usage.)

And so on.

A good first reader will point out anything that “pops out” at her during the reading.

Then your job, when you get the input back from your first reader, is to consider each point she makes.

But you only “fix” what you agree with. Then you publish the thing and move on to the next story. (grin)


Now that my own spiel is ended, I’m going to listen to J. Daniel Sawyer’s take on what first readers should look for at I suggest you do the same.

(Note: He said pretty much what I said above, but he said it in a different way and included what we DON’T want from a first reader. Again, I suggest you listen to the podcast. It’s only about 6 minutes long.)

Today and Writing

I rolled out a little late this morning, then spent most of my time on the stuff above this. Now I’m moving back inside to listen to the third session of my workshop with Dean.

That went well enough. The one thing I don’t like about these online workshops is that I have to wait a week between installments. Maybe if I write Dean and promise not to turn in any of the weekly assignments, he’ll let me view them all right now. (grin)

I prefer those that have been moved to “classic” because they’re half the price, plus you can view them all in one day if you want. You can’t send in the exercises, but you can still do them for yourself if you want to.

I spent most of the rest of the day reading for pleasure.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

If you enjoy podcasts, check out J. Daniel Sawyer’s recent take on the topic I discussed yesterday (developmental editors) at

He says a couple of things with which I disagree, but the disagreement is more superficial than substantial, so I’ll leave it alone.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 880 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 880

Writing of “Untitled” ()

Day 1…… 1205 words. Total words to date…… 1205
Day 2…… 1856 words. Total words to date…… 3061
Day 3…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 16642
Total fiction words for the year………… 379620
Total nonfiction words for the month… 12320
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 131430
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 511050

The Daily Journal blog streak……………………………………… 633 days
Calendar Year 2017 Novel Goal (15 novels or novellas)………………… 8 novels or novellas
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 26
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 4
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………………… 181