Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Carry on Camping – with Trusted Readers
What is a trusted reader? It is someone you give your manuscript to, for close reading and comment – whatever it be. Short story, novel, novella, single poem, flash, poetry collection, flash collection - the list goes on.
There are no doubt many definitions, and timings – but for me, the peer critique process is one thing, useful when the work is in the process of revision, and the trusted reader is one of the final stops on the manuscript’s journey away from you. As you are letting it go – it is, if you like, that stage when you check your offspring is correctly kitted out for the long road ahead.
Have you packed the right clothes for all weathers, the right food, the right safety equipment, phone, the means to get cash, passport plus copies. Maps. Oh, and if you were my late Mum – a vest. (Vests had to go everywhere!)
Your trusted reader is metaphorically speaking, checking through the rucksack, making sure everything is as right as it can be made.
You wouldn’t entrust your offspring’s wellbeing to just anyone. You would not just stop the car, grab a passer-by and say, “go through this there’s a dear – will my child have the best chance possible?”
So. Having established that you need someone you can trust with your baby’s wellbeing, who might that be, if we are going down the analogy started above? (I’ve started, so I’ll finish…). Good friend of the family. Older sibling. Or even better, a godparent or the equivalent. Someone who cares that everything is as OK as it can be, and who may help you to repack if all is a bit chaotic in that rucksack. Who might even suggest a different tent, because the one you’ve put in has a hole in it.
Seriously, camping aside. You must choose your final reader with great care, and I suggest you consider the following:
Someone who knows you and knows your work.
Someone who is prepared to be honest with you, and who you listen to.
Someone who is an experienced reader in the genre you are working in, who knows what works and what doesn’t.
Someone you can trust.
Now we’ll get controversial. Should the trusted reader be someone you have worked closely with, in a writing group? The final decision on that has to be yours, but I would ask you to consider one thing. Is there a chance that the person you are considering might be jealous in any way of you?
Are you considering someone you have not met face to face? Perhaps someone you’ve worked with online? Again, controversially perhaps in this age of emails, forums, facebook, twitter and messaging of all types… if you are asking my advice, I’d say this. If you have not met them face to face, and felt completely at ease, think again. NOT that one then!
Even then, you can get it wrong. But knowing your trusted reader is important. Knowing that they have your interests at heart and would do nothing to harm you or your work, is important. Knowing that they would not hold back if they feel something is not right, is important. And knowing that when you are successful and your manuscript is picked up by a good publisher – they will raise a glass with you and mean it, is important too. Just as you will celebrate with them when their time is right.
On the other hand, there are superb professional consultancies around who will do the job for you. I would love to hear from anyone who has used one of these, and find out what the experience was like?
This wasn’t as easy to write as I thought. It just goes to show what a difficult thing it is to find a good trusted reader, and I hope it doesn’t mean that lots of writers just ask the person next to them on the bus…feel free to start debate, ask questions…