Readers are what all writers want, but an invaluable asset to a writer is their first reader. My wife is not my first reader because she’s not much of a reader. I’m a member of a few writer’s groups and they are a mixed bag at best when it comes to critiques, though they usually come into the game late in the revision process. Which is why I’m thankful for my first readers.

I mostly depend on two: Lauren David and John C. Hay. Both are writers as well as voracious, two handy traits in your first readers. They each have different strengths or rather, I look to each of them for something different. Lauren isn’t a genre reader (or writer or fan). So she approaches the story with an unjaundiced eye, strictly about the story, the characters, the dialogue, internal consistencies, and how well the story works. John is my grammar Nazi and history nerd. If I get one more lecture from him about my overuse of gerunds …

Did I mention that everyone should have first readers like these?

John lives a few states away, however, I refer to John’s critiques (in love) as the “anal exam”. Oh yeah, he reaches up into my story and gives me … notes. Never have I hated a Microsoft word feature more than their notes. I was ecstatic when a story I sent him came back with only 17 notes (that story was immediately sent out). However, I’m never giving him a novella again: it came back with enough notes to be their own short story. So part of me lives in fear of the John crit, the other have gets anxious for them [thus he’ll get gmail chats (I don’t care that your message says *Busy*), emails, or a phone call]. Still, he’s spared Lauren’s reading experience.

I sit across from her, pretending to read something else. I check when she laughs (I keep a hash mark count of how many pages she’s turned), note when she grimaces and make sure that she’s doing each at the right places. I time how long she lingers on a page because it might be poorly written or the pace stalling her interest. And her every cough or shift is met with “is everything okay?”

I remember the days when I used to think that I crapped gold and anything I wrote was God’s gift to literature. Now, thankfully, things have gotten to the point where I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my first readers. They are the first faces of my eventual audience and they will openly mock me if I don’t bring my best game. First readers, good first readers, are invaluable. When you find them, treasure them. (Back off! These two are mine!!!) And be sure to bribe them often.

I’m off on a Starbucks run for Lauren as soon as I post.

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