Showing your work to others

I just read an unpublished novel to give the writer whatever helpful advice I could.  I thought there were several problems, and I suggested some revisions, and maybe I will have helped and maybe I won’t.  Even though some of the most important issues I had with the novel surfaced early in a fairly rocky beginning, I read to the end because it was one of those plots it’s difficult to judge without reading the whole thing—which is probably roughly 100% of decent plots—and it did get better as it went along.

This got me to thinking.  Maybe I would’ve served the writer better to stop when I first started having problems, when I first would’ve said to myself (if I’d bought it) “I paid $24.95 for this?”  I wouldn’t be able to place my problems in a larger context, but so what?  If the first 100 pages don’t work, the rest is toast anyway.  Sometimes writers try to defend sluggish openings because it sets up the wonders to come.  Lots of luck with that.

Another disadvantage of my having read the whole book is I’m now ruined as a first time reader forever.  You want first readers, and they’re like first dates, one to a customer.  This isn’t Groundhog Day.  You can read a book the first time—like future editors will—only once.  Even if this writer revises the book following every nuance of my brilliant advice, in a way, I’d be the worst reader to give it another look.  The ghost of the first read would haunt the reread.

Worse, I’d be invested.  You see this in workshops all the time—folks defending a revision of a still-lame story because it incorporated some of the defender’s advice and strokes his ego.  One of the problems with workshops generally is that they can enshrine the opinions of stale readers, especially if they’re bullies.

So perhaps in future, I’ll just ask to see the first 50 pages and report on that before proceeding.  Hopefully, it will be an urgent, “Send more!”  If such a procedure would make you anxious about the fate of your own novel-in-progress, may I humbly suggest (sight unseen) revision?

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