Besides your first reader, you also need other trusted readers to look at your work. At least that’s what works for me. First reader then two (or more) other people who have become trusted readers for me. Maybe you want to have them all do it at once or maybe you think your first reader is enough. That’s great. For me, like I said in part 1, my first reader is also my cheerleader. My other trusted readers are too and I trust that they want to help me make my book better. They are writers who I trust and whose opinions matter a lot to me. They are more critical and I am, quite frankly, more scared of them because they throw the book at me. Figuratively, of course. They look for details writers should notice like point of view or tense problems, plot holes, fake sounding dialogue, description problems, and character motivation and consistency.
My first reader finds these things as well but I expect more from my other trusted readers. It’s sort of like when you have someone help you pick out a used car. You get your good friend or relative, who knows a lot about cars, to come with you to kick the tires, to notice that there’s a lot of rust around the gas tank, and point out that small crack in the windshield. Then you bring it to your mechanic who puts it up on the ramp and gives it a really good inspection.
Oh, and if you’re nervous or anxious about your first reader looking at it, this part is terrifying. Because you’re not asking someone to look over a car. You’re asking someone to pick apart something you’ve spent months or years working on. You’re asking them to critically look at the characters you’ve come to love, characters you think of as almost real people. And when they find thing wrongs, it can make you feel bad. And angry. And maybe you, just for a few moments, would like to flatten the tires on their cars and tell them how you never really liked them. But they’ve done you a favour by taking the time to read and analyze your work so you must let that go and never, ever, flatten their tires (if they’re writers and you tell them you never liked them, right after a critique, they’ll understand it’s temporary and move on).
The key is to pick people who your trust AND who will be kind and honest with you.
Now, if you don’t know any writers, that’s okay. You know readers and you know the ones whose opinions you trust, the ones who always seem to recommend the right books to you. If you think you can trust them and they can be honest while being kind, they’ll work out just fine.
If you can find people who accept critique well themselves, and have been critiqued often, then they’re probably going to be good at it. They have figured out how to critique and probably know the sandwich kind of critique people need, where you layer all the things that don’t work and need to be fixed between two slices of praise at the beginning and end of your critique. Give me that and I’ll be as good as I can be with it.
But how good can you be with it? Now this is the part where you have to try to do the hardest thing when getting your manuscript critiqued or edited. (Later, if you’re good and lucky and don’t give up and get published, you’ll also need to do this when your book gets reviewed.) At this point you have to separate yourself from your work. One of the toughest parts of writing, in my opinion. And the thing that I’ll tell you about it part 3.