In her excellent book Breathing The Page: Reading The Act Of Writing (2010, Cormorant Books), Canadian writer Betsy Warland defines first readers as “a selected group of acute readers who read and respond to works prior to the final draft”.
I thought I had done a good job of choosing my first readers based on their age and extensive reading experience. Nobody warned me about readers of Stephen King’s novel Misery (1988, Penguin Group).
It is about first reader Annie Wilkes, who uses the arts of confinement and painful persuasion to pull a novel out of writer Paul Sheldon with content and speed acceptable to her.
For my fiction manuscript, I wanted my first readers to tell me if I had a compelling story. A page turner. Something that kept them curious –and worried – about what on earth is going to happen next. In hindsight, my first mistake was deciding to get early feedback chapter by chapter instead of waiting until the first draft was complete. The chapter at a time approach became an immediate problem.
“Where’s the next chapter?” they demanded.
“I’m working on it.”
“I’m coping with chronic conditions here. I write when I write.”
I decided a chapter at a time was not going to work. My manuscript naturally falls into several sections or parts over the course of the story. I decided a section at a time would work better for my first readers. Doubt crept in after they read the first section.
“Where’s the next part?” they demanded.
“I’m working on it.”
“We’ve read Misery, you know. We’re not against putting you in a room so you can focus better.”
I tried to laugh.
“Oh, it’s no laughing matter,” they told me. “Hurry up!”
His Highness overheard the conversation.
“What do you think?” I asked him, “Should I be worried?”
“I don’t think they’ll hobble you,” he answered.
I can’t believe I never thought of screening first readers by reading history. It is ironic that Stephen King is one of my favourite authors. It is ironic that I loaned my copy of Misery to my first readers. It’s my own fault my first readers are now interested in using an Annie Wilkes program to increase my writing productivity.
If I disappear, I have only myself to blame. So I just want to make it very clear. I have no plans to go on vacation or go on a “writer’s retreat”. I am not going away, anywhere, anytime, anyhow.
If you haven’t been able to contact Jan, she is at a writer conference.
Sincerely, Her Number One Fans
©2018 Jan L. Mayes
Eric Hoffer Award Winner