Tayari Jones offers tips for gathering the team of readers that will take your work to the next level.
So you’ve just gotten through with your manuscript. You know I know it's not a beautiful work of art yet, but you’ve done all I can do by yourself. It's now time to bring in the first team of readers. Here's how I picked my readers, I call them Team T.
- Everyone on the team must be someone I trust. By trust, I mean that they all much be someone who I believe wants me to write a better book. No one on the team can be weird or competitive with me. They are all folks who will approach the manuscript with an open heart, with nothing to prove. This can be a little tricky because there are people that you like just fine, but don’t really trust that want to read the manuscript. You have to tell them no—even if they will hear on the grapevine that other people are reading the book. (Although this is not the most mature approach, I keep kicking the request down the road. Eventually the manuscript will be in a position that you can share more widely, so I just keep putting the person off until then.)
- The team must be diverse. There is no point having a bunch of people just like me vet the manuscript. I need people who bring different strengths to the table. One person should be talented with plot, another should be a language freak. Someone who knows from experience the world I am writing about, and someone else who doesn't. You get the idea.
- They should be writers. This is really just so that they will have the language to help me improve. Talking about a manuscript in progress with someone who is not a writer can make me feel like a mechanic listening to a customer make weird noises to tell me what is wrong with the car. Also, something like a point of view problem is easily diagnosed by another writer, while someone else will be disconcerted by the chapter and may not be able to say why.
- If there is any inkling that I may be using the manuscript to win the person's approval, they can't be on the list. This goes back to the idea that it has to be all about the work at this stage. For most people (me included) this takes family off the list. I have always said how much my early work benefited from the fact that no one in my family thought I was really going to be a novelist. If I had looked at my writing as a way to get that parental pat on the head, it would have warped my creative impulse.
- They must be brilliant. The reasoning is obvious. I have to say that I am so lucky to have so many smart people in my life.
And as a bonus, a little writerly etiquette—
- Make sure you have done all you can before passing it on. Your readers are to help you do what you couldn't do all by yourself.
- You should pay for postage, printing, whatever. For someone to read and critique your manuscript at all is enough of a gift. Don’t eat up your friend’s ink cartridges.
- Send a little thank you gift or a card whether your friend liked the book or not.
- When the book is published, remember those friends in your achnowledgements. (And yes, your book WILL be published. I have faith in you!)
- When the times comes, return the favor and give your friend the same time and care she gave you.
And of course, it’s now over to you SheWriters. Do you have a critique team? How did you put the team together?
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