Giving Pages to a First Reader

I did something very unusual this morning. I gave my son pages of my WIP and asked for his feedback. I am revising these pages to submit to an editor for feedback by the end of this week and was working on them next to him as he was working on school work.

He asked me if they were part of my book and I felt moved to see if he wanted to read them. And he did. And then, I asked for feedback. Asking him for feedback was terrifying. I wanted him to respond honestly and I also wanted him to have liked it and want more. I would have been mortified if he hated it and horrified if he lied to make me happy.

It took every ounce of patience I had to not look over his shoulder as he read, and I cringed the few times he pointed out proof-reading errors. But, having handed over the pages, I had to live through the result.

He needs to be asked direct questions in order to discuss what he has read, so I asked him to tell me what he knew about the characters from the first few pages. I did my absolute best not to ask leading questions. I am pleased to report he understood at least as much about the characters as I had hoped the three pages would convey. He did use his knowledge of me to pinpoint the age of the two kids more accurately than the “older than me” that he inferred directly from the text, but he is 8 and has little frame of reference for judging between a 12-year-old and a 16-year-old – which is an issue I will be discussing with the editor.

He did indicate that he would have preferred it if the stakes had reached life or death proportions within the first three pages, but when asked if he would have kept reading if I had given him more pages he said, “yes.”

He then asked me some really good questions. The one I liked best had to do with the narrator. The latest draft is in first person and there is no reason within the first three pages for anyone to address the protagonist by name. He wanted to know how the reader would get to know her name. (And yes, he figured out the protagonist was a girl from what I had written; I was so proud of us both.)

My son is not quite my ideal reader, but he is close. He reads more middle grade fiction than YA and my novel is definitely heading in the YA direction with this draft. He prefers science fiction to fantasy, and genre fiction to realistic fiction. My WIP starts in a realistic mode, but is definitely a fantasy. More importantly, he neither lies well nor continues reading when he is not enjoying himself.

The biggest compliment he gave me was an hour or so after he gave me back the pages. He asked if I had the next chapters ready for him to read. I don’t, but I have a new incentive to get them written after this morning.

It took a lot of courage for me to give him the pages, but I am extremely glad I did.

Do you have a first reader you usually turn to? Or does it depend on the work?

15 thoughts on “Giving Pages to a First Reader

  1. Loved reading this! Your son sounds awesome – and what a great barometer. He “got” what you were conveying and wanted to read more. And he cared enough about what you wrote to ask good questions. I like the spontaneous way you decided to make him your beta reader, as well. Nice “Seize the day!” kind of action. šŸ™‚

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      I think I might have gotten a totally different response if I had asked him to read my work rather than waiting for him to show interest.

  2. robincoyle says:

    My first readers are my immediately family. They are my best and worst critics. Best – because the are great cheerleaders. Worst – because they keep me on task. Well, maybe that is a good thing.

  3. Laura W. says:

    I gave my brother my first 3 chapters once, as a sort of experiment. That was…interesting. :/

  4. calially2 says:

    Your son is lucky to have a role model for writing that is not often available in schools. Writing is often presented as all or nothing. No in between stages. I’m so glad that my son’s middle school teachers have been teaching the steps in the process, including getting feedback from peers, editing and proof-reading, but I don’t think that’s common, especially at younger grades. Many kids decide since they don’t do it well the first time they are not good writers and give up. Both your son and mine will know that writing is a process with many steps along the way. I never learned that, at least not until college. I was always told I was a good writer, so I never saw the need to improve. In college I had a TA ask me if I’d handed in my first draft of my essay. I’d never considered multiple drafts prior to that humiliating experience! And no one had taught me that in school.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      I agree with the power of our children seeing the process of creation and revision in particular.

      Of all the things my children will know because they grew up in my house, one of the things I love most is that they will know that art is made by real people. I have a dear friend who used to live near us and used to work for Pixar. I will never forget the amazement on my eldest son’s face when we made him watch the credits of one of the movies she worked on so that he could see her name. The fact that he knew someone who had be part of making a real movie in a real theatre made a huge impression on him.

  5. Patrick Ross says:

    Kudos to you, Kate. It sounds like this was a big step for you, and I’m glad you took it and it went well. I’ll confess that I rarely have either my wife or my teenage children read any WIP. They do read them after they’re published, but often not even after they’re out the door but not published. I’m not sure why we’ve worked it out that way, but it’s comfortable for all of us. They can, of course, read The Artist’s Road blog (and often do).

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      I think family can be the most treacherous arena to find early readers. We care so much about what they think, and it can be hard for them to find the right level of critique if they don’t like something.

  6. calially2 says:

    they might also have an agenda that will result in feedback that is not very constructive.

  7. My test readers are usually my kids –and I have a bit of a range –an 11-year-old female, a 20-year-old female and a 20-year-old male. None of them will lie to me if they didn’t like it. Which sometimes bruises my ego a bit… šŸ˜‰

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      I love that you have raised them to be comfortable telling you the truth!

      • Well, at least when it comes to giving me their opinions about my writing…or my clothes…or hair…. If they like it, they’ll say so. If they don’t, they’ll say so, but they’ll try to be tactful.

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