Why you never ever ever, ask people to read your first book.

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Have you ever lived with someone learning how to cook and got used as a guinea pig?

Yeahhhhhhh, unless they were the Mozart of cooking, they probably had some sewage that (at least if you were their kid and they told you to eat your dinner) you ate.  And if you were that kid and not a particularly sensitive person at the age of eight (and still aren’t at twenty-eight, but that is neither here nor there) you probably told your poor new to cooking father exactly what you thought of his attempts at Greek food.

My dad actually has an affinity for cooking he didn’t know about until he was forced to cook for himself after having his mom then his wife cook for him his entire life.  But it took him some practice to get to where he could do something more complicated than eggs or spaghetti well.

What’s the point of this little anecdote?  Besides don’t use you kids as guinea pigs because they will remember and tell the internet about it twenty years later? 🙂

Nobody’s good their first time!

(Yes, I could have gone with a dirtier anecdote but I’m reserving that story for when I’m sure the bastard I’m talking about won’t sue me… side note, don’t lose it to a lawyer, you’ll have to do a lot of research to make sure you can put it in a book without getting sued, or at least without them being able to win the lawsuit 😉

Where was I?

Oh yeah, my dad’s a great cook now.  We’ve told him after he retires he should start a second career as a chef.  Whenever I go home to visit the first words out of my mouth after “Hi, I missed you,” are “Feed me!!!”

Same thing goes with artists (again, with the rare exception of the music prodigy).  They have to practice.  It’s the same rule in business too.  You don’t show the client the work you put into the ad, the report, the product you’re selling, ect…  I love to bake, my stuff tastes good, but my decorating needs some serious life support.  Still tastes good, but I’m not going to be opening a bakery any time soon.

But for some reason I see writers again and again asking people to read their first attempts at writing.

WHY!

My dad had an excuse, he had to feed us during the nights he had us (my parents had joint custody and he could only order out so much before we all got sick of that) so yeah, we were his guinea pigs while he learned.

But unless you’ve got people starved for entertainment, maybe you’re on a deserted island with a group of people and no books, I don’t know your life, you don’t have to “feed” people your first attempts.  (Again, my mind is going dirty.  I can’t help it.  I started with the dirty and now everything’s coming out with that connotation 🙂

Well, why not?  What’s so bad about giving someone your first book?

Hahahahaha.

Sorry, you were serious?  Oh honey.  I’m trying to write this fast so there’s going to be a whole host of stuff I’m not thinking of off the top of my head right now, but I’ll name a few.

I’m starting out with the premise that your first attempts are going to suck and sorry, but I’ve never heard of the child writer prodigy creating masterpieces at five.

First problem:  You’re asking someone to take their time to do you a favor and give you feedback.  They are going to pick it up thinking it might be entertaining and then struggle through a forest of painful prose before they either finish because they promised or give up after three chapters because they’re not that nice (guilty!).

Second problem: The person is either going to lie to be nice, which isn’t any help to you at all.  Or they are going to demolish your first work and destroy your confidence (guilty).

Third problem: First impressions mean a ton.  They stick in people’s heads.  So even if they know and love you, they will think of your writing like those beginning efforts and you will have to beg and plead to get them to read you in the future.  This is really a problem when you’re on a critique site because the people who read those beginning efforts will pass over your works in the future because they’ll remember you as the beginner who didn’t know what you were doing (and guilty again.)

Now, you have to be able to take critiques and people demolishing your works.  It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or how many people have bought and loved your books, you will have people who read them and either hate them or think it’s their job to nitpick them to death.  So you may think number two is a good thing, because the sooner you toughen up, buttercup, the better.

Debatable.  I know people who have given first tries to people, got torn to shreds and used that to fuel their creative fire.  I also know people who gave out first tries, got torn to shreds and didn’t finish that first book let alone any others.  You could argue those in the second group weren’t going to make it if they gave up that easily and that’s possible, but what if they kept trying, got better and loved it.  We’ll never know.

Also, the people who get torn to shreds tend to hold it against the shredder, even if the shredder was trying to help.  (Nooooo, I’m not talking about me.  I never ripped a family member’s boyfriend’s manuscript to shreds and wondered why he hated me for months and never finished it.)  *Looks around innocently.*

Why risk it?

Why would you want to give your first try to people?  Be honest with yourself here.  You want good, honest feedback from writer critique groups so you can get better with the next one?  Okay, but that’s asking a hell of a lot from the other writers in that group.  Especially when you consider that you learn every time you write.  Most writers?  They want people to fawn over them and tell them how cool it is that they wrote something and it’s so brilliant it will be the next (name whatever the big blockbuster book of the genre is at the time).

Look, I’m guilty of that.  In my first years of writing, my first reader was my baby brother.  Because he would read it and tell me it was great and entertaining and he wanted to read more.

It was great validation, but years later my baby brother (you can’t call them little brothers when they’ve got about 13 inches on you) doesn’t want to read my actual published stuff now because it’s just not his thing and he’ll read me when I have a “real” book out.  Could be he grew out of that type of fantasy with puberty or maybe looking back he realizes they weren’t very good and isn’t interested in not very good when he’s got a job, hobbies, friends and manga light novels to read.

We’ve all done it.  The stereotype is the writer whose mom loves their work.  And that’s okay, but don’t expect the person who loves you and will tell you it’s brilliant to be eager to read you when you get better.  And don’t expect the fellow writer you asked to give you their honest opinion to pull their punches.

I am by no means an expert.  I’m still learning.  Most of my learning curve is on more nuanced skills in writing because I have the basics but I will never stop learning.  I’ll probably look back at the shorts I’ve published already, maybe even the first full length novels I put out and wish I could change this and this and this little thing.

But I do know some stuff on the basics and I’m hoping to pass that on.   The basic point here (Besides the dirty one. That’s what she said!) Don’t hand out your first book.  Finish it, love it, tuck it in a drawer and come back to it after you’ve written a few more.  Maybe it’s salvageable with heavy editing and some rewrites, or maybe you finally call time of death and scrap it for parts.

Happy writing 🙂

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