One of the things I've found hardest in writing is getting someone to read my work with a critical yet encouraging eye. First problem: I was for years an English teacher in our small town, so most people think if I wrote it, it must be okay. Not true, of course, but many would never "dare" to criticize and are therefore out of the running as first readers.

Then there are the people who would love a chance to axe something I've written, just to prove that they're smarter than I am. Not going there; I work too hard at what I do.

Next are the people who are willing but just too darned kind: my family (well, some of them might fall into the category above), my friends, and former coworkers. It's a compliment when they say, "I couldn't critique it because I was so busy enjoying the story", but it isn't much help.

By far the biggest category is those who have no interest in reading much of anything, and certainly not in working at improving it. When I think of the hours (years) I spent trying to improve the writing of others with a comment here and a correction there, I understand. It is hard work.

So who will read your novel? Lots of people tell me about exchanging on-line with other authors, and that should work well, since both have an interest in making writing better. However, if I've never met a person, I can't put a lot of faith in their criticism. What if he's crazier than I am? What if she didn't even read it?

My solution came serendipitously. I met Janet through Deb Baker, and she and I agreed to switch manuscripts. Since I'm acquainted with her, I know she's intelligent and her comments will be worthwhile.

In another instance that's almost miraculous, a friend offered to read just because she was interested. She reads each novel twice. First she reads for continuity, does the story hold together, are the characters clear, etc. Then she reads again with pen in hand (yes, she used to be a teacher) and corrects structure, typos, etc. Am I thrilled? You bet. Every mistake she finds is one less excuse for an agent or publisher to reject my work.

Can you find two people like this? I don't know, but you need to. It's your work, but you need to see how it affects the reader and you need to make it the best it can be before you send it to one of those scary people in the publishing industry.

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