There's nothing as valuable as long-term readers who have seen your work mature over time!
I know that many of you already have individual readers you turn to for your work, so chances are you already know the myriad benefits of those connections.
For those of you who don't yet have good readers, here's what their fresh perspective can offer - they easily see errors you have overlooked:
- Continuity - they know that the red scarf on page 251 was green paisly on page 36
- Incorrect words - they see that you really meant "flue" when you wrote "chimney flu"
- Factual errors or tips- they tell you that a fully tatooed arm is called a "sleeve", and that text messaging wasn't yet a craze in the year 2000
- Character issues - they alert you when you're not well-representing your younger self in a memoir, when you've made her passive and unsympathetic, or when your main fictional character does something ... well, out of character
- Bad writing - they tell you when your writing is just plain lousy
- Implausible plot - they "roll their eyes" in the margin when you've strained credulity with your plot, or gone on too long about something, or left out important chunks of necessary prose.
And so forth.
If you don't yet have readers, here are some ideas for where to find them:
- Join a local Meet Up group.
- Check your local library to see if they know of writers' groups.
- Take courses - in person or online - and connect with your new colleagues.
- Attend a writers' conference or retreat.
- Find online forums where you can connect with other writers.
Find writers to be your readers. Writers will see things ordinary readers will not. And you can read for them in turn, which serves to elevate your own editing skills. Nothing improves your writing like having to critique someone else's work. If possible, find writers who are better than you are - you'll learn far more.
Get a diverse group, too. My readers include a non-fiction writer and teacher, two literary fiction writers (and teachers), a poet and yoga teacher, a memoirist who reads voraciously, and an essayist who's also a psychologist. Each bring slightly different perspectives (and yes, sometimes their opinions cancel each other out).
Actually, on that point, if I get competing opinions about the same issue or passage, what I take from this feedback is that something needs to be addressed in that section, whatever it may be. I always review, then, with a highly critical eye.
What do you need to know for working well with your readers? Check out this article.