Last Monday, Mez blogged about enlisting readers for your manuscript. It’s a scary but necessary process to get your rough draft to a clean, polished, finished manuscript, one of the goals of all writers.

I understand the fear of letting your story be viewed by others. Mez is the only person I can let read my stories without feeling as if I’m going to throw up. There are one or two others if I take deep breaths and give myself a pep talk, I can release my manuscript into their hands.

Because of that fear, I am going to talk about the other side of enlisting a second reader. In other words, what you should do or expect if someone hands you their manuscript to edit, especially if you aren’t a writer yourself.

Understand what an honor it is!

I don’t mean “Oh, I am gracing you with this manuscript in all its glory. Bow down before it!” More like, “Here is a piece of my soul I have slaved over. I entrust it into your hands.” You have been chosen!

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Okay, a little dramatic, but really not that far off. There may be a couple writers out there who believe every word they write is perfection, but most of us are at the other end of the spectrum. We are our harshest critics. The words we put on the page rarely come close to what we see in our heads and after the fifth, sixth, seventh (millionth) read through, we lose even more perspective. This character is unbelievable, the villain is laughable, the plot doesn’t make sense. No matter how much we edit, the manuscript never seems to live up to the writer’s expectations.

On the other hand, writers spend an enormous amount of time on our manuscripts. Hours and hours and hours. And when you spend that much time on something, it’s precious to you. All of those thousands of words come straight from our imaginations and, unless you are co-writing, is completely dependent on one person. In other words, writing is an intensely personal experience.

Basically, we writers are very proud of our work, but we simultaneously think it’s horrid.

Therefore, be kind!

Please realize if someone hands you a manuscript to read, they are giving you something they have worked long hard hours on and it is extremely precious.

Reading the story, handing it back with an “I enjoyed it,” and moving on can easily crush a writer’s spirit. Sure, that’s what most readers do when they finish a book, but you have been selected as a second reader! Be prepared to have an in-depth discussion of the story. And, I hate to say it, you may need to be the leader in the discussion if the writer isn’t used to sharing their story.

Find something to praise about the manuscript, even if it’s just that you are impressed they were able to complete it. Completing a manuscript is hard work!

But be honest!

I have read some of my manuscripts so many times I can quote parts. When writers get to that point, we get word blind. Not only that, these stories exist on paper and in our heads. It’s hard sometimes to know what information we’ve put on paper and what we haven’t. Something that makes sense to the writer may make no sense to the reader.

This means fresh eyes are extremely valuable. I have one reader I refuse to discuss details with so she reads the story cold (yes, that’s you, Peach!) and can therefore tell me if I explain things well enough. This is a tremendous help.

Take that to heart, second reader, you are valuable!

We need your honesty. Writers have fragile egos when it comes to our work, but we also understand it isn’t perfect. Skimming over the problems in the name of being kind isn’t helpful. If you feel you can’t be honest without hurting feelings, talk to the writer about it. Most of us can be reasoned with, especially when it comes to someone helping us out.

So how do you do this?

First, ask the writer what they are looking for from you.

  • General impressions
    • Characters you liked or didn’t like
    • Any questions you had at the end
    • Any parts that left you confused
    • Where you put it down
    • Parts that made you laugh, cry, get angry
  • Line Edit
    • Spelling and grammatical errors
    • Formatting errors
    • Awkward wording
    • Point of view, pacing, and other writing elements
    • As well as your general impressions

More than likely, if you are a writer or a very avid reader, you will naturally do at least a partial line edit. It’s hard to turn that part of your brain off when asked to edit. But if you aren’t a writer, never fear! Your general impressions of the book as a reader are extremely valuable.

Take notes.

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As you read the manuscript, take notes. They don’t have to be detailed or numerous. But anytime you are knocked out of the story world, make a note of where and why (and if you don’t know the why, no worries; talking it out with the writer might help).

If you find yourself so sucked into the story you don’t make any notes, let the writer know! It’s high praise. Then read it a second time and come up with something useful to tell her.

Reading a manuscript for a writer is hard. It takes time to do it right and you have to balance honesty and kindness unless you accidently trample a poor writer’s spirit. But it’s also an integral part of the writing process and we thank you for it!

And hey, have the writer get you a little something for all your work. Chocolate’s always good!

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