I’ve found that when writing for children (although this could apply to any type of writing), it’s crucial and rewarding to have a select group of children in the age group you’re writing for to be selected as First Readers. I don’t know about you, but the last time I could technically call myself a kid was when Jimmy Carter was President and double features at the movies only cost $2. Yes, I’m old. I realize that I’m no longer cool and even though I may act like a child from time to time, I’m not as plugged in to the kid scene as, say, an 8 year old.
When I wrote my very first picture book, sans actual pictures, my little daughters were my First Readers. Seeing their smiles as I read them my story and answering questions they had about the book helped me know what direction I needed to take things. It was great feedback, but in the back of my mind, I wondered if they were just appeasing their dad.
My agent is actually the person who turned me on to the concept of building a team of First Readers for future works. I’m glad I listened to her, because what I’ve received from them is worth its weight in gold…at today’s exchange rate! So, how do you build a team? Since my next book was going to be horror for kids, I went to Facebook and posted on my wall that I was looking for kids between 8 and 12 who liked to read, especially books like Goosebumps. I received a ton of replies. I wanted to keep the number of readers on my team between 3 and 5, so I whittled the list of volunteers down to people I trusted most and basically drew names from a hat.
The next step was to save my manuscript in Adobe so it could be viewed but not altered and I sent it off to my team. Since the book is relatively short and fast paced, I gave them a few weeks to read it. Along the way, I asked their moms how they liked it and recevied some great feedback. Now for the fun part. Meeting and thanking them. I arranged for 3 of my readers, along with my 2 girls, to meet at a pizza parlor so I could thank them (pizza is the universal kid food) and hear a little of what they thought about the book. They told me what they liked most, which characters were the best, and offered some tremendous ideas about what should be in the follow up book. It was hysterical to hear what they want to see in a ‘scary’ book, but also enlightening. The whole process has made my work stronger and I think better targeted to my potential audience.
I told them all that I would send them the sequel once it was written in the fall and they were excited. They were all thrilled to be able to read a book before anyone else in the world. One even asked if I could speak at his school. How awesome is that?
I still have to meet and thank another 2 members of my team and I can’t wait. The best part is, I have a great resource to turn to for feedback and ideas now. The whole process has been rewarding beyond my expectations and is now an invaluable tool in my writing arsenal. A big thank you to Conner, Brendan, Joe, Star and Samantha! You make writing fun!