Four Critics

When Jay Asher wrote Thirteen Reasons Why (—-makes-a-difference/), he had a support/critique group who brought chapters for review to their regular meetings.  Every writer I know who is serious about his work has a group of trusted writers who make you open wide and take your medicine.  The writer does not get to explain or defend the work.  After all, the reader tanning on Luquillo beach doesn’t get to ask the writer what he meant.

Once the book was completed, Asher took another step somewhat different from what I’ve heard before.  He chose four readers to read the book through and give their recommendations.  The difference was that he did not ask them to read simultaneously, and he did not ask them to reread after he considered and executed their suggestions.

He believes in Fresh Eyes.  Yes, of course.  He understands peer editors don’t read the second version with the same diligence as the first. 

So his final readers are consecutive.

Jay chose his first reader to find errors.  When you write a book over three years and do four or five major rewrites in that time, errors will creep in.   The author forgets the hero had a Corvette in chapter 2 when he gave him a Mustang convertible in Chapter 17.  His boyhood pet is a collie in chapter 7 but a cocker in chapter 9.  He learned his burger-flipping skills at his after-school job in a fast-food joint but not if he played intra-mural sports all through school.

The second reader was chosen to examine pacing.  The narrative arc of each scene and chapter build the wave of the entire book.  Does the book keep the pages turning from the start, through the long swamp of the middle and the wrap-up?

The third reader is for grammar.  Jay’s wife is his Grammar Queen.  Anne Fox keeps me honest.  If she ever decides to retire, my backup plan is to take up bowling or bawling.

By the time Jay has licked the wounds and finished the surgery necessary after his first three readers, he is ready for Unconditional Love.

His fourth reader is his mother. 

11 Responses to Four Critics

  1. Beth says:

    Great blog, Al! One of your best. Thank you!

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    Wow! Great impact! You are quite the writer, Al.

  3. Dave L says:

    Hey, there’s value here – although I would have the “G-Queen” read earlier so as not to place obsitacles in front of the rest. BTW, Karen I had the best crabcakes, of our crabcake-eating career, in Eureka Springs – then, years ago, and it still holds. The basement hotel bar where we sipped with the locals and experienced this feast is gone, but every time I visit ES, I look once again – just in case. It’s like driving and driving again through the neighborhood of your “crush,” just to see if one of those times she might be out on the front porch.

  4. Alon Shalev says:

    Great piece, Al. After nearly five years in a writer’s group, I have no doubt that my books are so much better for their feedback, however difficult it is sometimes to accept.
    I also rely on a couple of trusted friends to read through once the group has had its way with me, though I never thought to ask for specific aspects from each one.
    And then there is my mother…she who doesn’t believe in swearing and vivid sex scenes…but carefully reads every one of my books. She tuts and shakes her head, but she is my mother first!

  5. Karen Goucher says:

    This one Al struck me. Very clear message.
    Enjoy Eureka Springs! Devour the town.
    On our bucket list… year’s trip to Arizona
    which has eluded us for two years. 2012….it is time.

  6. AL: I hope I can persuade you to be one of my readers when “Butchertown” is ready for the Eyes of Others.

    • allevenson says:


      I would be interested in being a reader for Butchertown. That said, I must warn you my writer’s heart has written many checks that were returned stamped “insufficient funds” from the bank account of my gypsy life. Just ask Dirk and Margaret and the entire Crawford Seven Critter. I have disappointed my friends and myself for accepting the request and not delivering in a timely fashion and without the full focus the ms deserved.

      I have learned that when I accept such an assignment, I need to crawl into a cave for three days and get the job. So when Butchertown is ready, ship it, and if I can see three days without blogging, emailing, food, water, or sex, I have a go. And I will have a marker from you that you will return the compliment.


  7. Barbara G. says:

    Definitely a saver. Many thanks,


  8. karen wittgraf says:

    Wow! You are an amazing writer, Al. Makes me feel like “no hope for Karen”. Love this blog. Thank you for including me.

  9. Pat Bean says:

    Great idea. The trick is to find the right readers.

  10. Bev Johnson says:

    Hi Al,
    BOOM! BIG impact! Should have read this before I sent you some pages. Errors, Pacing, Grammar, and loving praise. A great system guaranteed to help the Pro and the Rookie. Thank you so much for sharing valuable insights and information. And please keep writing your terrific blog! Take care, Al, take care. Cheers, Bev

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