No writer is an island.

Oh, writing’s a solitary profession, no doubt about it. Locked in a corner with only a bottle of booze for company, etc and so on. We grow our beards, we yell obscenities at our pets, we quietly cry as we contemplate our heroes having sex. We do this all on our own.

But unless you’re planning on writing an epic twenty-seven chapter series of Terra Nova fan fiction, the point of writing is to create something for others to enjoy. How are you going to know if said others will enjoy it if nobody else reads it before you’re trying to get them to buy it?

The solution is to climb out of your writer-hole and put your words in front of someone else’s eyeballs. We call these unfortunate slobs brave volunteers test readers.

I love my test readers. Most of the people I engage to look over a chapter or passage of work give me feedback beyond “It’s good” or “This sucks.” And I try to do the same in return.

The best time to get a test read done is when you have a specific concern. Does our hero come off as sympathetic? Does this action flow as well as I think it does? Is anybody going to buy a zombie cyborg Hitler rising from the grave only to face a down-on-his-luck high school senior possessed by the two-fisted ghost of Teddy Roosevelt?

Test readers, to me, are invaluable. They’re the grounded and sober advisors to the drunken raging dictators we are towards our stories. They’re equal parts supporter and critic. They’re the hitmen (hitpeople?) we must hire from time to time to subject our self-doubt to the Mozambique Drill.

“Oh, what’s that? You think your work sucks?” Pop pop. POP. “There. It doesn’t suck. But it DOES need a couple of tweaks.”

If you’re writing is going along and you’re not quite sure how well you’re doing, or you don’t know how to get past your first chapter, or you’re all done (or think you’re all done) and want to ensure you’re ready for the next step, get a test reader. Or two. Or five. Especially if you have a trusted friend or two willing to tell you exactly what they think, put your words in front of your eyeballs.

You’ll bite your nails in anticipation of them finishing. You’ll wonder why you didn’t catch what’s obvious to them. You’ll curse them for making you do more work.

And then you’ll thank them. With praise, gifts, booze and who knows what else. They’ll have earned it, and your work will kick even more ass as a result.