June 21, 2020: Expert Readers
You have just finished the first draft of a novel. While fictional, the setting and some events are historical and you want to get your details correct. During the planning stage you did all your research. You outlined, read, checked sources, googled, and double checked. Now it is time to call in the big-guns! You need some expert readers to read for historical accuracy. This is not the same as other types of readers and critiquing. The revising, proofreading, editing should have already been done by the time you get to your expert readers.
As the writer of historical fiction middle-grades novels, getting the historical facts accurate is critical for my work. While investing a great deal of time and effort in the researching and planning stages helps, having an expert reader is an invaluable way to make sure that no detail is overlooked. In spite of months of research for my first novel, Saving Home, set in 1702 St. Augustine Florida, my expert readers caught several glaring errors.
Some tips for finding and working with an expert reader:
- Find a reader with specific expertise related to your time frame/events. All historians are not the same. The more specialized and specific, the better. Check out Universities, Historical Societies, Preservation Boards, Museums, etc. Look beyond the usual as well. Look beyond just the professors at the University. Are there graduate assistants or doctoral candidates within the department who might be willing to read for historical accuracy? For some of them, this task might look good on their resume.
- When you contact them, be sure to be clear and up front with your needs and resources. Are you looking for someone to volunteer their time and expertise? Or do you have a budget to pay a nominal reading fee? Do they want to be thanked in the book?
- Plan for this stage to take a while. Whether this person is doing it out of the goodness of their heart or charging a reading fee, these experts have careers, responsibilities, families, and other commitments. When discussing the time frame, be generous and clear on when you need the feedback.
- Be clear about the scope of what you need from them. They are not your editor. They should not be proofreading for grammar and spelling. In fact, the draft should have already been through several rounds of editing so this should not be an issue. Let them know what you want from them- to see if your historical facts and events are accurate. If you have any specific concerns or areas you are a little unsure of, be sure to point those out.
- Put the agreement in writing. You do not need a legal contract, but having your agreement in writing in an email or other correspondence, goes a long way in keeping you all on the same page.
Keep in mind that once the expert reader gives you their feedback, it is still up to you as the writer, to decide how to use their expertise. One expert reader of mine, in addition to giving me great feedback that I used, told me that he thought the dog in the story was irrelevant and should just be taken out. This caused me great stress and many sleepless nights. I love dogs. Kids love dogs. I felt the dog was important to the story. I kept the dog in. Whenever I do author visits to schools and talk with kids about the book, over and over I hear how much they loved Lobo. While my expert reader knew history, perhaps he did not know my audience as well as I do.