Last Sunday afternoon, my friend Sarah and I sat across from each other in a booth at Fallston Seafood, eating salad and waiting for broiled crab cakes – our usual order. We’d already covered family, and Sarah, who writes the Noontimes, had updated me on the school year.
The pony-tailed waitress served our meals and asked if there was anything else she could get us. We thanked and assured her that we had all we needed.
As we settled into our crab cakes, Sarah asked, “How’s the book going?”
I groaned. “Well, last week I emailed a draft of the last chapter and epilogue to Keith. He liked the former but hated the ending.” I smiled as Sarah nodded.
“Like the last faculty meeting when we say farewell to those who will not return next year, endings can be tough.”
“Yes, though it’s not really the ending but the process. Keith and I are each other’s first readers but deliver our critiques differently.” I’d written about our different approaches here. “You know how we teachers deliver feedback: five positive comments then one or two suggestions. But Keith doesn’t waste time with niceties.”
“Because he’s an intelligence analyst,” Sarah said with a laugh.
“Yes. Now as writers, we’ve both made adjustments.”
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King introduced the concept of an Ideal reader. The Ideal reader is his customer, the person for whom he writes. “If you know the tastes of your Ideal reader at least half as much as I know the tastes of mine, it will be not difficult for you to imagine what he will like, and what – not.” Stephen King’s Ideal reader is his wife Tabitha.
Keith and I are not each other’s Ideal readers yet. He’s read a few memoirs, but I’ve read little science fiction. We don’t know each other’s markets. But as avid readers of fiction and nonfiction and each other’s first readers, we’re getting there.
“Nice job with the cliffhanger, great action scene, reads well,” I commented on a scene that was particularly challenging to write. “Just a few suggested edits,” though I’d riddled his draft with track-changes. “This is such a great story!”
“A few ideas but no problems,” he wrote, though my piece was also riddled with his edits. “Lot’s of good stuff,” he said after reading the new epilogue. “At the end I’d reflect more on lessons learned from the journey.”
So I revised the epilogue for my Ideal reader, and he shot back, “The part about God being the compass is good.”
Who is your Ideal reader?