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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

My volunteer reader/editor/criticizers

In producing a book as an independent publication, you have to put together a team. I’ve been working with a web designer, an illustrator (that’s Sarah-Lee Terrat, who did the drawings above and the cover sketch below), a page designer, even a videographer (we’re going to post a discussion with kids and teachers next month) — but I could not also afford to hire an editor.

When you work with a traditional publisher, you interact with a series of editors: first the book editor, who gives you suggestions and criticisms big and small; then the copyeditor, who reads each page with a magnifying glass and covers it with quibbles, questions and suggestions; and then the proofreader, who reads with a microscope and points out (you hope) the very tiniest errors, inconsistencies and awkwardnesses.

I can’t afford those people! So instead I’ve recruited a series of expert volunteer readers and critiquers. Over the past weeks, the manuscript of True Shoes has been read by two middle school teachers in Vermont, a teenager and a prevention specialist in New Jersey, a well-known sportwriter who’s my neighbor and friend, and a guidance counselor in Maine. I’ve asked them all for criticism — and I’ve gone over their notes on the pages very, very carefully. Each has helped me take the manuscript another stage closer to final form.

The final set of readers is a group of English teachers in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the head of a high school English department is an old friend and a superb teacher. She and some colleagues have gone over True Shoes line by line, looking for, as Patty emailed to me last night, “minor punctuation/consistency things with a few comments on awk wording or word choice.” When I get their marked-up pages in a few days, I will go through the manuscript page by page, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, one more time. I’ll look carefully at everything they marked and suggested.

That’s the only way you can improve your writing — by listening as openly as you can to feedback and criticism, whether it comes from your own reading or from someone else’s. And that’s how important these volunteer readers have been to True Shoes.
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Here's the improved cover sketch!
First sketch for the book cover: please comment!
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