Before I consider a work sub-ready, I pass it around to friends and colleagues. I've used my focus group a few times now and have lovingly given them titles by how they further my writing.
I have two of these readers in my circle and they are the first eyes on a new work. They tend to point out places where my world is lacking in details, or if a character is underdeveloped. They have no problem telling me a scene sucks, that a line of dialogue sucks, or will scrawl "BORING!" or "REALLY?!" in the margins in bright red pen.
After my Plotters have devastated all of my bestseller dreams, I go through a period of "This is awful. I should trash it and write something new." But before I drag the paper shredder out of the closet, I give the Ego-Booster a copy.
She is the critique partner everyone says you shouldn't have. When I give her thoughtful questions like, "What pulled you onto the second page?" She replies with, "Everything. I love the characters! I love the idea! I love it all!" I know she's not going to give me any helpful insight, but what she does give me is a renewed love for my manuscript and the strength to pull it out of the trash and go back and work on the Plotters' comments.
The Spell Checker:
Round 3. I've pulled my book apart and put it back together. I can't even look at it anymore. This is when I send it to the Spell Checker, who does so much more than fix the typos Word missed. He's a stickler for details. He points out where I used the wrong name for someone, or put "he" insead of "she". He can spot where I'm missing a comma or a quotation mark is backwards. He doesn't have a lot to add in the way of story, but he keeps me from looking like an idiot.
I write YA. These are the people who don't write YA, read YA, or even walk through the aisle in the bookstore. They write and read Christian fiction, romance, mystery, crime, women's fiction, short stories and poetry. They would never pay money for one of my books so why in the world am I giving it to them? For an outside perspective.
I don't always agree with what they have to say, but often, they offer plot suggestions that I never would have thought of. They're good, and they're different from YA because they're inspired by another genre.
After the rounds, a vacation in the drawer and one last look, I consider my manuscript ready to submit.
What about you? Who are your readers? Any I should consider adding to my list?