I don’t send my writing group my entire first drafts. I already know much of what’s wrong with them, so I’ll get the most effective critique if I wait until later to send the books through the group. But I almost always workshop the first few chapters in their first draft form, because large problems I haven’t thought of are likely to manifest themselves there. If my readers are reacting the way I want them to during the first chapters, then I know the arcs are on track, and I can revise the way I planned as I wrote my List of Badness. If their responses surprise me, then I’ll add to the list of badness new character and structural things that I need to work on to get the beginning of the book going right.
The other read I get at this point is a validation read. Because generally by this point I feel good and miserable about this book. It is a mess! Way more messy than my other, already revised books, which in my post-draft delirium will feel like a totally fair comparison. Therefore, this book will never be fixed. Therefore I am wasting my time.
My husband is my go-to validation reader, though I have a few backups as well. A validation reader is someone who likes all your work, and can tell you why. Drew will read through the book (lately with me reading over his shoulder, so we can talk about it as he goes), and tell me what’s working and why. He’ll also give me criticism, which is fine. I’m still compiling my List of Badness, and can add his notes to it. But the most important thing is that he remind me why I’m writing this book in the first place.
I’ve had a lot of readers over the years, but very few of them have been people I’d trust to be validation readers. Because at this point, I don’t want to hear that the book isn’t working. I’ll be ready to hear that at a later time. What I need before I jump into the second draft is to feel good about the thing again, and to have a clear vision of why I’m trying to fix it. Watching someone else react as if it has value is key. And then, it’s time to jump into revision.