Last October I finally nagged two beta readers for my fantasy novel. I’d had a couple of people on and off, but, as we all know, life tends to get in the way, and it is hard for people to read things for pleasure when they are going into nursing school or going back to school to get their masters degree, no matter trying to digest and critique something that isn’t scholarly, and work a full-time job. But, as luck would have it, one of my original beta readers graduated last year and I approached her again about reading. She jumped at it, being really excited the first time she started reading my novel. She ended up asking her cousin as well about reading, and after I made sure they not only had the will but the actual time to devote to this project, we started.
I sent ten chapter increments. My friend’s cousin asked me about editing, and I told her to edit to whatever degree she felt comfortable, because a) I’m poor, & b) I wasn’t going to load more work onto someone that they didn’t want to do.
My first reader is one I’d kind of wanted for a while, which is someone to read just for the entertainment value. I’m pretty sure that my second reader is going to be my editor for the rest of my life, 😉 and I love having these two ladies in my corner.
For me, at least, having two types of personalities and two types of readers is hugely beneficial. Just as there are different types of authors and writing styles, so are there readers. Some people like to get into the mechanics of it all, and some people merely want a book to read on the beach, and don’t always care if point A leads to point B to point C, and I think that’s true no matter the genre.
The other immensely valuable thing about beta readers is the honesty. Placing your work in the hands of someone who has no emotional attachment to it is a big step for an author. Digesting everything they come back with is another BIG step. I admit that while I agreed my betas’ points on a lot of things, there were sections that I kinda bristled at the comments. I had to remember that this is what I was asking for.
What works, what doesn’t. Is there something out of character for someone ten or fifteen chapters in, after you’ve gotten a good sense of the character? Are they believable little creations, in a believable world? Does Point A go to Point C without skipping Point B, because in some novels, especially the ones more on the ‘epic’ scale, it can be hard to remember some minute detail that happened twelve chapters ago that comes back into play and having it work. And when you’ve read your own writing a hundred times, it’s easy for your author brain to fill in a mistake without it actually being on the page.
So if you’ve written something, anything, and you think one day in the future you might want five people or eight thousand people to read it, go find someone else to read it first. Preferably more than one. Give them a purpose in reading, and don’t be afraid to ask for the feedback you need, which is not the same as what you want. And, yes, I know that most professionals advise against using family or friends as ‘honest’ readers, because I’m sure that some people’s family would gush praise no matter what. Thankfully, I have a best friend who will always gush about what she loves and will absolutely not on everything else. In, like, all aspects of our now twenty-five year friendship.
It’s been several months since my betas and I finished the first read through, and I got a bit sidetracked (stuck! Damn you Chapters 22 & 42!!!) in my editing/revising, but I’ve gotten back on track. I know it can take me longer to get some of this done than others, but I am accepting that fact more and more, and that’s allowing me to not beat myself up as much on my writing progress.
As for those sections that weren’t not working for my in-depth editing beta—it will happen to you. It’s fine to be a bit taken aback, or to even resist changing something you think works. But take a few deep breaths, or a day or week even, and go back to those concerns. I now have some much-improved and truer chapters than I did, and in a couple of those, I really didn’t have to change as much as I thought. Sometimes, the smallest solutions have the biggest impact.