Saturday, March 26, 2016

My Writing Process: Beta Readers

flowers, blossoms, branches, nature, pink, springOut my window, daffodils gently wave in the breeze, my father's pampas grass is peeking out from the brown remains of last year's growth, and trees are mostly in full bloom. It's spring. More importantly, for me as a writer at least, it's the long Easter weekend. And it couldn't have come at a better time. I'm just a few thousand words from having the first draft of my newest work in progress finished. It's my goal to have it completed by the time I head back to work on Tuesday. After that, it goes out to my beta readers. I don't know if all indie authors use them, but I have found them to be of great value. There are a few things I hope to get from beta readers.

  • Proofreading I proofread my own work, but it's a long, long document (not long in terms of it really being a long book, but much longer than, say, an essay) and, in those 67,000 or so words, I miss things no matter how many times I read it. It's the whole theory of completion thing, where we see what we expect to see, not what is is actually there. For instance, how many of you noticed that I put is in that last sentence twice? Many won't have because the second wasn't supposed to be there and your brain skipped over it. I'm hoping if I put the book in front of enough eyes, they'll all notice things like that, which I've missed.
kindle, e-reader, technology, reading, book, objects, coffee, cup, mug, notebook, notepad, pen, eyeglasses, business
  • Plot Holes We've all experienced them--a character comes from nowhere or something happens out of the blue and we go back to reread to see if we missed something, but we didn't because the author didn't give us enough information to have that character or event make sense. It's kind of like my English classes recently when I referred several times to a handout I'd distributed before someone in my fourth period class finally got brave enough to say, "Mr. S, we don't know what handout you're talking about." Turns out they were still inside my lectern where I'd left them. So I hope my beta readers can do that for me. Where are important things not made clear or left out altogether? Sometimes this happens when I go back and make a change somewhere early in the book and then don't carry out that change throughout. Other times it's just badly written, pure and simple. 
hole, cave, sky, clouds
  • Continuity  I have a unique situation in my books because they are parts of a series, so I have two competing issues. First, it needs to fit the larger arc of the series and the character development needs to start and continue on the track that I created in the earlier stories. But second, each book needs to be its own entity and a fully realized story all by itself. Not everyone reads your books in order. Yes, to fully appreciate the growth of Harry and Dee and Otis and Jenn, you really would be best served (and I would make more money) if you bought and read them in order. But that's just not reality. So I try to recruit readers who've read the first three as well as people who haven't read any of them. And I'm really asking those two groups to answer different questions. 
boat, anchor, tropical, water, chain

I don't really ask my beta readers for editing opinions, though I don't reject them out of hand if they offer them. If they tell me they don't like how I've drawn a character or a particular scene, or whether there's a better word or phrase I could use at any given time, then I'll examine it. But that's not really what I'm looking for from them. I want them to concentrate on reading the book as a reader, not an editor. Is it a technically correct, complete, fully realized story that stands on its own and also fits the broader arc I'm creating in the Shalan series? Those are the questions I want them to answer for me. 

Authors, do you use beta readers? If so, what do you ask of them? I'd love if you would share your ideas with me. 

But the larger question for me is to my readers who aren't necessarily authors: are any of you interested in being a beta reader for Shalan #4? If you have time to read and make some constructive comments in the next couple of weeks, please feel free to contact me. But be aware that you should only say yes if you can actually fit this in over the next couple of weeks. I really want to move forward with the next phase of the writing by mid-April. So if you have a bit of time and are interested in giving me a hand, please get in touch. 

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