beta reading

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Today there was a talk by Kate Forsyth at the Cleveland library, and while I managed to go, Xander had no intention of sitting calm and quiet for even a minute. So I got to pace around the library bouncing him on my hip and when my arms gave out pushing him in the pram trying to stay near enough to hear her talk but far enough away that the grizzling shouldn’t bother anyone. After 45 minutes I remembered I’d packed the iPad and the magic of videos distracted him long enough for me to get her signature on my copy of Bitter Greens. I apologised if he had made enough noise to bother her and she told me that when her eldest son was Xander’s age she had gone to an author’s reading and her son had behaved the same. It’s interesting to see cycles, I wonder if one day an aspiring author/mother will attend my reading and sheepishly come up to me at the end and apologise if her child was disruptive?

Getting a bit ahead of myself there, but we all have dreams, don’t we?

In other news, I’m beta-reading a YA Sci-fi for the talented Talitha Kalago, and it’s great. She’s intending to self-publish, so I’ll keep you updated on when it comes out so you can all enjoy it as well.

And now, the best for last – and I’m not sure if I should talk about this yet – but I have had my first story accepted for an anthology! I’m so excited, but of course the story is still subject to the editing process, so I’m not going to say more until I’ve passed that hurdle, but hopefully soon I’ll be able to tell you all where you can buy my first published story!

Of course, there’s no rest for the wicked, there’s the mythpunk stories I’ve been working on which I’m considering compiling into an anthology, my novel Keys, Clocks and Quests to finish (so it can FINALLY get a real title, not a lame working title), and of course though I have an acceptance letter  now, I also have a bunch of other stories I need to get out into the world, so I need to start submitting other works (like that massive bunch of new short stories I wrote in December and January). So onwards and upwards.

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At first glance this picture has no relation to this post, but the figure was a gift from the writer's wife. Squee, Loki!
At first glance this picture has no relation to this post, but the figure was a gift from the writer’s wife. Squee, Loki!

You might remember my post last month on beta-reading and how for the first time I was beta-reading a novel for one of my critique group friends. Last night he held a small dinner and gathered all of us (his beta-readers) together so we could give him our thoughts and critiques and he rewarded us with nommy chilli-dogs.

Being that this was my first beta-reading I’m not certain if this is the standard format for returning a beta-reading critique, but I can assure you it was a fun one. A table of avid readers and writers discussing the finer points of the novel, occasionally breaking off onto mad and hilarious tangents, ideas building on each other collectively – the whole experience was organic and enjoyable.

The experience felt very much like when I attend our writers’ group, and since I adore our writers’ group it was hard not to have fun (while learning).

I feel a lot can be learned from being a beta-reader. Maybe not as much as may be learned when your own work is being beta-read, but listening to the other readers’ responses seeing points I had not picked up or my own points reiterated helps me with my ability to critique both others work and my own.

As a writer, I recommend to any other writers out there that if you have the chance to join a critique group or beta-read a fellow author’s work, take it, because you will be growing as a writer yourself in doing so as well as assisting another writer in improving their own work. As I said in my last post: writers are lovely people and who doesn’t want the opportunity to grow whilst helping someone else?

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Right now I’m beta reading a book for one of the other authors in my critique group. I’ve paused all my other usual reading so I can focus fully on this.

Beta reading, for those not familiar with the term, is when an author asks you to read their book before it sees publication. Some authors do it before getting an agent, some before seeking a traditional publisher, some before self-publishing. A beta-reader is a tester of a novel. They read the book and hopefully give feedback on strengths and weaknesses in the text.

Beta readers can be as simple as your mum, or a friend who likes the genre you write in, or they could be someone more critical, like another writer or critique partner.

If you’ve been asked to beta read by a writer in your life feel good about it – that person has just told you that your opinion matters to them. Your feedback can shape the book.

As Uncle Ben said, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Now you’re a beta reader you aren’t just reading for the sheer joy of it (though hopefully you’ll still enjoy it), you’re reading to help your writer friend. They need you to tell them if a character is behaving inconsistently, or if they changed the timeline, or if they generally just confused the heck out of you.

Now don’t crush your author buddy either. They want to know what didn’t work, but they also LOVE to hear what did. If you fell in 2D love with one of the characters, fess up – as long as you don’t go too crazy fan-girl(or boy) over it then the author will feel chuffed that they created a character so realistic and likeable. If you couldn’t put the book down because it had you in a literary stranglehold they might be so happy to hear that they suffer a mild heart attack.

If you’re a beta reader it is a good idea to keep a notepad near-by (or if the writer said you could, write directly on the manuscript) so you can write down thoughts and comments immediately.

Some things you want to keep in mind are:

  • Plot, both the pacing and whether the events are interesting and believable,
  • Characterisation, are the characters interesting and consistent?
  • Do you feel compelled to continue on?

If the author asked you to look at something specific definitely keep that in the forefront of your mind.

If you’re a writer yourself and asked to beta-read chances are your author friend is expecting a more thorough run-down from you than what they expect from their sister and mum. Feel free to ask them more questions, like ‘would you like me to look closely at adverb over-use?’ or ‘do you want me to keep an eye on your speech tags?’. They will let you know what they want and hopefully you can help them polish their work to a glorious shine that makes you so envious you spring back into working on your own novel.

The most important thing to do as a beta-reader is tell the truth. Yes you might hurt your writer’s feelings a bit by saying that their protagonist just acts like an idiot in that scene in the middle of the book, but if you thought that you need to say so. You will not be the only one to notice and question the problem and the last thing you want is for your writer to publish the story with that flaw and receive flak for it from all and sundry on the internet. You can soften the blow by sandwiching it between compliments, but give your honest opinion.

So if the writer in your life asks you to beta read be glad that this person considers you special enough to see and help with the uncut gemstone they’ve been toiling on for years.