Working with Beta Readers

Chapter 8 editingI recently sent my novel out to a group of beta readers. In the past I have begged a few friends to read for me; this time I put out an official request for volunteers on Twitter and the various Facebook groups I belong to. And I was really stoked with the response.

I warned readers from the get go that it would be a short turn around and the dates I wanted it read. In all I got 10 beta readers sign up.

Not everyone was going to love the story but it was a good cross section and I thought it would provide a great range of views.

To make life easier I used Mail Chimp to send it out. That way everyone had the same file and instructions and there wasn’t the chance of leaked email addresses. But I came across a couple of problems.

Firstly, if an email was incorrect and bounced it was then deleted from the list. Thankfully I had downloaded the list before the send and so I could see who was missing but it took me a few days to work out why they were no longer on the list, then track them down and check details.

What I would do in the future is have a section in the list that tells me where I captured the reader from. And I need to check regularly after the email goes out to see that it all went well.

Secondly, Mail Chimp does not like gmail addresses. I remembered vaguely reading this somewhere but although it says it sent the email it doesn’t seem to arrive at the other end. I had to individually send out emails to two on the list as they didn’t get it with everyone else.

But the overall benefit that all the information was kept together and secure made it worthwhile.

Then it was the waiting and waiting for them to come back to me with comments and the like. Although it wasn’t really that much waiting as I had a two week turn around and other things to do while they read.

Once I had most returned I combined all the comments into one document via a fancy trick I picked up for Word. This allowed me to read through and correct as I went with all the comments in one place. Other than the one friend who printed hers out and used a pencil, but that’s ok too (I manually added hers).

 

What I discovered was:

Firstly, not everyone will follow through. There were some non-responders and several after the deadline. It is worth setting a dead line a bit sooner than what you actually need (something to remember for next time).

Secondly, a week was a stupid amount of time to get the responses together and make corrections and send to the proof reader. I was going to need a lot more time to make sure this story was as good as it could be.

Thirdly, everyone reads differently. I had a couple of responses that just picked up the typos and marked where they got a little lost or confused or a sentence didn’t read well. Others found the timeline tricky, the setting not detailed enough, some characters shallow and the plot not thick enough. All of these comments were excellent and raised some really interesting points.

 

What I did with the comments:

After the panic subsided as to how much work I really needed to do on this book, I remembered I had the same experience with my last novel. And clearly I hadn’t learnt from that experience.

I pooled all the comments together and then glanced through them.

Had another panic.

Then, with a deep breath, I took in what they were saying and dissected the novel. I marked out each chapter, the POV, the main conflict and possible problems/issues and the main structural points I should have been seeing.

As I did this some solutions came to mind. Ideas about changes to the plot (mostly small), things characters could do differently to show their thinking better, changes in setting, extra scenes, scenes to delete or change POV.

There was a lot swirling around in my head. But although there was a lot to do I was only looking at what would make this stronger.

 

Where I am now:

I am starting the process of actually rewriting/editing the novel to implement the changes outlined above. Part of this is an edit, either moving scenes around, expanding them or killing them off.  Part of this process is writing, creating new scenes or ideas and fitting them in. I am reviewing the main plot points to make sure they are clear and relevant to my protagonist.

The best piece of advice I have received through all of this is from one of my beta readers, who got it through a course he did.

That is to keep asking myself as I write/edit/plot –

“Why is this scene needed? Why is it needed here?”

I am trying to take that into account as I work through this edit.

 

When will you get to read it?

As I first pulled the comments together I really hoped I could get this work done before Christmas. I need to be realistic about the amount of work required, the reviewing process, proofreading, preparing for publication and so on.

I want you to get the best book I can create, so as I go I’m reviewing my plan and timelines but it looks like early next year at this stage.

 

Beta readers

No matter the comments they are all useful. If you are writing, I would strongly suggest a getting a group of readers to have a look. To make sure it does flow on the page as well as it does in the mind of the writer. And it doesn’t have to cost you. Ask around, you might be surprised who puts their hand up to have a look.

2016 Writing Retreat Report

2016 Wiring RetreatThis year was a disaster – for a start my writing buddy left the cottage, actually went outside, to walk in the fresh air every day, and exercise. I found the break with tradition distressing. And I should have joined her.

But other than that, we actually got quite a lot done. As always, I came away with the feeling that I could have done a little more, but then I did complete what I planned to: the final edit of Raven’s Dawn. It was such a relief to get it finished and ready for beta-readers on my return to the real world.

There were some odd little things that popped up. As I read through the last of it before the final edit on the first day I discovered a problem. I had cut an earlier scene that had a key point that carried through the rest of the series. In a late scene in the book when someone refers to what was said earlier I realised the mistake, for the earlier comment no longer existed. I made a note, found where it use to be in an earlier draft and carried on.

I worked hard through the last edit, moving slowly through each chapter and then revising it as a whole before moving on to the next one. Some only took half an hour or so, others took much longer. But I was happy, the story was working well, the characters appeared on the page as they appeared in my head. Little typos and strange punctuation were tidied up.

And then I swore.

I had come across the same problem. I still hadn’t inserted the conversation into the story to fix my little error. I just needed a couple of lines. I had inserted a new scene with the key characters and so I went back and inserted the required dialogue into that conversation. Re-read. And yes it flowed. Or at least it appeared to.

I finished the edit to elation and fist pumps and a little happy dance that I won’t subject you to again. But I was sure it wasn’t too bad, it might even be good. I have put quite a lot of work into this, although not quite at the pace I could have, but it was a good story and I was happy.

Fingers crossed the beta-readers feel the same.

I realised on that last day of the retreat, that I was so keen to get the work done that I hadn’t even photographed the first day set up as I did every year. But you can be assured that despite my writing buddy’s deviance from tradition, we did sit on the same sides of the kitchen table we did every year, we gravitated to the same couches and despite my offer to change it up, we had our usual rooms (mine musk, hers green).

The kitchen table on the last morning.
The kitchen table on the last morning.

We discussed families and frustrations, American grammar and whether we should be writing toward a particular continent; as well as other projects that would bring in the cash so that we could live our dream and write full time.

Despite talk of trying somewhere different, we feel comfortable there. It is our own little hideaway, that isn’t quite as deeply buried in the bush as I originally thought, but it is distraction free. I didn’t have to worry about the kids or the cats, the ballet exams and the piles of washing. I could concentrate on just the writing and that is what I did. I may have consumed too much sugar and maybe a little more wine than my usual weekend. But I got to live in my pj’s for a few days, sleep well, soak in the bath or simply tie back my crazy curls and sit on the couch with the laptop.

We are going back next year. We’ve already decided. Although, my mother threatened my life is she had to supervise participation in another classical ballet exam; we might just need to double check the dates before we book.