Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beta Readers


Courtesy by Dreamstine

Photo Courtesy of Dreamstime

After my writing class, my instructor, Jill Santopolo, left me with some major plot suggestions that I hope will give my plot and characters more depth. So that’s what I did in May and June. Major overhaul.

The problem I found with changing the beginning, middle and ending (don’t laugh!) is that everything got all jumbled. So when I finished, I wasn’t sure if the story flowed. Did the characters develop? Did I plant those clues properly? And that love triangle- does it work?

Beats me.

Why? Because I was too close to the story. I needed to step away from it and put it in someone else’s hands.
That’s where my Beta readers came in. My husband read it (and believe me, he isn’t an easy duck to please) and one of my writing friends and I switched manuscripts. I knew she’d be a good person to read my manuscript because she’s tough. No sugar talking going on there.

So this summer I took a break from my WIP, read like fifteen YA and MG books, and read my friend’s WIP (which by the way, was my favorite book I read this summer. Not kidding. It’s good).

The great thing about having someone read your book is they can:
1. Get a feel for the book as a whole rather than just looking at individual chapters.
2. Look at character development
3. Find all the cracks in your book’s floorboards
4. Point out the sags in the middle
5. Axe all unnecessary parts
6. Tell you what you need to do next

And vice versa goes for reading someone else’s book. I learned so much from this process. Yeah, there’s a trust factor involved. But if you can find the right person, it’s priceless.

Now it’s August and I’m opening my manuscript again after giving it a break and seeing it with new eyes. I know my story will be stronger for the process and I believe I’ve become a better writer along the way too.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nandini 08.18.09 at 5:54 am

D’you find you need fresh beta readers for the revision? I’ve been wondering about that … Had some brave souls read my 1st draft over summer and need to buckle down for revisions as soon as the kids go back to school (14 DAYS!!!). Wonder if it will read the same way to them since they’ve seen an earlier version. Hmmm.

Paul Michael Murphy 08.19.09 at 9:36 pm

Great post. I just received my story back from my Beta readers and you’re right–they saw things I hadn’t seen even though I’ve read the thing probably fifty times. One thing to add to your list: Overuse of words. I must have used the word “just” 100 times, but it took someone else to point it out to me.

Carla Ulbrich 08.20.09 at 1:17 pm

another great blog, Debbie! I’m so glad i’m following you on twitter. You tweet links are always so helpful.

My husband was/ is also my first beta reader and some stuff he’s read twice.

My book is under contract, so i had 2 editors- a copy editor and some other kind of editor (it’s my first “real” book, so I don’t know all the lingo) who caught all the typos and grammatical badness (case in point) and made suggestions about tone, rewrites, etc. But when i re-read it with fresh eyes 5 months after submitting it, I saw a lot I wanted to change.

I also had a peer/ friend read it because she is also a funny songwriter, and gets me, knows my voice, and reads a *lot* so she knows a good book when she sees one.

I would say yes to having new beta readers for each major revision. Because i had a long break between submitting the book and getting it back, my husband got 2 reads. but if i asked him for a 3rd read of the whole book, i think it would get confusing to him – or anyone. But repeated reads of smaller sections are OK, i think.

Stirling 08.21.09 at 6:04 pm

Hi–found my way over here from the Blueboards, and just wanted to say I’m glad I’ve had my theory confirmed–that I need to rotate my beta readers. I have six or eight people who want to read my ms (who I trust to do so and respect their reading opinions) but I’m only going to let two read it per revision. So I’ll always have fresh eyes.

So thanks! It’s nice to know I’m not crazy. I mean, probably not.

Christina 08.21.09 at 8:08 pm

Nandini- Since this is my first time doing this, I’m learning as I go. But I would say that if you want to get impressions on how the plot unfolds or how the characters’ develop, then I’d get fresh readers. This way they don’t have any preconceived ideas.

Paul- Oh I know what you mean about that four letter word ‘just’. I just love using that word too. :)

Carla- Yes, it can be hard finding people who are willing to take time to read your book. And I think it’s also hard to find someone that you can trust and will provide you with valuable feedback too.

Christina 08.26.09 at 12:11 am

Stirling- No! You aren’t crazy! Or maybe all of us writers are crazy together. Glad you found us here.

Andrea 08.29.09 at 4:47 am

Beta readers are a great idea! Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the “big picture” works, and whether the story as a whole is satisfying emotionally. For me, the reader’s emotional reaction is key. Fresh eyes are especially valuable for this, because new readers don’t know what to expect from the story.

“Just” is one of my overused words too. A close second is “But”.

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