Beta Readers: Choose Tough Ones

I just heard back from my first beta reader concerning my newest novel MOSES THE SINGER. She’s ready to answer my questions.

Am I terrified? Of course. She is the first person in the world to read this manuscript after myself. I have five other people working their way through it right now.

Is it killing me that she gave no indication if she like or hated it?  Yes.

Am I glad she didn’t? YES. As much as I hate it, I want beta readers to be tough, critical, fair, and blunt.

Here’s why:

  1. Beta readers are not seeing the final product yet. Why I have done a lot of revision and editing on the manuscript, it hasn’t gone through the final editing process yet. Beta readers are meant to help you get it ready for the final push for the book.
  2. I need unbiased eyes. I wouldn’t send a manuscript to anyone unless I was happy with it, but I have no idea what a reader might think of the story. If it sucks, or if it has a major flaw, I need to know. The writer is sometimes too close to his or her own story to see the warts.
  3. I want to get better. Fawning praise will not help me improve my writing. Serious reflection and tough questions will.

When I choose a beta reader, I choose people who are voracious readers. I choose people who love literature and are well versed on all types of quality writing. When possible, I choose English teachers or people who are writers or aspiring writers themselves. I choose people whom I respect and have shown a passion for literary criticism to one degree or another.

My beta readers are tough, and I want them to be blunt, no matter how much it might hurt my fragile writer’s ego. So here goes, wish me luck, and let’s hope the following criticism will make the end product that much better. The end product means the book in question AND my writing in general.

PS: Just so we’re clear, I am okay for beta readers to tell me how much they liked it, too. Praise has its place. So, feel free.

 

A Meeting with a Beta Reader and More Genre Issues

I had a wonderful opportunity yesterday to sit down and discuss my new, unreleased novel with one of my beta readers yesterday. He provided some terrific insight in regards to characterization and novel pacing. He even shared with me that he felt that the novel didn’t feel like a novel in some regards. He kept using describing it as a TV show, something fast-paced and visual. It was an interesting description at the very least.

Beta readers provide terrific feedback into how a novel plays out in the realm of the reader. By the time I have polished a novel enough to want to send it to a beta reader, I’ve gone over the text so many times that I begin to be numb to it and what it is actually saying. The meanings of the novel become obscured to me by the minutia of the details I pay attention to when I’m revising. So this has become an invaluable step to see what others think.

As we concluded this fruitful back and forth about the novel, I informed him that I had one more question: how would he categorize it in regards to genre.

Honestly, this was a sneaky underhanded question because I needed his advice since I am clueless how to categorize this story. So he hesitated and said that that was a difficult question. I know. Then he said:

It’s not a fantasy. Though it has two fantastical characters.

It’s partially historical fiction, though the time periods are contemporary and 1977 and 1989, so not really historical fiction.

It’s a time travel story, but it’s not science fiction.

So what it is?

I HAVE NO IDEA!

Boy, do I hate categorizing my writing. The beta reader complimented me for creating something that was unique, which doesn’t easily categorize itself. He also mentioned that he’d never really seen anything quite like it before, which is difficult to do in this day and age.

So, all that is great, but how do I market it to readers. Let me use a phrase I’ve used before.

I HAVE NO IDEA!

“A Man too Old for a Place too Far.”  Coming in 2017. I’m just not sure where it will be listed yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned by Re-Re-Writing My New Novel

A while back, I posted how I decided to re-write my new novel which I had previously re-written and re-vised enough. (or so I thought) But once I started getting some feedback from readers, I realized that I had made some mistakes, and regardless of how painful and time-consuming it would be, I needed to re-re-write the entire novel again!

That was a month ago that I decided to do that. So here I am, a month later with a completely different manuscript. I’m happy it only took me a month to rewrite it because it was quite extensive. Here’s what I changed:

  • I added four brand new chapters.
  • The length of the novel increased from 86,000 words to 99,000.
  • The tone of the novel is much improved.
  • I added backstory to all four main characters.
  • I completely changed the ending.
  • I overhauled the relationships in the story.
  • I drastically changed wordings to make it more like me.
  • I deleted huge passages.
  • I improved silly dialogues.
  • I basically gutted it. (and it needed it)

And while I didn’t necessarily enjoy doing all of the above, it’s what had to be done if I want to be a serious author. I’ve always told myself that I will not accept shortcuts and this novel was the first one which really tried my patience. But I’m happy I fought through it, and readers will be happy too. It’s much better. Even if a reader still doesn’t like it, it’s MUCH better. If they don’t like it now, they would have HATED it then.

It wasn’t a terrible novel before. It just wasn’t my novel. What I learned is this:

I have to take the readers into account. Yes, it’s my novel. I drive it. I create it. But when I’m too caught up in the “me” aspect, I can lose sight of my own voice. I can make my writing sound different from what people expected. That’s not always a good thing. Trying new things is one thing, but trying to be someone you’re not is completely different. I righted the ship.

Don’t rush. Don’t push out a product just to meet a deadline. Hey, we’re indie authors. We make our own deadlines. Don’t impose false deadlines which aren’t going to be helpful in the long run. The story is what’s important. The story should tell you what the deadline is.

Listen to your beta readers. I hate to say this because it sounds like I’m patting myself on the back. I’m not. I’m actually kicking myself. It would have been easy to get defensive with  my beta readers and tried to explain why I did such and such in my earlier drafts, but that wouldn’t have proved anything. Only that I’m stubborn and short-sighted.

Be humble. Take criticism. Learn. Improve. Strive.

These are words I have told myself to take to heart as an indie author.

Listen and learn.

I think I have, and my novel is much better for it.

Re-Writing a “Finished Book” is Actually Quite Fun

A few days ago, I posted how after receiving feedback from some beta readers, I decided to do a complete overall of my newest novel.

I was dreading this, actually, thinking that it would be a complete drag to watch chapters be gutted, characters be re-written, and storylines be overhauled.

But I was wrong. I’m rather enjoying it. I feel like I’ve re-invented my creative voice on this novel, it has led me on a new mission of discovery. That’s why I write – the creative process – the piecing of things together – so to re-find my voice in the story is quite encouraging.

With each chapter, I get to discover what I need to change because of the new storyline. It’s like re-chiseling a sculpture to make it more vivid and interesting.

So far, I’ve added one completely new chapter that introduces a new character only mentioned in a cursory fashion in the old book.

Second, I’ve completely re-defined a number of the relationships, making certain problems more subtle, leaving more to the imagination and less obvious.

I re-characterized a couple of my main characters. I discovered some shallow and unconvincing dialogue which I’ve changed to better reflect the new emotional state of my character.

And all of this is just for starters. I have a long way to go, and I’m sure there will be many new discoveries and creative choices which I’ll be able to make.

I’ve always heard authors talk about how “painful” it is to slice and dice something you’ve written, but I’m finding the entire process to be enjoyable. Hopefully because I see how much better the story will be for the hard work.

So a delay is in the works, but it will be worth it in the long run.

 

Indie Authors: Are You Listening to Your Beta Readers?

I’ve recently run into something as an author I previously haven’t encountered: Beta readers who are less than enthusiastic about my new novel.

In my four previous novels, the reviews were excellent. They bought into what I was doing, gave good insight, but were always very positive. And these aren’t “yes-people” either. They were being honest.

How do I know they were being honest, because of the less than stellar feedback I’ve gotten so far about novel #5.

This novel grew out of a desire to tell a story. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it, so I dug deep and took a year to write this story. This is the story that felt right to me. It’s the story I wanted to tell or rather I NEEDED to tell. So I wrote it the way I felt it should have been written. But there is one thing that I really did not take into account: the reader. How would my readers, who have come to expect certain things, think about my new novel which was somewhat of a departure from my other writings. At first, I thought I didn’t care what readers thought because I told the story I needed to tell.

But I was wrong.

I may have written the story I needed to write, but I didn’t write the story my readers want to read, and after pondering their feedback over the last couple of weeks, I have realized that they are absolutely right.

It’s not that everything is wrong with the story. It isn’t. But the tone is off, the characterizations are off, and there’s more I could have done with the story-line.

So here’s a few things I’ve learned.

  1. Don’t push a story to meet a false deadline.
  2. Swallow your pride and listen to your beta readers.
  3. Use the feedback to re-fuel your creativity on the story.

Number three above is where I’m at now. A couple weeks ago, I was finished with this story, thinking I had exhausted all angles, and, frankly, sick and tired of the story itself. I wanted to move on to my next one.

But these last couple of days, I have a renewed vigor towards doing this right. I’ve started a massive re-write and re-structuring that will develop the story in completely new ways. I never would have gotten to this point if I didn’t write it a certain way in the first place. My bad writing choices the first time around let to feedback which has led to completely new ideas that are going to bolster the story and take it new directions. Good directions. Creative directions.

I am once again excited by this story!

So thank you, readers. You are helping me craft a much better story. Now I can’t wait to finish the re-writes and see what they think.

My Novel is Finished. I Hate This Next Part.

I finished the third revision of my new novel, “Which Half David.” It hasn’t gone through the final editing process yet, so it technically isn’t done, done, as in done, complete, not going to touch it again.

But it is finished as in I need to get some insight into what I have here. Yes, that means one thing: beta readers.

Beta readers also means another obvious thing: I have to send them my book and they are actually going to be reading those words.

That fact sends shivers through me because I literally have NO idea what I have in this novel. I am much conflicted over it. It’s a novel I felt compelled to right. Might be the most open and honest work I’ve ever written, but I have no idea if anyone else in the world will find it even remotely interesting.

It could be a snooze-fest! I hate boring books and never want to write one, but I’ve also come to realize that I have no idea what is boring to other people. I know what’s boring to me. That’s easy. But others? I have no clue.

I’ve had some bad reviews before, but generally, I’ve been very pleased with how my audience has received my works. But every artist has a mis-step or stumble along the way, right? Is this my stumble? Or my flailing fall off the cliff?  What if this book just isn’t very good?

I hate having these ridiculous conversations with myself. It does help to write about them. I guess that’s why I took up blogging because it’s a way to talk to myself about my inner writing struggles – which are tremendous, by the way.

Okay, it’s a simple point. If I want to know what others think, I have to send it to them, right? There is no other way, correct?

No one else in the world has ever read the words of my new novel yet. That’s a beautiful thing in one sense. It’s purely me. It’s as pure as it gets.

But I guess it’s time to contaminate it with the thoughts of others. After all, I can’t make a book sale of blank pages. I need to fill them. I did. So now it’s time to release them and forget about it.

Okay. I’m glad we had this talk. Beta readers, your emails are coming to see if you want to check out my latest. Thanks in advance, even if you hate it.

 

Ready to Move On, But Another Revision Awaits

I’m a firm believer in letting a finished work sit for a while before giving it its final revision prior to its final editing.

But there is a problem that arises as well – or at least it does for me – and that is my brain has already moved onto other interests.

What to do?

I’m referring to my fourth novel, A Love Story for a Nation, which I actually really like. It’s quite different from any novel I’ve ever written, and those of you who know me, may be stunned to find out it doesn’t even contain the world Vietnam. It doesn’t contain any reference to any country in the world. It’s unique in that way.

I finished the first draft of it in August 2014. I took the next couple of months revising it until finally in October I sent it out to some beta readers. I have since received some feedback and now am ready to put it through the grinder one more time — except for the fact that I don’t feel like it!

In all that time that has passed, I’ve moved onto other ideas. I’ve written 2/3 of my fifth novel. Just the last couple of days I’ve been struck with the idea of a new play – I came up with the premise while watching “Into the Woods” in the cinema. I’ve also started production on a musical I’m directing for May. And now out of the past, comes my 4th novel, hobbling towards me like an orphan, reaching out in anguish asking to be brought to a finish once and for all so it can be released this summer.

Hmmmph!

If only I worked as a full-time writer!

Back to reality.

The grind of authorship can take no shortcuts. It must be done. I have always told myself that I will not release a book half-heartedly.

It needs one more revision. I need to suck it up and do it. My other creative ideas will have to wait.

So here I go.