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.


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.


Observations on Revising

One strange observation I have had as I am doing a second read-through revision on my third novel is that all of my writing is not created equally.

It appears that sometimes I have the muse hanging directly over me, spoon-feeding me the words to say, while other times I feel like I’m just trying to pass my 12th grade grammar class.

Uneven, might be the right word.

So this means one thing: all writing sessions are not the same.

Some days the words flow flawlessly off the keys, coherent, relevant, interesting, and insightful. The grammar is impeccable and the word choice dead-on.

Then with other writing samples I scratch my head trying to figure out what in the world I was thinking when I wrote that. Wrong words, misspellings, missing words, repetition of words, unimaginative structures, blah, blah, blah …

What makes the difference?

Perhaps on some days I’m just more cognitively aware of things?

Perhaps on some days a certain part of the story is more interesting and I’m more engaged?

Perhaps on some days everything just ‘clicks’ for no particular reason?

It’s impossible to know.

I guess this is part of the ups-and-downs of being a writer. Some days it’s remarkably easy, and other days require massive revisions and re-writes.

But I’ve realized, the more that I can identify my own bad writing, the better it will ultimately make me. And that is exactly what I’m striving for. Not perfection – which is unattainable – but excellence.

Here’s to revision #3!