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#WriteTip: Beta Readers

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When I first started writing, I didn’t understand what beta readers were. I’d read fan fiction and there would be a note from the author thanking their beta readers. It seemed unnecessary to me, or at least more tedious than it was worth. However, since I started taking writing more seriously, my opinion has completely changed. Beta readers are the most important part of this process. I will never again try to publish something without submitting to beta readers.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are people who read your book when you think it’s ready. You can do this before or after editing (I have seen people do it both ways). I typically do it after editing because often the beta readers get distracted by all of the typos and can’t focus fully on the story.

Beta readers are NOT editors. They may also be skilled editors, but that is not what they are doing when they read your book. They are only supposed to read your story and help you perfect the story itself.

Who Should Be a Beta Reader?

Assembling your beta reading team is up to you, but there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. You must be open to critique. Commit to making the story the best it can possibly be. It’s your baby and you owe it to your story to do what is best for the novel, not protect your ego. You may hear feedback you aren’t going to like. Someone might hate a character, or suggest you delete an entire arc of plot. They may say things that inadvertently hurt your feelings. It is important to remember that they represent your potential readers. You don’t have to accept every single thing they say, but you should at least be listening.
  2. Your book is not published yet, so choose someone you trust. A despicable human being might take your manuscript and publish it as their own. You could probably fight that and win, but it’s best to just avoid it. Even then, it may be a good idea to back up the authenticity of your work. Any timestamped material would help you with this. One way to do that is to print it and mail it to yourself. The post office timestamps the envelope.
  3. Choose people who will honestly criticize. You want people who will like your story, but you also need feedback. If everyone who reads it is just going to tell you it’s awesome (or awful) without offering any input, your book won’t be as perfect as it can be.
  4. Choose people who would like your genre. Don’t beg a hard sci-fi reader to read your romance novel. They aren’t going to enjoy it or even appreciate it properly, so they won’t give you meaningful feedback. They also won’t have a great understanding of what the story should be like, or the experience reading your genre you need them to have.
  5. Choose varying levels of readership. I have several layers of readers.
    1. The first people I submit my novel to will be the easy-to-please readers who will mostly tell me they love it. They can help me find the major flaws but not much else, and that’s fine. I know the novel is worth pursuing if it makes it past them. Family members may be good choices.
    2. The next people I submit the novel to will be people who don’t really want to hurt my feelings, but who read and write in my genre. They will help me fine tune mechanical devices and pinpoint necessary/unnecessary passages. They will critique the structure of my story as well as the plot. These are typically my closer writing friends.
    3. The last set of people I submit to will be readers/writers in my genre who are also writers and have no interest sparing my feelings. They are usually more removed friends who are incredibly picky about what they read and know exactly what to look for.
    4. Finally, after I have taken the first three beta readers into account and made necessary changes, I have a final set of readers that represent the broader fan base. Basically, I want to make sure I can please 5-10 readers and determine if the first three readers were too unique. A fluke. This is an added layer from me, as not doing this the first time led to me publishing a slightly disappointing scene in my first book.

How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?

As few or as many as you want, really. The more you ask, though, the longer you will have to wait to be finished. Reading your book might take a long time. However, if you don’t choose enough people, you might not get enough feedback.

What Should They Look For?

Beta Readers should be helping you shine up your story. Ask them to focus on muddy/unclear parts, point out what they love and what they hate, and especially flag what confuses them.

I linked this blog post on our blog, but am quoting it here:

1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”

Lastly, thank your beta readers for their help. The work they do for you is incredibly important to the success of your novel. 

Special thanks to all of my friends and beta readers, even the ones who upset me. I try to keep my frustration to myself. Feeling angry is often just my gut reaction to the work that has to go into a story to fix it. That’s just me raging in general that I messed up, not me getting angry at anyone in particular.

Because honestly, the work that ACHILLEA needed (and still needs) to prepare it for publication was daunting and exhausting, but it is going to be worth it when it is finished, I promise!

Thanks for reading!


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#SundayReview Lee Child and Jack Reacher

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I apologize for the fact this was not uploaded yesterday. I attended a family get together and then I displaced a bone in my wrist and had to reset and rest it. It’s fine, happens quite frequently as I broke my wrist a few years ago. I popped the bone back in and wore my splint for the rest of the day. It’s all good now! XD Anyway. This week I’d like to review the book Worth Dying For by Lee Child. Actually, it’s not really just a look at that one book, more a review of Jack himself.

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Author, Lee Child, created Jack Reacher as the lead character in a long running series of action novels. Next month will see the 21st Jack Reacher instalment–Night School, and I can’t wait to read it! Two of the books have been made into major movies, the first entitled Jack Reacher was based on the novel, One Shot. The second, due for release this month, is based on the book Never Go Back and is one of my favorite stories of the Jack Reacher series. While some dismiss the movies because they can’t accept Tom Cruise as Jack, I rather enjoyed the first instalment. As I often do with the books, there are some things you have to just believe, in order to enjoy them to their fullest. I bought all the books in paperback then replaced them with hardbacks when I fell in love with them, and Jack.

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Jack Reacher is an ex military cop. He served his time in the army as his father did before him. Blessed with a large athletic build and lightning reflexes, he is a stubborn man–one who seldom does anything outwith his own decision. He is a drifter, a traveller and he never stops roaming and hitchhiking across America. He goes to places which interests him then moves on to the next–but, not before finding trouble somewhere along the way. He has very few belongings, no bags or cases travel with him. The clothes on his back are never laundered, they are replaced with brand new store bought items when he feels they need replacing–usually after a few days wear. He stays wherever he can get a room and isn’t too picky about where he lays his head so long as there is a constant flow of good, strong coffee.

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No matter in what situation Jack finds himself, he always has a way out of it. Whether he is picked up by police or lands himself in the middle of a gun fight, Jack just needs to use that intelligent brain of his and brute force to find a way out of the situation. He has faced many a villain in his time. From mob bosses to serial killers, Jack has met and fought them all. He has survived bullets, bombs, crashes, falls, beatings and breaking of bones. The guy has scars all over his skin, one of which was caused by another soldier’s jaw bone which ripped open his stomach when the soldier was blown up in a bomb attack. Seriously, Jack is like the Wolverine of the Lee Child universe–you can beat him up, blow him up, and he will heal and come back angrier and stronger than before. He fights like a titan, delivering punches which could potentially tear the head off a person in reality. For many of the books, you have to regard Reacher–not as a man–but as a superhero, a man with preternatural powers and therefore read the books with some suspended judgement as they can at times be so out there in terms of believability. But this is what makes them so fun.

Lee Child created a character who is more human than any other human. Stronger and more capable than anyone he ever meets. He senses injustice like a dog smells food and often feels such righteous indignation over situations he stumbles over that he places himself in danger to right all wrongs. The man is larger than life and bigger than most. A monster to some and a warrior angel to others.

But Reacher is still human and that is where the best of the books comes in.

The reason I chose Worth Dying For, is not only because it is one of my favorites, nor even because it’s one of only four in the series within an actual story arc, but because we get to see a slightly less God-like version of Jack.

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In the book previous–61 Hours– Jack was injured so badly he can barely use his arms. It was a miracle he survived that book at all. He is tired, worried, looking for a place to rest and recuperate. He meets a doctor in a bar of the new town he visits. The doc is stinking drunk when he receives a call from a woman who has a nose bleed. After saying he won’t attend, Reacher reminds the doctor of his moral obligation and oath as a practitioner, then eventually drives the man to the patient in the doctor’s own car.

So begins one of the darker Jack Reacher books. The villains in Worth Dying For are not clearly defined to begin with. We know they are bad in the way they treat the town’s folk. Selfish and vengeful for some misdeed handed to them many years previous. And they have the town’s folk fully controlled, with contracts and threats and their army of pumped-up bad boys.

Jack should just walk away, this is none of his business and he is in no condition to fight. But then, Jack often inserts himself into other people’s lives and business. How he gets away with it, I don’t know. He just does. Maybe he is just there at the right time and people accept his help because at that particular point in their lives they are on their last nerve and have nothing left to lose.

It takes Jack a while to uncover the truth, and when he does, it is a real doozy. Unlike most of the other Reacher novels, Worth Dying For has a truly dark and seedy tale. It is a tale which many people face every day, and one which everyone prays they never encounter. By the end of the book I held a new appreciation for Jack. I felt chills down my spine at what he had uncovered. It’s not often a book can make me question humanity in the way this one did. There is only one other of the Reacher series which affected me so much–Make Me, another one of my faves.

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Both these books took us to a whole other level of evil and Jack found himself almost over his head in trouble. His thought process is unquestionable, his righteousness undeniable, but he is not the larger-than-life unconquerable hero in either of them. He gets hurt, he hurts back. He falls behind then struggles to catch up. He makes mistakes and he makes others pay for them.

Jack is human, and not always a very nice one, nor a very healthy one. It’s almost sad to see Jack in such a way, but he really isn’t a nice guy. I certainly wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of an argument with him. So why do I like him so damned much? Why do the Jack Reacher novels sell so well? Why do so many love Jack and wish he was real?

Because, Jack is a superhero. He is larger than life. And no matter how unbelievable the stories might be, we need him to be the hero. Everyone loves a hero, even one as broken and damaged as Jack Reacher. Perhaps it’s because we wish there were more folk like him. Travelling warriors who will make wrongs right, and put the baddies out of commission. Like a larger, dirtier, better and human Littlest Hobo, (if you remember the old tv series) Jack just makes things, right. A large brutish thug with questionable morals who does the business no one else will dirty their hands with. A hero. A superman. This is why we love Jack Reacher so much, and why when a new book or movie of the series is about to be released, we all scramble to reread the books in time to catch up. 😉
You can read more about Jack and his creator Lee Child here on the official site. If you are interested in reading any of the Reacher series, I recommend starting with the first; Killing Floor. It is a good introduction to Jack, and you can travel with him as he wanders America in search of some sort of peace.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

 

Reponse to Frankie’s Vid

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Frankie’s video made me need to say things! So in this video I talk about:

  • My works in progress (fanfiction)
  • Posting all at once vs. chapter-by-chapter (fanfiction)
  • The beauty and strength of fanfiction.
  • Posting reviews
  • Work/career things
  • “Writing Rules”
  • Just wriiiiite.

What it all comes down to is that I have faith in the power of imagination, and I think the more one constrains it, the worse the end result. If you’re an artist of any kind… just let go. Create.

Also, I decided not to post my 50SoG opinion. I’ll keep it to myself for now. 🙂

Head Things #amwriting

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I kept it under 10 minutes this time! That’s an accomplishment!

In this video I’ll tell you about my mini vacation and how unproductive I was. Also, my brain hurts.

Photo on 2-1-15 at 11.43 AM #2

My new Facebook Page for my hat shop: https://www.facebook.com/ImpoverishedAuthor

Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ImpoverishedAuthor

Query Letters

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Today I whine about losing half of my job, mope a little, and discuss query letters.

Also, #ZappaTheDipshitDog makes an appearance. She’s my adorable, cuddly puppy who is REALLY dumb. You can follow that hashtag on twitter, if you want. She’ll make an appearance occasionally.

Query Samples: http://www.charlottedillon.com/QuerySamples.html

Writer’s Digest “Successful Queries” series: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

Query Pet Peeves: http://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/query-letter-pet-peeves-agents-speak/

If you want help with your query/writing, etc… you should join a writing/critique group or make some good friends. If you’d like for ME to help you, I’m open to that. Disclaimer: I’m not published, but I’ll do my best. Also, I won’t go easy on you. XD But that’s what you want, right?

Another lesson I learned early: Get a thick skin. This industry is a nonstop barrage of feedback, critique, and rejection.