I’ve finally gotten all my Beta Reader notes back.
For those of you who don’t know, Beta Readers are a group of hand-selected readers chosen to read the manuscript and report back with notes. In other words, if I’m the Alpha reader, the next layer of readership is the Beta. I chose 5 readers based on these criteria:
- They are readers.
- They are writers, but not of fiction or poetry.
- They have some experience in critique, either as academics, professionals or producers.
- They range in age, gender and sexual orientation. (I could have done better with race, to be sure.)
- I trust their taste.
- I trust their ability to communicate clearly and candidly.
- I trust their ability to finish reading and get me the notes on time.
My beta readers lived up to my expectations. Blessedly, everyone liked the manuscript, even those who didn’t tend to read my genre. I got some really excellent notes from each person, some of which confirmed my suspicions (sex scenes are too long, feminist dialogue is too didactic) and some of which surprised me (my antagonist is perfectly terrible, places where I thought I was overwriting were actually unclear).
A rule of thumb is that if two people give you the same note, seriously check it out and consider making the suggested changes. At the beginning of my rewriting, I may have been too eager to integrate some notes, sending me all over the manuscript editing the crap out of a scene after one reader got back to me, only to regret it and revert to the original scene because of my second reader’s “Perfect!” notes.
Now that I’ve got all five readers’ notes back, I’ve been allowing their opinions to confer things and taking uncorroborated comments in context. My first beta reader, for instance, read the whole ms in small chunks on her commute. Because of this, she said that she forgot about a lot of scenes. This is good info, because I expect much of the public will read the book this way, too. However, does it mean I should rewrite a whole scene to make it “louder” so it’ll be more memorable, particularly if the scene is supposed to be quieter and more contemplative? This reader also said she didn’t remember any of the secondary characters while the rest of my readers all said quite clearly that they loved the secondary characters. I can use her note to ramp them up, perhaps, but I shouldn’t be freaked out that they didn’t stand out to her as much.
All in all, my readers all enjoyed the book, and a couple of them LOVED it. So my greatest of fears has gone on blessedly unconfirmed.
The notes I’m excited to be working with now came from my reader who knows the canon of spec fic pretty well. Because of this, his comment that some of the themes I’m working with are things he’s never seen before thrills me to the core. He also suggested that I flesh out the werewolf mythology better in the book. It’s a great suggestion, and one that I overlooked, because I don’t read a lot of straight-up fantasy. What struck me as unnecessary back story (especially that which I thought to be unnecessary personal research), is actually a convention of the genre and a draw for many fantasy fans. His suggestion that I beef up these aspects of the story for both clarity and entertainment value is terrific.
I have had to do some of the tedious work of finding a particular crutch, namely- dashes. (You see what I did there?) I use dashes in my writing to keep moving quickly. If I pause to assess the proper punctuation, I can derail myself completely when on a writing jag. Of course, the problem is that dashes are the mark of the lazy and the uneducated writer, i.e. what I don’t want to be. COMMAND+F-ing them all has taken me back to the darker days of high school English class.
But the one thing that everyone agreed on, which makes me smile to no end, is that the sex scenes are hot. So, even if this first novel thing doesn’t go so well, I can always take a stab at erotica. I hear it pays better anyway.