Friday, August 12, 2011

Beta Reader Approach

Fellow ROW'er and Author Nadja Notariani is 20 19 18 days away from her P-day.  An apt reference for one's planned day of publication because it often seems like a battle just to get there.  She writes about this a bit in her latest update.

Apart from wanting to wish her well, I also wanted to chime in on my views about beta readers.  In her post, she asks: "What criteria do you have for selecting betas?"  I had a rather long comment all prepped and ready, but things started getting finicky.  For whatever reason, it wouldn't let me log in so that I could leave my comment under my name.  I didn't really want to be anonymous.  That, combined with the length of the comment, made a decision for me: Put it in a post, instead!

So, here's my approach to earlier feedback readers...

I have alphas and betas. I always wonder where the "alpha" goes. I guess most writers consider themselves the alpha and then whomever they share the story with immediately after as the betas?  Well I have both.

My alphas read pretty much as I write. It works for me. I have three right now. I generally look for "readers" over "writers." I want people who are well-read in the genre I'm writing in, that aren't afraid to be honest with me. That simple. I want to know their likes and dislikes. It's up to me to interpret these into "writer speak." I see a lot of advice to the contrary out there. About how you need good alpha/betas that know how to tell you what's wrong as a writer. I think I'm clever enough to play interpreter. Maybe I'm not, who knows.

My true betas get somewhere around the third draft. Again, I choose readers over writers.  Some sort of background in the English language is a plus, but not a concrete requirement.  The more eyes, the better.  I want people that are going to tell me "this is too much like x," or even just "boooring."

Readers are who I'm trying to sell to, not writers.  I understand how having a writerly alpha/beta can help, but, to me, success as an author starts and ends with pleasing the reader.  Relying on things like critique groups can also hurt you too, as there may be a tendency to edit your voice out or other pitfalls.  Good feedback readers can definitely be effective, but, oh, the perils of a poor one.

Also, you can have a totally air-tight work of art, great prose and all that... that doesn't sell.  Don't forget that at the core, as a fiction writer, you need to be a storyteller first.  The writing is a close second, but writing without story is a fish out of water.

Then, at the end... copyediting. Yaaay.

P-day is a harrowing experience, especially the first time. At some point, you have to come to grips with, no matter how much time you spend on it, you're going to put something out there that is NOT perfect. It's just the nature of the beast. I'll bet even Stephen King still finds errors in some of his books and facepalms...

My advice would be, after you send your draft out, wait until you have all the feedback from your editors/readers. Write something else in the meantime. Make sure you give yourself a little distance. Then, buckle down hard for a week (or 20 days) with all the notes and revisions. Knock 'em out, then let the birdie fly! Don't look back, start on the next project.  Learn the lessons experience wants to teach you, and then apply them to the next story.
That's where I'm coming from, anyway.


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