It’s my turn to post an excerpt at Booklover’s Bench this week, so if you’d like a look at a snippet from Saving Scott, head on over.
I’ve been working on polishing my manuscript for Jinx’s story, still untitled, which is the 5th book in my Blackthorne, Inc. series. I tried something new this time: I used beta readers. I first learned about these “first readers” back when I was reading Highlander fan fiction, and someone put out a call for people willing to look at their stories before they went public with them.
Beta readers are different from my critique partners. My crit partners get each chapter as I finish it, and they point out the obvious errors such as typos, and they also let me know if I’m stretching credibility too far (it IS fiction, though), or if they spot problems with characterization or flaws in logic. Normally, after we get to ‘the end’, I go through looking for the usual culprits of overused words, more typos (they sneak in whenever you shut the computer off), flow, transitions and all-around tightening—everything you think you’ve nailed the first time, but could be better.
This time, in between my first pass with on-screen reading and my hard copy edits (which I talked about here), I sent the entire manuscript to two readers, both of whom have read my books and have been active, either on the blog, on my Facebook page, or with email. After all, I’ve got an ego, and why would I go out seeking people who’ve said they don’t like what I write!
These are some of the questions I asked of my beta readers:
Are the characters consistent and believable? Do you feel a connection to them?
Do you notice any inconsistencies, either in this book or with something you remember from other Blackthorne, Inc. books?
Are you confused anywhere?
Do you think there are scenes/sections that are slowing the pace?
When they finished, both said they enjoyed the book (there’s that ego thing again), but both had completely different sets of comments. One also pointed out typos (I told you they sneak in when you’re not looking) and some confusion about character names—and rightly so, as when I went back to look, I discovered I’d been inconsistent in the use of Jinx’s undercover name in several chapters. I didn’t pick up on it when I read it myself, since I knew who I was talking about. Then there was the case of the disappearing duct tape—the characters wrists were bound, but I never showed the tape being removed. Good catch.
My other beta reader took a more “organic” approach, telling me where my characters seemed to be ‘out of character,’ but also pointed out a missing gun.
What did I learn from this? First, that it’s always a good idea to have as many sets of eyes on a manuscript as possible. While we trust our editors to catch things, sometimes things sneak by. Case in point: In my first Blackthorne, Inc. book, When Danger Calls, I introduced the head of the company, Horace Blackthorne. However, despite going through two different editors, plus re-reads of my own, it wasn’t until I got the ARCs that I noticed that the first time we met Horace, he was Horace BlackSTONE.
Next, every reader is different, and you have to learn that you’ll never please all of them. Reading reader reviews brings this home—big time. I had a recent review that called one of my books “boring.” Ouch. But then, that same book received a starred review from a major review publication, and was a finalist in a contest, and many of the reviews were much more positive, so other readers liked it.
Will I use beta readers for my next book? Definitely. In fact, I’ll try to have more, and ask more questions. And one thing I’d liked to have done this time around, but didn’t have time—or know exactly where to find them—would be to have at least one reader who hasn’t read my series. I try to make sure they all stand alone, and it would be nice to have a first-timer’s opinion. Between critique partners and beta readers, would I consider skipping paying a professional editor to edit my book? Never!
What about you? Have you ever been a beta reader? Or, if you’re a writer, have you used them?
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society