Better with a beta? During my early writerly years, I was too chicken to allow other people to read my manuscripts before I sent them off to publishers for their appraisal. What if the person thought my story complete rubbish? Who could I send it to who might appreciate the genre or sub-genre of my novel? How could I bear the mortification of rejection?
It’s only recently that I’ve ventured into the realms of sending out my manuscripts to beta readers, and in becoming one myself. For years, I was definitely the quintessentially ‘I want to be alone’ Greta Garbo type of author. Raise your hand if, as a writer, you’ve had similar moments?
Some authors immediately launch into being a member of a writers group. They become very used to the give and take of sharing parts of their work, and then eventually their completed manuscripts. I don’t think I’ll ever manage to do that, though I’m now taking first steps towards sharing, having had the grand total of 2 beta readers go over what is to become the December release of After Whorl- Bran Reborn, the second in my Celtic Fervour series of historical romantic adventures. Those 2 beta readers have made me realise that it’s sometimes good to embark on new pathways and share my work. So, am I still out there – an island alone adrift in a vast ocean? Or am I closer to shore?
I’ve always loved this very old poem, written in 1624, by the English poet- John Donne.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
― John Donne, No Man Is An Island
The basic meaning of the poem being that no man thrives alone when isolated from others.
I’m proud now to have taken those first steps towards sharing, but realise I’m still tippy-toeing. What I definitely want from my beta readers is a true and honest opinion, yet did I use the ‘beta reading service’ properly when I sent them the exact same version as I submitted to my publisher? Not really – though in my defence I only thought about acquiring beta readers when After Whorl- Bran Reborn was at the final draft stages. In future, will I be able to send out early drafts of my work? I have my doubts about that, since I make so many changes to my manuscripts along the way that I’d be constantly emailing beta readers to ‘scrap that and don’t read that version that I’ve just sent you five minutes ago’. I know I’m still to greedy about guarding the mish-mash along the way.
At the opposite end of the scale, my own recent foray as a beta reader has been very salutary and very painful. I’ve been finding it very difficult to separate the content of the story from the execution of it – the essential function of the beta reader being to focus on the content. What has been happening is that as I read through the work all the spelling, grammatical and syntactical errors jump out at me (I’m blaming the ex-teacher syndrome). Having now gone through the full publisher editing process with 5 of my own novels, I find that I’m reaching to pull up a ‘comments box’ and add the necessary edits. I found it difficult to be tactful when I recently made my ‘beta’ comments, yet felt that was the job I’d undertaken. To pretend that story is not flawed when it reads that way I think isn’t ultimately helpful, and is a time-waster.
This site HERE has loads of handy hints
Does my ‘pickiness’ mean I make a good beta reader? I don’t believe so, because the content is sublimated to the secretarial aspects. Would I be a good editor? For the technical details, I think I could be, but a skilled editor has all the gifts to be helpful with both construction AND content. I know we’re weeks short of the New Year but one of my resolutions will have to be to become good at noticing only the content if I continue to beta read for author friends. Although, if I sign up as an editor of the work I’ll be picking out the full quota of errors.
Why is this? No one like to see a page full of comments boxes but sometimes it’s case of being cruel to be kind. I, personally, learned the hard way during edits to my debut novel. My editor back then was lovely. She was brutally honest and didn’t let me off with anything that could be made better, so it was a huge shock to have my manuscript with hardly a single page that wasn’t littered with comment boxes for edits. Though, isn’t that the whole point of having work edited? A sanitised return from beta reading or first edits is not conducive to having a polished piece of work.
As a writer and as a beta reader/ editor I’m going to keep my thick skin polished, because I DO want to create the most perfect and enjoyable product for my readers, and I DO want to help anyone who asks me to beta read for them by giving them the best of my ability to spot errors.
A downside of doing beta reading/ editing is that I’ve had no time to write my works in progress. So, what do you do when beta reading, or would do if you tried it? I’m really interested in how you find beta reading.
And finally another useful site on beta reading:
Nancy Jardine’s novels are available from:
Amazon UK author page
You’ll find Nancy Jardine at these places:
Goodreads Twitter @nansjar Google+ (Nancy Jardine)
Enjoy her YouTube book trailer videos
Have a great weekend!