No man is an island… though some may want to be.

For CCThis post is by Nancy Jardine.

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. 9688725_s woman brainstormingI 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.

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysical Poets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“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.

image for my blog use from www.123rf.com

image for my blog use from http://www.123rf.com

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:

Beltanebanner  Nancy Jardine’s novels are available from:
Amazon UK author page

Amazon US author page,

Most are also avilable from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, W.H. Smith, Waterstones, Kobo and other ebook retailers.

You’ll find  Nancy Jardine at these places:

 Website    Blog   Facebook    LinkedIN   About Me   

 Goodreads   Twitter @nansjar  Google+ (Nancy Jardine)

Enjoy her  YouTube book trailer videos

Have a great weekend!

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This entry was posted in beta reading, decisions, Edit, improve your craft, Novel Related, writers groups and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to No man is an island… though some may want to be.

  1. Wranglers says:

    Love the video. I’ve judged contests for years and you have to find the fine line. Is the story good enough to stand on its own with a few minor errors. We don’t correct them, only read them. Cher’ley

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      Yes, Cher’ley, I think it would be different for contests from being asked to beta read or first edit. You would hope that contest entries were at a very good stage of polishing.

      Like

  2. My one and only experience with a writers critique group spoiled me for ignoring punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors. I don’t think I would make a good beta reader if the idea is not to polish the entire manuscript. Maybe you would do better in a critique group of published novelists, Nancy.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      Not so sure about that either, Alethea, but since I’m trying most things I guess I won’t turn down the opportunity – if I find the time.

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  3. renawomyn says:

    We are our own worst enemies and best cheering squad. Stories I can tell, the rest is struggle. I think we find our best practice and do what we do best. I would love to have the ‘grammar’ corrected, it is my weak point. Then the story execution fixed. Such a fine line. Great post. Doris

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  4. Very thoughtful and interesting post Nancy. Our local writer’s group in Mazatan not only gave honest feedback and critique at our meetings but several of us beta read. I find beta reading to be interesting but a great time restraint on my own writing. So I pick and choose which type of manuscripts I want to read and edit and stick with that. So far that works for me. I always appreciate honest feedback whether it be from my beta readers, friends, readers or writing friends.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      I’ve enjoyed the experience, too, Linda but it may be that I have to do what you do and only agree according to my time availability. My WIP writing has been non-existent for weeks now, but there’s always tomorrow…after my weekend family stayover is over. 😉

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  5. katewyland says:

    It sounds like you are using beta reader differently from what I’m used to. A critique group is the one that goes into grammar, craft and story, and usually reads small bits – scenes or chapters. I learn so much from both of my groups. A beta reader is given the final, final draft that has been edited and is ready to be submitted. As such, the reader only looks at content. If there are editing problems, the ms should go back to critique.

    At least that’s my take.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      That sounds ideal, Kate, with lots of bits being farmed out but only if the whole is eventually edited by one person. I recently read a published book that had whole sections and chapters of varying quality of content (storyline and grammar etc) and it read as though ‘different’ people had contributed to the writing of it. There were still loads of errors throughout, and I fear that lack of time before the organised publishing date had meant that no really thorough editing had been done at the very final stages – perhaps assumptions made that the ms was okay, since people had ‘checked’ their own areas.
      I guess my usage of the beta readers was close to what you are saying, except that it was before my publisher got the ms. My editor actuallly only found two errors in the ms but during edits we had to determine the best use of italics since the story contains some Latin terms (being Roman Britain) and some Gaelic phrases. And, of course, my Crooked Cat editor sorted out the final formatting issues – so I definitely needed the editing!

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  6. I’ve never been a beta reader nor used one — since I don’t write novels, I don’t have the complexity in my stories as many of you do. I enjoy sharing with my writer’s group and we give good critiques and encouragement to one another. I enjoy that time with fellow writers and look forward to being with them each month! Best wishes, Nancy, on your new book!

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      Thank you, Gayle. I think my recent experience has proven a couple of things – one of which is that if you use beta readers, or critique groups, then the time lapse between finishing the writing and the actual publishing date is quite extended with the to-ing and fro- ing that’s necessary.

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  7. erinfarwell says:

    I have a few personal beta readers and I find some more helpful than others. I want honesty but it doesn’t have to be mean. And while hearing “this is great” is nice for my ego, it doesn’t help my book. It’s scary but helpful to find the right betas. Great post.

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  8. Pingback: The Value of Friendship in the Age of Re-Invention | StThomasPlace

  9. Pingback: Readers for Writers: Beta Readers, the Superheroes of Your Writing Team | change it up editing

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