Authors and Beta Readers

Authors and Beta Readers

Sorry writers.

My PA, Mariah Wilson, recently posed something interesting about authors and beta readers. Here is her exact quote:

Authors also have to protect themselves. Beta reading for just anyone isn’t a good idea once you get published…why? Because if you publish something that even remotely resembles a shred of an idea that was in a book you beta read 10 years ago…that person can try to sue you. Best to B-read for peeps you know. That’s why authors like Koontz and King won’t read ANYTHING you send them, unless it’s published. It’s for their own protection.

Plus it IS time consuming and it’s not like I would not have returned the favor…but I cant’ drive 2 hours to go to a lousy writers group. (I used to be part of a writer’s group, until, for some reason, we were expected to pay? But I never attended the writer’s critique circle. Too time consuming to read for others. Too many expectations in a writer’s group.)

I’ve been wanting to seek out a few beta readers for a contemporary fantasy I am working on, but when Mariah sent this to me during a Facebook conversation we were having, I immediately realized this was a bad idea. Mariah has been my only beta reader. She’s fantastic, but it also doesn’t hurt to receive another perspective. Now I am going to bring on a second beta reader because she is a part of my lit magazine and loved When Stars Die. Not only that, but she has actual editorial experience to boot, but I’m not expecting her to fully edit it. I don’t want her to. A beta reader’s job is not to do that.

I originally wanted to hire an affordable editor for this contemporary fantasy. Before Mariah, I had nothing but bad experiences with beta readers. I would look at their novels and provide actual editorial feedback in exchange for their reading mine, but they never finished, or suddenly found themselves too busy. This was frustrating for me. I gave them valuable feedback, and I never got anything in return.

If you have been following my blog since it’s inception, you’ll also know I stumbled across Georgia McBride, who basically showed me that past feedback I had been receiving for The Stars Are Infinite actually wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Even though I had completely changed the book from its original draft, she told me it wasn’t ready for beta readers. But that in itself is frustrating. It basically says that writers need to retreat to freelance editors first before finding beta readers. So I concluded that the beta readers I had weren’t that experienced in the first place. But they still provided actual feedback. They were honest, but apparently it’s not the feedback that my book needed.

How are you supposed to know that though?

This is when I lost my trust in beta readers. Georgia McBride taught me a lot about structural editing. Because of her, I had been going to affordable freelance editors for my books. All I had to do was pay them, and it was a guarantee they’d get back to me. Plus, I wasn’t expected to return anything other than money.

Even so, that’s not ideal, especially because I’m not seeking to self-publish my work. I just wanted a guarantee that my book would receive feedback in an appropriate amount of time, with no expectations of returning a beta read.

I posed a question on my Facebook page. How many beta readers do writers normally have? Here are some of their responses:

Elizabeth Guizzetti: Other Systems had 2, The Light Side of the Moon had 1 before it went to the publishers. The Martlet so far has had 3, plus a few people who helped me with specific scenes. So 5?  I guess the answer to your question is as many as I need.

Ryan Attard: Personally it’s between none, one or maximum 2. Including the people at the publishing house. But that may say more about my paranoia than it does about writing
Mariah Wilson (she had more to say): That’s precisely the reason I don’t beta for many people. Time. I hate promising something, then never going through with it. I only take on projects that I’m confident I can return in a timely fashion. Why? Because it’s infuriating to send a book to betas and never hear from them again.

And now that I’ve been a beta reader for awhile, and a writer for awhile, I think that the best beta readers are ones who you have established a relationship with. I think that there should be some form of trust. Trust not only that you will do what you say you will, WHEN You say you will, but trust that you will put forth your best effort and your unabridged honesty. If you offer anything less, you are useless as a beta reader. If I want someone to candy coat it and tell me how awesome I am, that’s what I have family and close (non writer) friends for.

As for me, I’m sticking with Mariah and this other beta reader. I don’t think I’m going to retreat to freelance editors, unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary. I’m not bringing on anyone else, though, and I won’t beta read, unless it’s authors tied to my publisher(s), and their books fit my particular tastes–and Mariah and the other one. Especially Mariah. She’ll actually receive full, free editorial services from me whenever she thinks her first novel is ready for it. Otherwise, I’m going to charge people who want me to look at their books.
Writers, how many beta readers do you use?
The Madness of Writing Despair

The Madness of Writing Despair

I have halfway fallen in the clutches of writing despair. It’s only halfway because I have When Stars Rise that I can work on, and it’s already been halfway written anyway so all I’m really doing is editing/re-writing. But I got back to When Heaven Was Blue, and while I like the direction of the plot itself, my gut is seriously telling me that the story is missing something, but I can’t even tell what it is, and I’m supposed to be gifted in the art of knowing exactly what is wrong with my story and what I can do to fix it. I was able to do it with When Stars Die, so why can’t I do it with WHWB? I don’t know, but maybe it’s because I have very high expectations for this book and want it to surpass WSD by a longshot. image

But I got back to WHWB, and maybe it’s because I woke up exhausted due to the weather and so my brain was foggy, but when I was going through it, I felt exactly like the picture to the right. I just don’t know what is wrong with the blasted book but I always listen to my gut, so I stopped editing one-third of the way through because if I’m not satisfied, I see no point in continuing until I am satisfied.

I had a beta reader who quickly tore through the first one-third and gave me plenty of useful advice (while also positing that she loved it), so I hope that advice will sate me. But I also did something very drastic and paid an affordable editor to look at the first one-third. Beta readers are fantastic and can point out stuff, but editors can pinpoint what your gut can’t figure out, so while that one-third is out and being looked at, I’m just going to work on WSR. I think WSR really needs to be the next book that gets released because WHWB is a very heavy book in regards to mental illness, and I need to give it time to grow into the book I want it to be instead of rushing it all for the sake of releasing another book in less than a year. Even though the other half of WSR hasn’t been written yet, it’s probably more ready than WHWB simply because once I outline the rest of WSR, those will be the chapters that are getting written, and all they’ll need is a good clean-up once I have them written.

But…ugh…it’s so disheartening to outline the crap out of a book (I have half a notebook filled up with nothing by WHWB), and then you get to edits and suddenly realize something is not working, so you don’t know if you need to re-write again or just copy edit the crap out of stuff or what. Which is why I went to the editor. I am not taking applications for new beta readers because I just don’t have the time to return the favor–plus, I charge for it because if you’re asking me to beta read, you are asking me to do something that is incredibly time consuming with the idea that I’m not going to function as an editor, which is impossible for me.

My stomach was all in knots yesterday just thinking about what to do with WHWB. I have a few ideas I can incorporate, like including more of Gene’s life outside of all the super fantastical Stolentime stuff, but that’s it, and my gut tells me it’s not enough. I frankly still can’t get the dang book out of my head, even though it is with someone who will take care of it better than I currently can right now. So all I can really do right now is concentrate on WSR and hope that, hope of all hopes, I can try to get it all re-written by the time class starts on the 19th. I do think that WSR needs to be the next book, and in order for this to all pan out, WSR is going to need to be completed during this month, read over another time, and sent off to beta reader who can just highlight typos or whatever. And then sent off to publisher, probably after the release of WSD, which might be late September or early October.

But, hey, the good news is is that I have another book idea. It’s going to be a continuation of “I Am the Bell Jar,” but you don’t even need to read the short story to read the book. Great, right? I may start outlining it just so I’ll have it when I finally get to the dang book, which will probably be after the third book of the Stars trilogy called When Stars Collide. Which means I need to start outlining WSC once I have WSR done. Lots of acronyms.

I’m going crazy, as you all can tell. Now how are you and your writing/reading lives?


Publishing a Book: A Single Interview Question

Publishing a Book: A Single Interview Question

I really don't drink. I can't drink anyway because of my meds.
I really don’t drink. I can’t drink anyway because of my meds.

So someone, after scouring through my Tumblr, posed this question to me, and while I already answered it, I decided to create a better answer in the form of a blog post.

Was it difficult to get to where you are today? What did you have to do?

Yes, it was difficult. I had to pretty much struggle on my own because while I did find decent beta readers, they couldn’t do for my story what needed to be done–the sequel to When Stars Die. While they were able to point out what was wrong, they couldn’t step outside of the box and present to me a different way of going about it. Instead they were trying to fix what was already there instead of what wasn’t there, and I needed the latter. I just didn’t know it at the time.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across YALITCHAT and decided to intern for its Founder did I really begin to learn how to write. She obliterated my first chapter. I was so daunted at first because I never had anyway tear the chapter apart. In fact, people loved it, but they were only trying to fix what was there. The founder told me to start my story earlier, that the chapter could work if I did that, and I was just astonished. How come no one had ever told me that before? How come it took a professional freelance editor who charges a hefty sum to tell me that? Perhaps I should have learned to reach outside the box myself, but no one was telling me that.

I had a short story published before meeting this brilliant woman, but novels are so much different, and at the time, I was more of a short story writer, even though I wanted to be a novelist. It was lucky I had never subbed a novel before though because I probably would have learned some very difficult lessons. So I interned for her and she looked over my book. My writing was spot on, but my novel storytelling skills needed some work, and I learned immense amounts from her on the art of storytelling, something that, in spite of reading many writing books and receiving critique from others, I couldn’t manage on my own. I was lucky, blessed even, to have found her. I had to work hard for her, and she in turn worked hard for me.

As soon as she sent me critiques, I got right to work on them and sent them back to her within two hours. I struggled the most with chapter three. I re-wrote that thing five times before finally understanding that something needs to develop every chapter, be it character or plot. She believed in me and my story, as did I.

Unfortunately, for reasons that have nothing to do with her editing, we had to part ways, but I took what I learned from the sequel and applied it to When Stars Die. The sequel couldn’t work as a first book because there was so much information within the first half alone, so I had to unearth the prequel and get to work on it because it spread the information over the entire book. The sequel simply reiterates it and reveals more historical background of my world. I re-wrote When Stars Die five times to get it to its current story. It was not easy, especially because I was going over everything by myself, with no one reading it, not even a single word or sentence. After I re-read it a sixth time, I finally sent it out to my beta reader and took a break from writing (because of burnout and depression).

Depression made me apathetic about my writing career. I no longer cared about When Stars Die. I couldn’t even care that my beta reader loved it. She even had chapter-by-chapter notes for why she loved it, instead of simply shoving it back at me only saying she loved it with nothing else. But I had to get my stuff together. I couldn’t throw away  a childhood dream because depression was trying to tell me the happiness I sought wasn’t worth it. I found AEC Stellar, took a chance, and got an acceptance within a few days. I was, again, lucky and blessed. So even though I got accepted on a first go around, I had to pull teeth to get myself as a writer into shape to be able to create the story found within When Stars Die without needing a professional telling me this is what I should do. Now, of course, I’m going to have edits, but the point is that I was able to do this on my own, with only one beta reader, because the Founder of YALITCHAT taught me how to be my own self-editor.

It is never easy to become a great writer. A good writer. Even a decent writer. We can dream, but we also need to strip ourselves of this grandeur that we have when approaching writing. Any published writer will tell you that in spite of having a contract, it is no fairytale getting there.

When Do You Know Your Book Is Ready?

When Do You Know Your Book Is Ready?

In the past I had a difficult time knowing when my book was ready for the eyes of a professional. Even after beta readers, my gut would send ten thousand different signals that there was still something wrong with the book. I could just never get my book to the point where I knew it was ready to be sent out. I would always find some way to make something better, but I also never completely re-wrote. I was an amateur. I refused to believe that I might have to completely re-write in order to make the book better. So of course my past projects were failures.

With When Stars Die, I just took a chance. My gut wasn’t screaming at me, my beta reader loved it, and I was tired of sitting and waiting, so I said ‘Screw it. Life should be about chances.’ And I was surprisingly not disappointed. Depending on how the edits for the book go, I might have to start listening to my gut more often, but it’ll probably still be difficult to tell when a book is ready.

How do you guys know when your book is ready to be looked at by an agent, editor, beta reader, or even freelance editor?
Or do you sometimes just wing it even through uncertainty?