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21 March 2016 @ 03:01 pm
beta readers  

I did something very unusual this weekend, which was send a book out to beta readers. Normally I…don’t do that. Broadly speaking I feel writing a book is largely a closed loop between myself and my editor: she’s the source of feedback that I need, and I generally find adding more people in to that cycle to be very stressful.

I am, in fact, finding it very stressful, which is totally on me, not the readers: they’re providing feedback in exactly the way a writer wants them to, which is clearly, concisely and specifically, without emotionally laden language or snarky commentary, and by cushioning it with comments about what they did like, too.

No lie: the absolute worst editing experience I’ve ever had, when a very rough draft book was sent to second readers without my knowledge, I got feedback from one of those readers that said, literally, when I’d gotten something wrong, “AHAHAHAH NO”. I’m still angry about that, on so many levels. The whole process was so upsetting it took me about three months longer than it should have to edit the book because every time I opened the file I became enraged. In fact, I finally had to turn all the comments off, on that project, and deal with the problems as I saw them in the book before reactivating them and taking one last grim stab at it to answer anything left.

A good beta reader doesn’t do that, obviously. A good beta reader remembers that they’re involved in part of the creative process and that artists tend to be somewhat delicate fragile flowers about their art. And a good artist remembers that the way to improve their art is to listen to feedback about it…which doesn’t stop me from having an Instantaneous Sulk whenever I get a revision letter.

I mean, for example, the MAGIC & MANNERS revision letter was so light that even I couldn’t get into a sulk about it, which is pretty astonishing. Normally I glance at the letter, then, regardless of what it actually says, think something to the effect of OH MY GOD SHE HATES ME WHAT DOES SHE WANT ME TO DO TO MY PRECIOUS STORY NO I HATE HER I HATE IT ALL HOW DARE SHE and then about three days later, sullenly, I circle back around and actually read it and go “okay that’s not really so bad after all…” This is my process. I recognize that. :)

But it *is* my process, which means beta readers tend to put me in the OH MY GOD THEY HATE ME cycle for several days while feedback comes in, and, as I said, I find that stressful. It’s worse when the book is on a (hopefully) short turn-around, as this one is, and I have less time to sit and breathe my way through the sulks because I need to get the edits in place and ready to go.

All that said, though, in this particular case, though, when I’m revising a 20 year old book and I have far too much baggage clouding my judgment of the material, boy are they being helpful. Two of them (so far) have called out one thing as something that needs either clarification or excising, and a third has commented on something that I…well, I wondered about it, which is why I needed these readers.

Actually, I wondered about the thing the other two commented on, as well, which is probably good, as it means I’ve probably got a clearer picture of the material than I’m afraid I do…but it also means I really needed somebody else to read it and say “no really you do have to deal with this” rather than allow myself to believe that naaaaaaaah it’s fiiiiiiiiiiiine. :)

Anyway, despite the stress angle of it, I’m glad I’ve done this, as it’ll improve the book in exactly the ways I hope to. Onward!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Deborah Blakedeborahblakehps on March 21st, 2016 06:21 pm (UTC)
My beta readers are gems, one and all. They have different strengths (my mother, also a writer, is the Queen of all things technical, for instance, and I have a few that are unpublished writers who are uber-readers), and they all look at things slightly differently from each other and from my agent and actual editor. (Well, I have a new editor. We'll see how she looks at things.) I don't send all the books to all the betas--in part, because not everyone has that kind of time. But there have been times lately when I'm pretty sure that without beta readers, there would have been no book.

Does that mean I like getting their feedback? Uh, no. They all hate me too :-)
Michellemsagara on March 23rd, 2016 03:49 pm (UTC)
I know one writer who has sent his book to 100+ beta readers.

But... I’m like you, in that it’s a closed loop internally. I already have the I’m a terrible writer, this book is awful, this will be the end of my career because everyone will hate it and realize I can’t actually write internal writer voice droning on in the background.

I don’t tend to get angry at editorial feedback, though - I tend to get a much, much more intensified Imposter Syndrome. It becomes really hard for me to see objectively because I only see the failures. It’s not so much a “they hate me” as “I am terrible and everything I write is a failure”.

That said, when I’m struggling or uncertain about something, I do have people I can send it to with a panicked: does this work? Is this garbage? Is it too slow? Is it too opaque?

And I have an alpha reader. The alpha reader reads things as they’re written, a chapter at a time. If he asks me for clarification, I answer - and also fix it, because if it doesn’t work for him, it’s not going to work for anyone. But mostly, when I’m stuck in the mud, he pulls me through the doldrums, because he *wants* to read the next part - the unwritten one.

I feel that it is better, objectively, to have beta readers who had an editorial eye, in terms of structure, etc. - but I think it would take me twice as long to get a book out, because when the internal editor is constantly saying, “I told you so, you suck”, it is much harder - for me - to scale the mountain of self-doubt and get back to the book itself.