Tuesday Tips: The Beauty of a Beta
Betareader: also referred to as pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption.
So how many Betas do you need?
As many as you can trust!
It’s a common known fact that I’m dyslexic, so I value my betas beyond measure! If your book is in shabby shape, even an editor or publisher you’ve worked with for years will reject it. It must be polished and practically perfect before you submit. And even then, I guarantee there will be plenty to improve and correct when the real editing begins.
Who are my betas?
1. Ms. L.: Ms. L. is an asset to my work, because we talk so frequently she’s in my head and knows where I’m trying to go. I use her for feedback only and she gets my work chapter by raw chapter. As soon as she finishes a chapter, we discuss and analyze the hell out of it.
2. Ms. C.: Ms. C is also an early critiquer who offers insight based on her reading experience. If my work is similar to another author’s or the twist I’m working toward has been done, she points it out.
3. Ms. M.: The incomparable Ms. M. has gotten me out of many sticky situations! I call her in when my plot has gone awry and my characters refuse to behave. Perfect example, Cain Hartzler from The Order of Vampyres. Ms. M. has a great way of helping me see opportunities I’ve missed.
4. Mr. J.: Mr. J. is an older gentleman who loves to read and I adore his perspective because it’s often different from the traditional romance reader’s. He takes his time, always uses an extra day or two to digest the story, and then follows up with a detailed phone conference.
5. Ms. G.: Ms. G is also an author and as such, she understands certain writing dilemmas a reader might not think about. She’s wonderful when I simply need to know “Does this work or should I scrap it?”
6. Ms. J.: There is nothing better than a reader who doesn’t like all your characters. Ms. J will openly tell me when someone is getting on her nerves. Although you can’t please everyone, if Ms. J is annoyed, someone else will eventually be too. She’s good at identifying actions that need further explanation. She helps me clarify the characters’ motive(s). She’s also great at finding typos!
Notice no one’s even touched on spelling or grammar yet… That’s because you want to work out your story first. No point combing through something that might drastically change. While all of these betas are busy with their copies, I, too, am reading and changing. I’m finding typos and rewording sentences and basically trimming and cleaning things up as much as possible. Once all their feedback is in, it’s time for part 2 of editing…proofing. Duhn, duhn, duhnnnnnn!
7. Ms. T.: Ahhhh, the incredible Ms. T. She is the mother of all betas. Not only will she demand my writing be poetic, it must also be erotic. From prose to practically pornographic descriptions, she will accept only the best. I love her for this. Not only will she carefully read my work (and at rapid speed I might add) she will then reread it to see if I improved. She is, indeed, my greatest asset and I adore her. She works directly from the document (like an editor), which is also a plus. But the greatest thing about Ms. T. is that she truly enjoys my voice as an author. She likes my stories and admires my way with words. While I may not suite everyone’s reading taste, it’s helpful to work with those that “get” me. Ms. T. is a very dear friend who knows me inside and out. She can sense when I’m struggling to express something and has taught me so much about stretching my abilities. I think working with her is my favorite part of the entire editing process.
8. The Troublesome Beta: I feel the need to interrupt this segment to discuss the troublesome beta (TB). The TB is a phenomenal proof reader who has an incredible eye for typos, but never keeps his/her promises. A beta is important, but one that promises to read and doesn’t is only costing an author time they can never get back. Writing a novel takes an extremely long time when all is said and done. If a beta cannot keep a commitment, they are better off saying, “sorry no”. (I’ve had to say no many times, which is unfortunate. I know so many wonderful writers and I’d love to have the time to work with all of them, but it just isn’t possible. That being said, we authors understand how precious time is. If you don’t have any to spare, that’s okay. We still love you.)
9. The Proofers: This is the army that handles all the fallout. They are getting the cleanest version of your work to date (seriously, make it clean or you will go crazy trying to organize everyone’s notes). There are multiple proofers out there and the easier you make their job (by cleaning up your work before they get it) the more proofers you will acquire. It is my opinion that you can NEVER have enough proof readers (especially because by this point you can’t stand the thought of reading your book one more time! If you can tolerate the thought, you clearly did not read it enough and should wait before giving it to anyone else.)
I always go back to my first betas and ask if anyone would like to reread for typos. Then I enlist anyone who is willing to read my book in a week. Time matters because you reach a point where mistakes are spotted you the straggling proofer is just wasting their time finding things that have already been corrected (I always feel terrible when this happens, because typo hunting is a pain in the manuscript).
Typically, I ask my proofers to write the sentence that seems wrong and mark the word that stood out to them. I then use Microsoft’s “find” settings to make the corrections. This is tedious for everyone, but necessary. Hopefully you really read through your book and there aren’t that many mistakes. What always amazes me is how each proofer will miss and find things others spotted and overlooked. No proofer’s list will ever be the same.
10. The Beta that Counts Most: YOU! I know, I know…you are really starting to despise the book, but trust me, it’s for your own good. This is YOUR story and you need to make sure you really like it the way it is before you submit it. Now is the time to put away the laptop and send it to your Kindle (or other device). Pretend you’ve just bought this new title and try your best to erase everything you know or assume. Cozy up and enjoy. This is beyond difficult for writers and sometimes it takes months to mentally get there. You might have to read several other novels to erase your memory, but it still comes back to you. When you do settle in for the read, try not to get hung up on new changes. If you see a typo, yes, make a note and fix it in the end, but you eventually have to trust in your book and let it go (for a while).
11. The Big Guys: Yay! You’re novel’s been accepted, contracted, and edited! Bet you didn’t think you missed so many mistakes, did ya? Well, that’s why we LOVE editors! Ahhhh… back to reading your book. And you thought it was impossible to dislike the story any more than you already did. Remember when you loved it? Well, someone else will too and that’s why we’re doing this. Buckle up and read it. Twice! Then the editor will also read it again and if he/she is nice she’ll let your read it a third time, just to be safe. Isn’t that sweet?
12. The stealthy one’s we often forget about: Don’t relax yet! You’re copy editor just sent some more corrections! One. More. Time.
13. Your Last Hope: And now, you drag yourself to your friend’s house, bleary eyed and disheveled, and you kindly say, “Could you please read my book one more time just to be sure we didn’t miss anything? This is the last chance I have to make changes.” They do and you love them all the more for helping you.
And don’t worry… at some point some reader will leave a review remarking about the lack of editing in their opinion, but we’re all human and all we can do is try our very best.
How do you feel when you find a typo in a book?