Monday, August 17, 2015

The Beta Experience

I'm doing my last pass (for now) through the MS, and I'm a little shocked at how quickly it's going. Much faster when you know exactly what you're trying to do.

Based on some beta feedback, I am considering radically truncating Act I. In the meantime, I've just focused on cutting as much dead weight as possible from chapters 3 and 4 to help pick up the pace and get to plot point 1 sooner. I weeded out about a thousand words, and am going to take another run at it tomorrow.

23.5 hours for August so far.

But really I want to talk about beta readers.

Before this summer, no one had read a completed story of mine since 1998. For one thing, novels take longer to complete and are more of a time investment for the reader. For another, I never got any novel draft to the point that I was willing to let people read it. And for a third, I was scared of feedback.

I've never been the sort of person who takes constructive criticism well. Not my favorite thing about myself, but true. And while I never had my stuff savaged in a writing workshop in college or grad school, I did learn how sucky it can feel to have other people point out problems in your work. Like you're proudly wearing a dress you sewed yourself, feeling absolutely awesome in it, and then someone gently points out that you forgot to sew a back onto the skirt, and your ass is hanging out. You're glad they told you, but you also kind of want to kill them.

I felt different this time, maybe because I knew I'd gotten the book as far as it could go without outside input. Or maybe because the process of finishing a novel humbled me. Or hell, maybe because I've actually grown a little in the last 17 years.

I've had five betas read TOB so far. And the first one to respond didn't like it, and didn't have too much to suggest about what could improve it. And I wasn't crushed at all-- just thought, "well, let's see what the others say."

The next four were all far more positive about the book and had many nice things to say. They also had many, many helpful things to say. I honestly didn't feel like I was being criticized; I felt like I was being helped by people who'd read the book, understood what I'd been trying to convey, and wanted me to make the book the best it could possibly be.

This was exhilarating, both because it was a relief to feel I had backup and the book a cheering section, and because it's still blowing my mind that five people have read my book. It makes the TOB feel so much more real somehow.

So I was surprised by how constructive and non-painful the feedback was. I was also struck by how right-on it was. There's guy on the internet (isn't there always?) who's fond of railing against the practice of beta readers, insisting that any editing undertaken as a response to beta feedback is ill-advised, because people are stupid and only editors who are paying you have legitimate opinions about your writing (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist).

Of course I think all feedback has to be taken with a grain of salt, measured against your vision of your own book. You don't want to run off and change things willy-nilly just because one reader didn't care for them.

On the other hand, people are not stupid. People are your reader. They are also other writers. People can tell you things that might be useful. For me, a majority of what betas pointed to as needing improvement resonated with me as something I knew deep down needed improvement. And a few things I was worried about were actually pointed to as positive things by most of the betas.

It's been interesting how different the feedback is, too. Such different styles, and I'm so glad, because they all caught different things. For example:

One is another writer, who made a lot of the same kinds of comments I make when I beta: I'm not buying this plot point. Your pacing is messed up here. Here's where I'm confused. That last is so helpful, because now I know what needs a little more clarification.

One is copy-editor, who line edited the hell of the thing. The other betas all noted many of my little errors, so I'd already fixed a bunch, but this lady caught eeevvvvvverything imaginable, from many, many unnecessary commas, to head-slapping things like "wait-- I thought it was his front leg that was missing?"

And one is a voracious reader and book reviewer, who wrote a what is basically a review. It was amazingly cool to get this perspective-- all about the feeling of reading it, of being connected to or disconnected from characters, about what story arcs are most compelling, and about the overall shape of the book and how it might become... shapelier.

Anyway, I'm writing a book here, but a huge heartfelt public thank you to ALL my beta readers, including the sixth one standing by to read my post-feedback edit. Thank you for the time, effort, and mental energy you expended just to help a chick you've never met make her book that much closer to awesome.

Now I'm all verklempt.

No comments:

Post a Comment