Beta Believe It
Beta readers, early readers, are indispensable to the writing process. Each one of my books has graced the hands, eyes, and insight of some of the most brilliant reading minds. Each generously sharing their time and energy to give thoughtful feedback and critique on my final first drafts. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to publish squat, and this is no exaggeration.
For example, this week I had breakfast with a friend who has agreed to be a beta reader for my next novel. She is a Registered Nurse, and because my book touches on some medical issues, I have to make sure those facts read true and accurate. I remember some time ago she once shared with me that there was nothing more annoying than seeing a show or reading a novel where the medical doctors or nurses, etc., did some procedure or called some symptom of a disease the wrong name. Threw off the entire story for her and I totally understand and agree. And while I did my research and came pretty darn close, the truth was, my facts were still falling short concerning the tweaks needed to make sure the symptoms matched the characters reactions just right.
Another beta reader uses her grammatical skills and extensive vocabulary [Yes, she’s a monster at Scrabble so watch out folks!] challenging me often with, “Did you want to use that word or were you thinking of this word?” Or, “Switch this around, your order is all wrong, especially if you are trying to imply this or that.” And of course, she’s never shy to tell me, “I don’t get it. Rewrite.”
Another of my first beta readers is a READER. This person reads like other people breathe. When I hand off the manuscript to her, it is with pure anxiety that I await her call or email because I am anxious to hear her confirm, ‘Yes, this is a book,’ or ‘No, what the heck were you smoking?”
Okay, fine...so she’s never actually in real life asked me what I was smoking… but I’m sure there had to have been plenty of times while reading through the rough first drafts when certain parts of the book made her think exactly that, but of course, she’s too sweet to say it,
-but I digress...
Now, once all the feedback comes in from my fabulous beta readers, I jump back into my manuscript. Word by word, sentence-by-sentence; adding, removing, deleting, tweaking, fixing, and more deleting. [crying, moaning, tantrums...] The process is lengthy, takes time and many gallons of tea. Reading aloud, over, and over again until it flows. Until the story is the story I ache to tell. Every detail fleshed out. Every character exposed. Every twist and turn accounted for.
And then off to the editor is goes for another spin or two, or three. These sharp eyes see mistakes and detect issues most would never pick up on, yet they uncover them from all their hiding places. Stripping to the bone every word and prose, forcing the author-me, to face the fixes until the manuscript sings and comes alive. This part of the writing process can take weeks, even months, but it is a necessary and vital step and cannot, in my opinion, be skipped or downplayed.
And it’s not fun, at all. I mean after getting back pages and pages of corrections and suggestions for the umpteenth time I start to question whether I can write at all! Maybe I’m a big old faker, -a hack with a good imagination. A middle-aged lady with too much time on her hands...spewing out stories with as much savvy as a dentist using a chainsaw. [The nerve of me putting out such slop.] Sitting behind my computer screen, I cringe at some of my mistakes. Stuff that I should have caught, -should have known.
Eventually, once my bruised ego heals and I THINK the book is done, off to the proofreader it goes. Okay, this should be the least painful part of the process. But alas, often it is not, not for me anyhow. I believe, [I could be wrong, but I don’t think so], that all proofreaders were probably eagles or peregrine falcons in a past life. I mean really, these talented folks catch mistakes that I swear were never there, …until they are. Swooping in, snatching glitches and missteps, then plucking them out with surgical ease.
By this time, I see double. Triple. Eyes glazed, tired of reading my own book, I tell myself that once I finish this story, I will take a much needed break from writing for a while. Maybe a year or so...live again. See for myself what the weather outside my window feels like instead of taking the word of my phone app.
-By the way, it’s kind of cool how the weather app shows snow, clouds or rain coming down in the background when a storm is heading your way.
But here’s where I am a big old liar because this is the time when the book is ready for publication. Excitement and anticipation fill the air. I get giddy waiting to feel my new novel in my hands, and so while I wait… I begin to think. And when I think I get new ideas. Those ideas play around in my head and become bigger ideas. Those ideas develop into plots and plots have me rushing off to the store like a junkie to buy a new $1.99 notebook to start outlining and researching the next tale. Possessed, consumed, I talk my family’s ear off, babbling at full speed, and to their credit, they do a lot of nodding and facial expressions feigning interest.
And so it begins all over again. And I love it. -Every painful, exasperating, mind-numbing, thrilling, frustrating second of it. Wouldn’t give it up for the world, although after I finish writing this next manuscript, I plan on taking a break.
Just kidding. Liar, liar pants on fire. Working on the next outline…
Calling all Beta Readers, you’re up again. – And thanks for being on Team Sahar- you are all the best! xo