Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Don't Fear the Beta Reader!

I've just started getting back feedback on Heart of Steel from my beta readers (thanks, everyone!), so it seem appropriate that this week's post should be about handling the feedback you get from these previews. Putting your story in front of people can be scary and discouraging, especially if they don't seem to see the Grand Vision of Brilliance that you've cooked up, but don't fret! Here are some simple tips for getting and handling honest critiques.

1. Take a Deep Breath

This won't be easy. You've slaved away for however many hours/days/months on this thing and it's your baby. Trust me, I know. Churning out my first novel-length piece was exhilarating until I realized that eventually I wanted other people to see it. That was when I briefly turned into Gollum and wanted to hide my precious away from those nasty hobbitses who might say bad things about it.

Well, that's a beta reader's job. They're the first line of defense between you and the deeper waters of your target audience, and if your book has narrative problems or plot holes or whatever, you've prefer to know sooner rather than later, right? So take a deep breath (literally, if you need to) and relax. You will come out of this a better writer.

2. Ask Your Friends

Be careful with this. Everyone has friends who will declare that you've just written the best [genre] novel since [really well-known and wildly popular genre novel] and that you shouldn't change a thing. These friends are great for ego stroking, but not so great for critiquing. Yeah, I know. Counter-intuitive, right? Wrong! Find your friend(s) who are outspoken and opinionated (without being douchebags about it)--the ones who will tell you your new hairstyle looks horrible, or that, yes, you look fat in those jeans. These are the people you want looking at your manuscript, because they will point out any flaws it has. Tell them to be brutal.

3. Ask a Writing Community

This might be a face-to-face community, or an online one via Facebook or whatever. You might have shared interests with these people, but they have no personal interest in being nice about something like this. If they're fellow writers, then a) they're there to improve their craft via b) helping and being helped by others, so c) they will be sure to give the sort of detailed critique you really need. Therefore, d) don't be afraid to ask. Not everyone will be interested in your story, but those that will, will give you a lot of help.

4. Set It Free

This is one of the hardest things to do. You turn your project over to someone else, and then wait to hear back from them. It might be a short period of time for a short story, or possibly weeks for a novel, but you must be patient. Bugging your beta reader is only going to make them annoyed with you. You want an honest opinion, not a "fine I'm done now go away" opinion.

5. Don't Take It Personally

Here comes the hardest part: reading the feedback. Not just reading the feedback, but reading it with the dispassionate eye of a writer wanting to improve his or her craft, rather than a creator watching their magnum opus being torn apart. This is your opportunity to improve on your story before you release it into the wild. This feedback (if it's constructive) will help your story be the best it can be, based on the opinions of people sufficiently detached from the thing that they can offer honest feedback.

6. Fix Any Problems

Now, if you took #5 to heart, #6 should be relatively easy. In theory, anyway. Reading through the feedback, asking clarification questions, and actually analyzing where you might have goofed can be painful, especially if your beta points out a misspelled word or a punctuation error that you know in your heart of hearts you should have caught, dangit. You might feel stupid at the obvious things pointed out to you, but get on your big kid pants about this. It's better to have caught the stupid stuff now rather than after your book is Really Out There and some editor is wondering why you think you should be published if you keep misspelling "the" as "teh" or your sentences are so long people get lost in them.

Finding a beta reader can be hard, and trusting your manuscript to them can be even harder, but believe me, your work will be greatly improved. You just have to close your eyes and make that leap of faith.

And now, for something completely different...

I have some exciting news regarding my Weird Western novella Sheep's Clothing: I've found a narrator for the audiobook!

Zach Brewster-Geisz is a stage, film, television, and voice actor whom I met via the Audiobook Creation Exchange website. I really liked his audition for Sheep's Clothing, and he's agreed to narrate. He said he would have the first fifteen minutes done and posted by the end of this month, so I will post an update as soon as it's up.

Have a good week!