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Clearly, he could see that she raised an eyebrow at him with gritted teeth and bravado.

Ah, how I love my beta readers. Truly, madly, and deeply. 

I composed the title of this post from words and phrases that a dear beta reader pointed out I had egregiously overused in my first draft of the Amazing Secret Project

(Also abused: "actually," "however," "he noticed that," and "seemed to.")

Now, remember: when I drafted the ASP, I was writing as fast as I could, not taking time to tinker with my prose at all. And I did give it a once-over before sending it to my betas--trying to avoid embarrassing spelling, grammatical, and usage errors as much as possible.

But then, apparently on that re-read, I got so sucked into my own story that I missed several prominent tics in which I had indulged while writing for my life. Oops.

This is where other eyes serve the writer so well.  They quickly and efficiently recognize problems that the writer, suffering from a certain kind of creative myopia, is too close to see. 

Writers--especially those planning to self-publish--would do well to choose several beta readers to read their manuscripts before said manuscripts see the light of day, where "light of day" is defined as being put in front of a potential agent, editor, or book purchaser.

Choose a reader who is picky about mechanics--spelling, grammar, and usage. Choose one who is far outside your target audience. Choose one who reads a ton within your genre. Choose another who reads widely, but not necessarily within your genre at all. Choose someone who is unfamiliar with the setting/culture of your story. You want varied points of view--and you want people who won't just say/write, "I loved it!" (That is your spouse's/best friend's/children's job.)

I chose five people--two men and three women--and asked them to read my manuscript and point out any obvious-to-them problems before I gave it another polish and sent it to my collaborators for their evaluation. All five gave me invaluable and timely responses, but the interesting thing to me was that, while no one's feedback contradicted anyone else's input, almost none of it overlapped, either. 

One reader pointed out a big failure on my part to characterize someone as sympathetic. Another pointed out that the story's climax lacked tension.  Another got confused between characters--and when it comes to confusion, my position is that the reader/customer is always right. The writer has the burden of writing scenes clearly enough so that the reader doesn't have to fall out of the story in order to puzzle something out.

Fortunately for me, all five had really nice things to say about the story, too. But here's the other great thing--I'm past the point where criticism (at least, fair and asked-for criticism) hurts me personally. Years ago, it would crush me to have someone point out that my writing was less than perfect. Nowadays, I welcome any way to improve my work. But, hey--the compliments were great to read--and a sign that I had done some things right.

I made a list of all of the story's problems as pointed out by the formidable betas, then spent several days rewriting sentences and paragraphs and scenes until I had crossed the last problem off the list. Then I sent the manuscript to my collaborators--who told me last night that so far, they love what I've done.

Thanks, betas. You made my book much, much better. I owe you, and you'll all be featured in the acknowledgments once the book is published in August. 

Reader Comments (6)

I'm still thrilled and excited about this project, firstly because it came at a time when you really needed something, and secondly, because of the effect it's had on your method of writing. I don't think you're likely ever to write in the same way that you used to, now that you've been through this exercise. That's growth, that is! It's been lovely so see.

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLemongrass

Ditto Lemongrass.

I can't wait to see where this all is going to end up!

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEowyn

A good beta is worth their weight in gold. Or double their weight in gold! I think one of the hard parts for me about betas/critiques is not the crit itself so much as it is that moment when I think to myself, "Why didn't I think of that?!" Because when someone else says it, it makes so much sense!

Very happy for you that it's all going well! So excited for you!

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterL.T. Elliot

Love, love, love.

January 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette

luisa! Michael and I can't wait to hear what you are writing. We have made endless speculations and are super excited for you.

January 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKrystle

good luck with the publication!

February 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGoofball

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