Hello! Sorry I missed last week – life came along and got in the way. I said I’d write about Beta readers, and to a point, I will, but also … more. I was writing the acknowledgements for Dear Isobel yesterday (and again this morning, because I am having far too many IT issues this week and lost the first document entirely, but that’s another story) and it led me to think about more than just Beta readers.
As Dear Isobel is a bit Cloak-and-dagger, in that the main character remains unnamed, I decided to carry that through to the acknowledgements. Initially, I had named everyone, (in yesterday’s lost draft) but in today’s rewrite, I’ve unnamed most of them again. In many ways, this is what we can officially call a ‘cop out’ as it means there is unlikely to be anyone I’ve actually forgotten to name. ‘The family’, ‘the early readers’, the publishing company’. There were people I wanted to name properly, but then I didn’t. I wanted to name the Beta readers, for example. Especially those who read over and over. And the ones who offered editing advice. And the published author and journalist who gave not only time to reading the first chapters at a very early stage, but also offered kindness and friendship in the form of a very long phone conversation (and other kindnesses since). She said many things I have not forgotten, even though this conversation was many years ago now. Her words and encouragement and kindness have lingered in me, pushing me on when I thought the book would never get finished. Every now and then I’d hear her voice: ‘Well, you can certainly write.’ That has been like a boot against my backside, urging me to keep moving forwards.
… As have the large proportion of beta readers who said, ‘I recognise this story. I’ve been in that situation,’ and agreed that it’s a story in need of telling. A lot of boots, kicking me on.
But that was a side effect of the Beta reading process, not its main intention. Beta readers are mainly there to read. Not to edit, or change the story, or fix the typos, but to read and see if the story is readable. I ask them if they enjoy it; if they don’t; if it bores them, or carries them along. I ask them to look out for inconsistencies and plot holes; the unbelievable and the unwieldy. What I hadn’t expected from the Dear Isobel Betas was for 9 out of 10 (or thereabouts – all bar one, anyway) to say ‘I get it. It’s me.’ Those readers found little to question in terms of plausibility or disbelief. They’ve been there, done that, hidden the t-shirt in the back of their wardrobe to drag out and smell when no one is watching. So, no, I won’t name them.
The other one, equally valuable in her response, told me that the main character – the narrrator of the story – is deeply dislikable. It’s true. She is, at times. She does some terrible things. But the other 8 or 9 or so Beta readers reassured me of her human-ness. (I don’t use ‘humanity’ here, as that implies too much niceness.) The narrator is flawed: she often makes bad judgements, she hurts a lot of people, but she is, above all else, very human and, apparently, recognisable to many. It seems that I guessed right when I said that there are people who need to read this book to be reassured that they are not alone in their human-ness of bad decisions.
So, ultimately, in my acknowledgements, at time of writing this, only 3 people get properly named (the photographers, since you ask – the people who contributed their own artwork to help me with my artwork.)
But what about the Jess O’Malley books? What about those Beta readers? Some of the readers are the same as those who’ve read Dear Isobel; some are different. They have a harder task, I think. For these books, there are many specifics that I have asked for. Does each book work as a standalone? Is there enough information in the second to cover backstory explained in the first? Too much? Are there inconsistencies in either book, or between them both? The first book, A Diet of Death, was Beta read a year or so ago, but has now had some tweaks to tie it in better to the second one (A Hover of Trout). Some readers were given the task of reading both books – even if they had already read the first the first time around – and some were only given A Hover of Trout. Some were given extra tasks such as ‘Is the police work believable and at least vaguely accurate?‘ or ‘Have I done okay in the way I’ve described Clara and Briony’s hair?‘ or ‘Have I got the gun details right?‘ but most were asked only ‘Did you enjoy it? Why or why not?‘ and ‘What didn’t work or needs clarifying?‘Will I name them? I don’t know yet. I’ll think about the acknowledgements for those books a little further down the road. Either way, I thank them.
These early readers are invaluable to the process of getting a well-finished book out there into the big wide world. They take the story I have created and polish it. They weed out a whole lot of mistakes, so that, hopefully, when it gets to the next stage it:
A. will make sense and hang together well.
B. won’t get quite so much red pen acorss it when my editor gets his hands on it.
Of course, it’s also a lovely boost if any of them say they like it too! (They have, so far, but I haven’t heard back from everyone yet.)
So, here, in public, is a big shout to my Beta readers. Thank you for your time, your interest, and your help. It really does help. A lot.