Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Guest Author Nerissa Golden: Beta Testers My New Must Have

I am that woman who will inbox my blogger and author friends and tell them I found an error. It isn’t to be picky but because errors distract and make it more difficult for readers to connect with your work. First impressions still count and too many errors frustrate me, and I may or may not finish the book. As many authors today self-publish and print on-demand, it is much easier to fix errors on the fly. It is even easier if you’re a blogger or your book is digital as changes can be made almost instantly.
So, I was most disturbed to find not one, not two, but more errors that I dare to confess in my first novel Love’s Sweet Joyalmost one year after it was released. Had it been edited? Yes, and I was happy with the story and the finished product. My readers clearly were too as they raved about the book, but no one said, “I found an error”, except one friend. Thanks to my sister who clearly is as anal as I am about writing, (chalk that up to having a mother who was a primary school teacher) I was able to fix a few wrongs. She did not hesitate to mark up pages of her ebook to show me the error of my ways. I was disappointed that I had to make numerous corrections and yet very relieved that I could improve on the final product.
Finally, someone was telling me the truth and not merely saying “it was great.” It took her two days to read the book due to other commitments. Back in the day (before children) a novel or two or three was nothing to read in a day. She helped me make my book truly great and hopefully now error-free. My sister also validated my work and my efforts to honor some elements of our childhood in the places and foods I wove into the story. She remarked that it was a beautiful way to honor my parents.
Beta readers are now going to be a part of my editing process going forward. These readers don’t need to be my friend or a relative but they must be willing to give me honest feedback on the storyline and also help catch those errors that an author totally misses after the tenth time of seeing reading their manuscript.
I enjoy reading and I always spot the errors in books and I would hate for people to find an endless supply of errors in mine. Do you use beta readers? What is the process you use to make sure your books are reader ready?

Nerissa Golden is the editor of Montserrat’s top digital travel and information platform Discover Montserrat.
The former journalist and international speaker is the author of seven books. In 2017, she released the first two novels in the Return to Love series of romantic fiction, set in her picturesque homeland. Follow her on nerissagolden.com or @trulynerissa on Twitter.


Neil Waring said...

I have found errors long after publication in some of my works - embarrassing. I like it when people e-mail or message me with a found error, much better than trashing an author. Some of my Beta readers do well, others get too involved in the story and do not find many errors. The more I write, the better I get at finding my own, and other's errors as I read. Nice post! (the dreaded exclamation point)

Amy Reade said...

The trick to beta readers, I think, is to get someone you know whom you can trust to tell you the truth (and not just what you want to hear) or to get someone you don't know very well. I've had good luck with beta readers and I use them when I have time before a deadline. My husband is always my first reader and there have been instances when I haven't had the luxury of enough time for beta readers. No doubt, beta readers make for better books.

Linda Thorne said...

I've got one beta reader for the second book I'm working on. For the first I depended on critique groups and that process is a long time when you bring in 5 pages per meeting. I'd like to get more.

I think a beta reader is good as long as they are comfortable to tell you the ugly truths. I don't think any of us want someone praising our "bad" work so not to hurt our feelings. I do much better with straight forward talk about what is not good.

Enjoyed your post.

KeVin K. said...

Good column.

Early on I eschewed beta readers - but I was doing write-for-hire work in established TV or RPG universes (Star Trek, Shadowrun) and answered to fact checkers and license holders before the stories ever reached readers.

I carried that habit over to my first YA novel which, in its initial form, was rejected. (My career in adolescent mental health had left me ill-equipped to write about normal teenagers.) With the help of a few beta readers - some in the target age group - I got it (more) right and Down to Dirt is a stronger novel because of them.
I started my second novel in the series, Life on Dirt, with beta readers on tap, and things went much more smoothly.

For reasons not germane I didn't have betas on the third novel (which is currently in the last stages of final version). The first, un-betad draft was what folks here in the south call a hot mess. A half-dozen beta readers answered my call for help, and their advice and insights led to a ground-up rewrite of Rise from Dirt.

Last week, when my (male, mid-thirties) editor questioned whether teenaged girls discussed sex in the manner I depicted, instead of heatedly defending scenes I liked (as is my wont), I (as a male in my mid-sixties) turned the problematic scenes over to a panel of experts: four girls a year or two older than my characters. (There are advantages to teaching at a community college.) They agreed I'd gotten it wrong, but that my editor’s comments had been even farther off the mark. Today I'll be referring to their notes as I revise the scenes.

Now as a writer I can’t imagine going forward on any project without beta readers – both fellow writers and readers in my intended audience. They’re not infallible, but – especially when your protagonists are significantly unlike you – they are essential.

Liane Spicer said...

Years before I submitted my first novel to agents and editors, a writer friend read it and gave me invaluable feedback. Since then he has remained my beta reader, and I am his. He knows I will tell him the truth, no matter how brutal, and I know he has the same approach: it's about making the work the best it can be, not sparing delicate feelings.

My sister is my second beta reader; she brings insights of a different, more nuanced kind to the job. Neither of my betas is primarily concerned with finding basic errors since I do a pretty good job of self-editing, but are more concerned with story development, characterization, loopholes and inconsistencies... That sort of thing. And yes, those typos that escape authors even on the tenth reading of the manuscript.