Yves Brown McClain: Literary Fierceness

Posts Tagged ‘Beta readers’

Writer Wednesday: Killing Your Story Softly #2

Posted by Dahlia on August 24, 2011

Killing your story softly 

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. However, I’m a reader first. I love reading books as much I enjoy writing them. I have found from both the reader’s and writer’s perspective that there are things an author can do to a book that could place it in urgent care, ICU, or just flat out kill it altogether. Based on feedback from both writers and readers the Killing Your Story Softly (KYSS) Series was born.  So, you ready? LEGGO!


KYSS #2: Cause of story death was determined to be lack of edit

Here is a re-enactment of a conversation an anonymous writer had with her friend who is also a writer. Writer A wrote a story, Writer B was acting as a critique partner. The dialogue isn’t word for word, but you’ll get the point.


Writer A: I think I’m ready to get this thing published.

Writer B: You’re ready. It’s a great story.

Writer A: Thanks. I think between your comments and my red sharpie, I’m as ready as I’m gonna be.

Writer B: Trust me on this. Don’t do it. You could shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t have it edited. I’ll give you my editor’s number. She’ll catch things that we missed.


Okay, I’ll admit that writer A was me. (Gasp!) If you go through previous posts, you’ll find how much I believe in NEVER editing your own work. So, why was I now taking this hypocritical stand?

Well, the piece I put together was short. Coming in at under 24K, I felt the word count was low enough that between me and my sharpie, the critique of Writer B, and my endearing Beta Babies that were doing a test read, I could circumvent the professional substantive edit.

Second, I was anxious. I really wanted to give “the people” (the millions of imaginary fans I’d envisioned downloading my novella in droves) something to read. Put a little literary gem into the universe while I completed revisions on my full-length novel and put THAT one through the professional edit.

Writer B was having NONE of that. Despite it’s length, it needed an edit. If not for typos and grammar, at least for structure and flow. Without proper editing, I was taking a huge chance that the gem I was putting out would turn out to be a cubic zirconia, not a diamond.

I once read an book by an author whose work I really like. But, the story wasn’t edited very well. She grossly misspelled a well known fashion label. I was able to move past it because the story was good but it was almost like that movie Showgirls where Jessi (I know that’s her Saved By The Bell character name) called the dress she was wearing “Ver-sayse”. Epic fail. The typos I remember about as much as the plot itself. Thing is, not every reader is as forgiving as me. For some, this can be considered a critical error. Critical story errors can turn people off and not only will they never read another book of yours, they’ll tell their friends.

Am I suggesting you run every piece by a professional editor? Not really. If you’re posting a flash-fiction piece, a poem you came up with at 3am, or a writing exercise on your blog or website just for fun or to give your readership a “lil’ something something”, just as long as you pull out your sharpie, read it aloud, and hit spellcheck, you can get away with it. Besides, at the frequency blogs are updated, there’s not a lot of time for it. And most of us don’t even have the resources.

BUT for work you want to publish AND/OR sell, skipping this step could be a shot to the foot or worse. Now will that editor catch it ALL? No. I’ve put the novel I’ve been working on through a professional edit before and she caught the vast majority of my mistakes. But, she missed a couple of tiny things, like a comma here and there. Stuff like that won’t kill you as it didn’t interrupt the flow of the book. However, cracks in story development, plot holes, typos, and tense-jumping might pronounce your work DOA.

So, I’ve been in touch with a few potential editors to go through my novella. So, while I’m not able to cross that published bridge yet, it’ll be worth it to wait because I really want this story to be known for its plot and characters, NOT for that major story flaw halfway through it or the little annoying things like redundant words or not being descriptive enough. Oh, and to Writer B? Thanks again. You saved my writing aspirations from potential death or brain damage from lack of edit.


Now it’s your turn. My beloved readers, what things have you come across in books that have made you scratch your head or just throw the book in the garbage? For my writer peeps, what pitfalls are you avoiding so that your work will be its best effort possible? I’d like to know. Perhaps your story pet peeve will make the “KYSS of death” list. Happy writing and happy reading 🙂

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Open Floor Friday: Beta Readers

Posted by Dahlia on March 4, 2011

While going through my twitter timeline and perusing blogs, I came across a term that is new to me: Beta readers. Knowing nothing of the concept, I turned to my online source of all facts, both useful and useless, Wikipedia. Here is wiki’s description:

“A beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as a ‘critical eye’…”

Initially, I had a sense of beta readers being another term for critique partners/groups. However, as I continued to read, I was made to feel like Betas are the test group – they get the advance screening of your book, much like a test audience for a new movie. They are not reviewers, because based on the betas’ feedback, the Alpha (the author) can go back and make some changes, similar to how a movie director or producer can go back and cut scenes based on audience feedback. I also want to point out that according to Wikipedia, the Alpha is not always aware of who his/her Betas are.

Now, I’m intrigued by the concept. How interesting is it to have a select group of people read your book that fits your target demographic and genre before it is officially published? You can find out if the story works, what characters are great, which ones are hated, if the story flows well, etc. I also have a few concerns. I don’t believe I would sub betas for a professional editor. I would rather use them as an enhancement, or another level to the writing process. I’m also curious if there would be a contract that states who owns the work and clearly defining what their purpose is, much like the agreement I had with my editor. How about a confidentiality agreement? Is there anything in place that legally protects the Alpha (other than the copyright which is immediate) and the Beta? Is it even necessary? If you have critique partners, are the betas even needed? Or does it just delay the publication of your book?

So, now I open the floor for feedback. What do you think? Are betas just another fancy word for critique groups or do you see them as being different? Would you be open to using betas? Why or why not? This post also gives me an opportunity to utilize the poll feature, so click away!

Posted in Open Floor, Publishing | Tagged: , , | 41 Comments »