Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

How to write a novel: 6 The beta readers

Having completed my novel rewrites and edits to the best of my abilities, it was time to let other people read it for the first time. By this stage, getting feedback on extracts was becoming less useful because they depended on familiarity with other parts of the novel. Did it make sense as a complete story?

The perfect beta reader is someone you trust to give you objective feedback on your book. My beta readers included a writer friend who’d given some fantastic feedback during the editing (I’ve since returned the favour by beta-reading for her), a keen reader who I’d met through a running forum and my parents (who are not inclined towards undeserved praise!).

Before my beta readers read The Syndrome Diaries (links to Amazon are on my homepage), we agreed what they were going to feed back on. I wanted to know whether the book hung together, and whether the characters and their actions made sense and were consistent. My Dad, for whom ambiguities and grammar slip-ups jump off the page, was also asked to note technical mistakes in the writing.

The feedback I received was just what I wanted. Overall, my beta readers were positive about the book while all finding issues that needed further work. Without giving spoilers, my post-beta edit included some character enhancement, adjusting some of the timings of events to make them more believable and sprinkling some extra clues through the text so that one of the later revelations wasn’t quite such a surprise. This is where the beta readers were particularly helpful: I thought the clues were there, but I’d been too subtle.

So, with the final changes made, the novel was almost ready for release. I’ll discuss the final stages of the process and the uploading to Amazon in another blog very soon.

In the meantime, I promised to keep you updated with Syndrome’s progress. The sales are still a trickle rather than a whoosh, but I’m thrilled that it’s selling. As yet, there are no reviews, but it’s still early days and I know of several people who are currently in the process of reading the novel. I haven’t done the marketing activity that I ought to have done, largely due to biting off way more than I could chew over the last couple of weeks and throwing a few personal issues into the mix. My head was permanently sticking over the parapet, and, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, I needed a little bit of space to be nice to myself. Normal service is now restored.

I know that I need to switch my focus towards producing more books rather than worrying too much about what’s already out there (easier said than done), so I’m currently preparing to produce another draft novel in November with Nanowrimo. In December, I’m going to start editing a draft I already have. Although I wrote it 3 years ago, one of its themes ties in with the recently-published Bad Pharma which I’m just about to start reading. I’m looking forward to spending some time with Ed and Em, my main characters, who are rather less self-absorbed than Becky, Ben and India from The Syndrome Diaries.

And last of all, but by no means least, I must thank Pat for nominating me for Most Helpful Blogger award. This is the first time anything like this has happened, so it was a huge surprise, and fantastic to get positive feedback from someone whose blog I’m very fond of.

Hopefully today’s blog is helpful: please post if there are other things you think I should be covering or if you have any questions.

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7 thoughts on “How to write a novel: 6 The beta readers

  1. That’s good you have friends who can offer you honest feedback. I value that kind of feedback most of all. Yes, sometimes it can be brutal, but with the right beta readers, friends, etc. the brutal is tolerable. Those kinds of readers will offer you harsh feedback with directions to go. I really wish I’d known this earlier in my writing career, I was too afraid to let anyone read anything. I would have grown so much quicker if I hadn’t been afraid of feedback.

    Great post on feedback. Were there ever any times feedback totally deflated you, but then as you pondered on it, you realized what they meant and became a stronger writer because of it?

    • Jae – the only feedback-crisis I had was when one of the extracts triggered a heated debate about the morals of my characters (the three main characters are all rather self-centred). I was worried that I’d upset people that I respected, and that was really the lowest point. Part of the problem was that I’d originally thought it was general, mainstream fiction, then one writers’ group said no, it was women’s fiction (probably because it was a rather assertive bloke doing the labelling and the characters were female). Then my current writers’ group (who’ve heard far more of it) said that if it was women’s fiction, the themes running through it were too gritty. The problems categorising it were partly what led to me self-publishing: unlikeable characters and not fitting into a neat slot would make it difficult to market and so it wouldn’t appeal to a traditional publisher. Actually, I’ve just realised that unlikeable characters are probably worth a blog… Anyway, I’m over it and a stronger writer: it’s taught me that you can’t appeal to everyone, and that I’m happier doing my own thing rather than trying to fit into a box (something along these lines appeared on my school report when I was 9 – what an insightful teacher I had!).

      • It’s so subjective, you’re right. I took my WIP to a conference, where it was… not anyone’s favorite shall we say. Then a few months later the exact same version of my WIP won 1st place in a contest in the YA category. Although the conference prompted changes that I do like, it’s still nice to have some feedback that says I’m headed in a good direction.

    • Jae – that’s such a great story about your WIP.

  2. I was just thinking about you, so I’m glad to see your post in my inbox! I’ve just started The Syndrome Diaries, and I wanted to select it on Goodreads to show I’m reading it (so it will show up in my blog’s Goodreads widget, too), but I couldn’t find it there. Did you enter it in Goodreads yet? It’s easy to do if you haven’t.

    I’m looking forward to the read, and I will leave a review when I’m done. 🙂

    • I’ve sorted out the Goodreads listing now to feature the cover too. I’m going to upload an extract but need to be back home with Scrivener before I can do that.

      • Sounds good. I’ll reload it to my site when the image is up. I’m really enjoying it so far. Well written, and it’s keeping me guessing. Your characters are so real. 🙂

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