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Dealing With Beta Readers - An Early Report

It's been a few months since I last looked at my full-length fantasy novel about Faustian deals - I put it aside for a spell, both to let beta readers have a crack at it and to focus on getting the Hobson & Choi book launch in order.

But the first H&C book is all fired into the atmosphere, the Book Two work now with other people, and most of my beta readers reported, so time to start in that direction again. Yesterday afternoon, for the first time in a while, I opened up the novel Scrivener file, looked at various beta reader notes and thought about it.

So, how does it feel returning to a novel post-beta? Have I got any advice for other writers in similar situations? Let's find out!

Time For Staggered Hatred

Everyone tells you a piece of writing will only be improved by leaving it for a while and coming back. I put this book aside for about a month (Christmas, basically) between first and second drafts, and now an epic gap of three months (almost exactly) between finishing the third draft and re-opening just now.

The good news: I do not hate it. I'd grown weary of this piece back in May, whereas now I'm ready to tear back into the words. Though does that just mean I hate it in a different way? Discuss.

Either way, hard to go wrong with taking a break, even though it's massively counter-intuitive with the desire to get work out there right the fuck now and inflict your genius upon the world. (I recommend multiple projects as a way of controlling this urge.)

Feedback And The Fleshy Cord

And I also have beta feedback this time, so that makes even more difference than just ignoring the book for  a few months.

Both leaving time and getting feedback are ways to weaken the crusty mental umbilical between yourself and your writing. You probably can't sever that completely, but you can take a few hacks, break it down to stringy tendrils.

Sometimes adding the feedback of non-you folk will be disappointing. I'll hold my pasty-white hands up and admit I thought the book was a bit more Ready To Rock than it turned out to be. At first, this got me down a bit. Not a crushing lot, but a noticeable bit.

Unfortunately, as every other writing blogger/tutor/street preacher has already told you, receiving feedback is a vital part of the whole process and if you can't do it, you'll probably (metaphorically) die.

Still, there is a plus side: you know how you spend half your life trying to hear/read other people's ideas without stealing them? You will often now receive other people's thoughts specifically about your book which you can plagiarise to your heart's content. It's so freeing, I'm not sure I need to learn to fly anymore.

Not to mention, although it's nice to get praise, the experience of having other humans engaging with your book and taking it seriously is pretty great regardless. So focus on that and plough on.

Planning With The Uni-Brain

The one slight problem with beta readers (assuming you have more than one, and that's a good idea if possible) is that they tend to have different views on your work. Until the blessed day we're all replaced by robots thinking with the same networked Uni-Brain, you need to parse your beta-reader feedback and decide which way to go.

Whereas when your betas all suggest the same thing, it's probably a glaring problem, likely also something a hypothetical future publisher/agent will notice. Best address those points, or at least have your reason/excuse ready.

In short, I spent two hours yesterday afternoon staring at the feedback and trying to come up with a unified plan of improvement. Much as I desperately want to just hack my way in, I gotta do the planning, and I may even do a bit more before I write/edit a single word. Partly because, if I'm being honest (sigh), it was partly lack of planning which caused many of the problems in the first place.

Seriously, when it comes to the next utterly new book, I'm going to make such detailed advance notes, it will turn the writing process itself into a completely joyless exercise in joining the dots. This I solemnly vow.

But I think that's it for now. You've got to admire the amount of words I just got out of sitting in a cafe and thinking for a bit. Join me at some point in the future for news on how the editing actually went!


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