Beta or Worse?

Okay, so you’ve written a book and you’ve got a cover.

When you’re happy, do you go ahead and publish, or do you take it steady and make sure it’s readable?

Personally, I ask for beta readers and the more the merrier, whether it be a novel or a         collection of short stories. Yes, there might be a few issues in the final product but they also appear in books by acclaimed traditionally-published authors. Errors can be cut down dramatically with some effort and patience. It’s the responsibility of the author to produce the best book they can.

Before I send a manuscript to readers I’ll have gone at least as far as the third draft and on at least two occasions printed the story to perform a ‘red-pen’ edit. Even then, I tend to offer my beta readers a handful of things I’m    concerned about—a reader’s guide if you like:

Does the intro work? Is the dialogue realistic? Are the characters believable? Did you enjoy the story?

The list can be as long as the author feels necessary, but it’s hoped that the beta reader will highlight other issues too. If you create your characters and your imaginary world with care and attention to detail it will help to make the end product believable.

I’ve performed beta reading for many indie authors. Each book is different in length, style, author’s voice and topic. Not every book might be one I’d go looking for as reading material, but if it will help a fellow author I’m glad to do what I can if I can afford the time.

No, I’m not an editor but my expertise is that of the   reader who knows when something isn’t right in a variety of areas.

I know for example that firing an automatic pistol at a padlock or a door lock is about as much good as throwing your pen at it. Similarly, the only time firing a handgun at an escaping car will work is in movie-land. I know when to use farther instead of further, and inquiry rather than enquiry. No, a cowboy wasn’t thrown against the barn door by the ‘blast’ from a Colt 45, and I don’t care how close his adversary might have been. They’d need to be close just to hit one another. Cars don’t explode simply because they’ve overturned, and some blades don’t slide straight back out of the body after being thrust inward and upward.

Consistency and continuity are important to me and they are not the same thing.

Regarding consistency, I’m looking for a character’s name to always have one spelling, unless a nickname is used, and if a character has blue eyes, then they shouldn’t have brown eyes in the next chapter.

In continuity, I expect that when a character gets into a blue Jaguar and drives somewhere, they don’t get out of a red BMW at their destination.

To avoid rereading I prefer that no two characters use the same weapon, drive the same car or have similar names.

Two characters should not have their voices heard in the same paragraph but it seems to happen in a lot of eBooks. Sentences should also be manageable so that by the time you reach the end you remember the subject.

Dialogue tags don’t always have to be descriptive because the imagery and the dialogue ought to be creating the picture.

It’s fine, even preferable for a character to have a favourite word or phrase but not an author. Think about that one.

One of my greatest gripes is an author who doesn’t know their subject. Take for example the case of the famous   author who’s BDSM character introduces a young woman to mild punishment by giving her a traumatic thrashing with a leather belt, or … no, I’ll leave erotica out of this. Some misguided ideas would make your eyes water.

You get the idea … research, research, research, and don’t just use Google.

If you have space and are physically capable, get out of your chair and try the move you’ve just choreographed. How about:

Getting out of the car, she touched-up her lip gloss and lifted her purse.

No, she didn’t do it all while ‘getting out of the car’ she performed three separate actions.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time beta-reading for fellow indies and one of the things I feel that it does is help me in my writing. When I see an issue it tends to stand out and I learn from it, so it’s much less likely that I’ll do it in my work. Invariably, I gain confidence in my writing by seeing that in many cases I know when something is wrong or could be improved.

As an author, I’m aware of how important it is that I read regularly and widely. Thankfully because I’m a member of Kindle Unlimited I’ve been able to start and discard three books in the past couple of weeks. Unfortunate,   perhaps, but if those authors had taken the time to ask for a beta reader or two and I’d finished their books, I might have become a fan.

This article isn’t a rant, I’m highlighting an area of our craft that all indie authors should consider.

All comments are appreciated as always.

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P.S. Yes, I have changed my blog theme again. 🙂

12 thoughts on “Beta or Worse?”

  1. Good morning, Tom

    My latest book was probably the last that you beta read and you wisely suggested I corrected the minor errors first. Equally wisely, you started your document of notes with a comment that you liked the book. Wise, since you opened by criticizing the first paragraph, which I had read every time I opened the document and of which I was inordinately proud.

    You were, of course, right. It was an info dump, and some of the information wasn’t even correct. I thought it would be, but no. One of my characters had a car that couldn’t be classed as “a city runabout” and she refused to change it. (Self-willed, my lot.).

    Enough of that; I agree with you. We owe it to readers, and to ourselves, to produce work as good as it can be, and we are all blind to our own mistakes, so beta readers are essential. I undertake it myself, and I’m picky… picky… picky. It isn’t worth my time not to be, and it does the author who allowed me to see their work no service.

    So, what exactly drew me to comment more than to say “well said”? The hook at the end. First, you drop the subject of erotica after calling a traumatic thrashing “mild punishment”, but open the next paragraph by emphasizing the need for research and commanding “don’t just Google”. I agree. Nothing beats… sorry… visiting the setting, for example, but I am curious to know if Olive goes along with your mantra if you rely on she you keep in the attic… or possibly the cellar.

    Re-blogged – it should be mandatory reading for all authors, and not only Indies. The buck, and the one-star review, stops with author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sarah. Yes, it does help if the beta reader enjoys the story and it doesn’t prevent the job being done efficiently. The worst-case scenario would be a beta speed-reading, and that would most likely occur if they were bored or weren’t applying themselves. In the case of beta reading, you either do it conscientiously or you don’t do it.
      On the subject of my dear wife, she has never read any of my work, including the ‘e’ genre which as you know is now written by ‘she I keep in a small compartment in my head’. The attic is full already. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patrick. It’s difficult to hit the right note on these topics but we should all be aware of our own fallibility. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Love it. Great advice. I also advise, as I am having an issue with this right now, constantly growing you circle of betas. What I am running against is that I write in so many different categories of fiction that finding people to beta my scifi tends to be difficult as I am mostly geared toward horror and dark mystery. In short, I need either a wider circle or stick to horror.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have a problem, Bryan. I’m busy right now, but I couldn’t help with Sc-Fi if I wasn’t; I almost always find it too difficult to follow the concept. I know somebody competent, but I have no idea if she’d do it for free. Probably not, and you need several people.

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    2. Thank you, Bryan. I write a variety of genres but I also read widely, including beta reading. I’ve just completed three beta reads in quick succession so I now have to get back to my primary WIP. I’ve noted your name in my diary for mid-April. If I can afford a couple of days I’ll give you heads-up on FB. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for the kind comment, Damyanti. I’m not perfect by any means but we must all remember that mistakes in our craft are easily made but not so easily spotted by those who made them. 🙂

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