Some thoughts on beta readers

Ah, the mellow crooning of Rick Astley in the morning.  It’s impossible to be upset about anything right now.  The donut and orange juice I’m having for breakfast don’t hurt either. 

Yesterday I packaged up my manuscript into epub format and sent it to one of my closest friends to beta read.  Actually, since she’s reading my first draft version, it’s probably not even really a beta read, but I don’t have a better word for it so we’ll just call it that.

I explained that all I’ve done so far is a quick spell check. I haven’t checked for plot holes or character consistency or any of the biggies so forget about concise sentences or checking for blatant comma abuse.  It’s not pretty right now.  She assured me that she wouldn’t bother me with grammar errors or typos so once I got the promise that she’d read like a critic and not like a friend, I sent her the file.

So far all her comments have been very complimentary.  Which, let’s face it, I enjoy a lot.  But I can’t help but feel like it’s not helping me in the bigger picture.  I’d love to think that my story is perfect right out of the gate, but even if she is sincerely enjoying the story, I know there are scenes that need to be written differently.  And the whole work could use some tightening.  What you read on this blog is pretty close to the way I write fiction.  The conversational tone might be easy to read, but it’s a terrible example of strong writing.

I’m unclear on the exact order of events, but from what I understand, my friend talked up my book to her boyfriend.  He then went to a friend’s house and talked up my book there.  Now I have a complete stranger who would like to beta read my book for me.  My first instinct is to be excited about this turn of events.  First, because the word of mouth for my first draft was good enough that strangers are actually requesting to read my book.  That’s actually really amazing.

Secondly, a stranger wouldn’t feel nearly as compelled to give me a nice review based on years of friendship.  I’d hope that she’d feel comfortable telling me exactly what worked for her and what didn’t and if anything didn’t make sense to her.  A stranger won’t have heard me going on about the plot while I was writing it so she won’t have any background knowledge that might make the story easier to understand.  All she will know is exactly what she reads on the page.  And that’s exactly what I need to hear.

On the other hand, there’s some fear there too.  If my friend is willing to vouch for her, then I believe she’s a trustworthy person, but there’s always the possibility that I could be sending my manuscript to someone who might then send it to other people.  Pretty soon, my rough copy could be making the rounds on the internet and undermining my ability to sell a polished legit copy later.  It’s not just the idea of my book circulating for free.  I doubt that I’m popular enough for that to really hurt my fledgling writing career.  What I’d be more concerned with is the idea that a rough copy might be the only exposure someone has to my writing.  They’d think I was an awful writer and give me bad reviews online and in person based on a first draft. 

The one thing I don’t worry about is someone trying to steal my work and claim it as their own.  I have enough documentation by now that I think I could easily prove that I wrote the dang thing, including a hard copy I had printed at Kinkos and emailed excerpts going back to early February.  If someone took the idea and wrote their own version, it wouldn’t be very much like mine anyway. 

I guess that’s why the idea of people writing fanfic based on my work doesn’t bother me.  Even using my world and my characters, nobody else will be able to write a story the way I would.  It might quite possibly be better than anything I would write, true, but it still wouldn’t be me.  Actually, and this is really a post for another day, I think the idea of a collective of writers writing for the same universe is pretty awesome.  I’d love to participate in a project like that some day.  The Wild Card series springs to mind, but then so does pretty much every comic book ever written.

Well, back to work.  I wrote my friend a lengthy summary of my next book in an email and I’m going to expand that into my outline.  I did something similar with I Wish… but for myself.  I think I prefer the email approach since it forces me to clarify things that I’d otherwise just leave vague for myself to figure out later.  It just made for an all over more cohesive summary.


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