Beta Reading for a friend – Lessons I learned

I finished beta reading for my friend I told you about in an earlier post, and it amazes me how much I have learned about my craft in the process. Believe it or not, this was my first beta read/critique outside of flash fiction and short stories on Scribophile, and even that hasn’t happened for a long time. I’ve critiqued a bunch of them, but I had never done a beta reading for a book. Even though I knew how important it is for writers to read the work of others who are also on the same experience level, I had never tried it. The reason was that I was too afraid of making a mistake in my critique/review and ultimately be a hindrance to the fellow writer. I mean, can you imagine if you’ve written something you were very proud of, have a trusty beta reader tell you that you should murder your darling, then have an editor or someone else more experienced than both you and the beta tell you that you should add it back? What would that say about the beta’s worth as a writer?

Point of the matter is that we learn to identify what to avoid in our own work by seeing it in someone else’s. For example, I know what exposition is, I’ve read a hundred articles and posts about it, and yet, if you were to ask me to identify it in my current project (Through Stranger Eyes), I’d most likely fail to find every single instance of it in my work. As I was reading my friend’s work, I came across a small section where I was certain beyond any doubt (in my mind at least – remember, I’m still a newbie) that what I was reading was pure exposition that slowed things down and was unrelated to the story, the plot, and the characters. I immediately made a note of it, so my friend would notice it and choose whether he wanted it in or not. As I was writing the comment to the side, it occurred to me that I had included an almost identical piece in my work. So I turned to my novel, found the page, and there it was. I had read this part of my story well over ten times, nine of which were pure edit rounds. And there it was, staring at me. It never crossed my mind that I had consciously chosen to keep it, because I failed to identify it as an expository piece that slowed things down, just as it was the case with my friend’s plot. If I hadn’t beta read, I would have never spotted it and I would have given my betas a less-than-acceptable story to read. Maybe they’d point it out to me, maybe they wouldn’t notice it or consider a big deal, maybe they’d be afraid of hurting my feelings by pointing it out. But I bet an agent or a publisher would see it and judge my work based on it.

I’m not going to go over on how many more sections like that or other problems I spotted in my works thanks to my friend’s novel. Suffice to say they were plenty.

Dear betas, when the time comes, you’ll be receiving a somewhat tighter and slightly fewer-in-words novel. Thank my friend for that 😉

Update on Through Stranger Eyes with a request for help at the end

At the end of this post, there’s a request on a friend’s behalf. If you don’t want to read my following ramble, skip to the end of the post and read the last paragraph.

The project I’m working on at the moment (provisional title, Through Stranger Eyes) is coming along fine, though slow, which means I once again failed to stick to my deadline. By deadline, I don’t mean a date where I would have finished everything about it and have it ready for betas. That’d be awesome, but no. What I mean is a date when the current round of edits had to be over, so the next round could start. I have yet to tinker with individual words (filter words and more active verbs) and sentence lengths and this usually takes time.

The reason for the delay is that I started querying and pitching The Darkening once more (most agents are back from holidays, plus I waited and hoped far too long on feedback from competitions I participated that never came), and at the same time I started researching ways of crowdfunding. Why? Because I may be submitting and querying agents, but I still have to keep my options open, in case every agent I approach turns my book down. A rather shocking possibility, but possibility nonetheless. I don’t know if you were aware of the following fact, but apparently, horror is a hard sell nowadays. I sure didn’t know it. There’s an abundance of horror books out there, so it never crossed my mind. Bad research on my part? Maybe, but then again I’d rather not
write solely following a market trend, since these things change with a snap of the fingers. I’m also unwilling to just shelf my work and forget I ever wrote that book. I may be emotionally attached to it, but I started writing not only because I had stories I wanted to tell, but also because I wanted others to read those stories. I don’t write for myself, which is why I struggle (perhaps too much) to perfect my craft and, through it, the quality of my work. I don’t have anything against those who write for themselves, it’s just not what I want.

So, I’ve spent a great deal of energy on researching marketing plans, strategies, promoters, editors, expenses, in addition to honing my craft, editing my own work, and of course reading to improve my writing skills. I’ve also decided to self publish a couple of my short stories in the following months. Not only will this put my name out there and, who knows, perhaps grant me a couple of readers, but I will also learn things related to self publishing first hand. It’s all nice and helpful when I read articles and posts about it, but unless I do it, everything I read will be something theoretical. All this, however, takes time, and it seems a day doesn’t have enough hours in it anymore, and I sometimes feel too drained.

Finally, the request I mentioned earlier. It’s not for me, but for a writer friend. Mind you, I will be in his shoes at soon, and you may have been in his at some point in the past. He is in need of beta readers for his current project, an epic medieval fantasy novel titled “Flakes of Fire” (about 135,000 words), for an adult audience. I’ve already offered to read for him, but one beta is never enough. In fact, it may be disastrous, especially since I’m not as experienced as a lot of you are. His open calls for betas on Goodreads and other sites have gone largely unanswered (we all know how hard it is to get beta readers when we embark in this journey) and there are no writing groups near where he lives. That’s pretty much how things are with me as well. I too don’t have a writing group (not many Greeks writing in another language, hehe. There are some but not too many), so I offered to help him by turning to you. If you would like to read something new, something fresh, if you have the time to spare and help a new writer, please let him know. His name is Yoann and his email address is: yo.re02[at]gmail[dot]com. Replace [at] with @, and [dot] with a period/full stop “.”

Thank you all.

It’s time for the beta readers

Well, the MS has spread its wings and is now away from the nest. Cliche metaphor, I know, but it’s true. It’s in the hands of the beta readers now (thank you all so much for helping out). So far, one of my betas has finished it and raised some valid questions (not to mention the typos that still made their way into the MS, even after all the editing). This is the first time since I started working on it that someone other than me is reading it, an exciting and scary notion. I sent my beta readers a rather long questionnaire to fill (if any of you is reading this, I’m really sorry, but it had to be done) with some 80-90 questions, with YES and NO, and ratings from 1-5, and “other comments” they wanted to add, AND on top of that a critique sheet for those who wanted to say more than a mere comment. I don’t know how they put up with me.

So, now I’m doing my best not to eat my fingernails to their roots, and the best way to do that is to plot the next novel-length story. It’s a sci-fi/cyberpunk story with some mystery elements. I’ve never tried something like that before, so I’m trying to figure things out from a very early stage and save myself all the trouble I had to go through with The Darkening (you may remember I rewrote the book twice after the first draft). I’m working on background stories for everything and everyone, and I’m often working as if I was “reverse engineering” things. Basically I start with where the situation is at the time of the story as well as where will end up by the end of the book, and work backwards in a logical way (e.g. Company Conglomerates own the government. How did this happen? Companies bailed the governments out. Why? Governments went bankrupt. Why? and so on). That’s all world-building, which is fine. My problem is dealing with the mystery element, since I have never tried something similar. I need to insert certain key clues for the main character to find at regular intervals, and their revelation has to come in the most natural way, instead of giving the impression I forced the character to a conclusion. I’m also concerned whether or not the story I have come up with so far is long enough for a novel, AND to make things worse, I also have no ending. I have no idea how the book will end.

What I do know, is that I like this story a lot, and I feel it has potential. I think I even have a title for it. It’s the mystery aspect I’m not sure how to handle correctly.

In other news, I’m collecting a fair amount of rejections for my short stories, so I guess it’s business as usual.

Hello once again

I’m back. I hope you all had a wonderful summer, and that you recharged your inner batteries. I know I’m late on posting (it’s been two months since my last post) but a lot of things have happened since then and it was hard to keep up with everything.

One of them was my father’s accident. He slipped and broke his leg almost a month and a half ago, so I had to take over most of the things he was dealing with. That meant hardly any time left for me. Luckily, he narrowly escaped surgery to reset the bone, despite the fact that he completely disregarded his doctors’ orders (and still does). Thanks to his surprisingly speedy mending process, and taking into account his age, what appeared to be a long rehabilitation period (doctors initially estimated it would take him around three months before they removed the cast), will most probably barely exceed a two-month period, if his bone continues to mend as fast as it does.

So, the one month I was supposed to use to polish my novel went out the window. BUT!! I did manage to finish editing most of it. In fact, I’m working on a printed version of it, where I’ll do the last edits before I sent it to my beta readers. See the photo? That’s it!

The Darkening

I got to tell you, it felt good holding it in my hands like that. Funny, it’s not even the final version, but it sure is nice to see it and hold it, you know? It makes it more real, more tangible. That’s something the digital medium will never achieve. Not for me, at least. It’s a strange feeling of mixed awe, pride, and fear, probably because I know there’s only one more step before someone else gets to read it, with the explicit instruction to find and point out even the slightest mistake. It’s daunting, but exciting too, because after their input, I will have a better manuscript in my hands. Thanks to my beta readers, I will have the chance to improve my craft. I know for a fact there’s a lot of space for improvement.

Funny fact: I’ve been editing, revising, and rewriting it for the past nine months (I actually rewrote the book twice; once for a better Point of View, the other to improve the story). 2/3 down the road of editing it with my trusty red pen, and I realise there’s more red ink on the pages than black. Makes me wonder, what on earth have I been editing all this time?!

Status update

Very little is going on at the moment. Heat is picking up and without A/C, I will soon be forced to edit my manuscript on my phone.
I’m a stressful person, and I can’t help but feel that even the smallest delay from my part will be a near-apocalyptic event in the long run. I’ve already been working on The Darkening for a little over a year (gosh, has it been that long? Time does fly, huh?) and I want to hold an edited version in my hands as soon as possible before someone outside myself sees it. Of course that doesn’t mean said edited version will be the final product. Far from it. But I also have two wonderful people waiting to beta for me (once again, thank you both!) and I really really REALLY want to hear their comments, particularly the negative ones, which are vital for my improvement. It will be a milestone of sorts, an indication I’ve actually produced something tangible, and the entire endeavour has moved forward. It will boost my morale. Working at the same novel for so long has made me feel like I’m in a stalemate. Thank God I don’t work on one solid 300 page long MS, but on separate scenes/chapters, each in their own individual folder. That way I get to see every week how much I have progressed. If not for that, I would have been overwhelmed.

OK, enough ranting and raving. Time for me to get back to work.