My last novel was published in November of 2017.
That's why I'm excited to reveal that my next novel, the long-awaited sequel to my debut ANOM: Awakening, is CLOSE to being finished. But what does that mean and how close is close?
Whenever I write a book, it looks something like this: First Draft, Second Draft, Beta Reading, Third Draft, Professional Editing, Final Draft, Publish.
The ANOM sequel is almost ready for BETA READING. This is the step where I send my unfinished novel to family and friends, and in turn, they read my novel, and lovingly tell me all the reasons why its terrible and should be destroyed on sight. If it sounds scary... it is.
In all honesty, Beta Reading is both my favorite and my most anxious phase of writing. On the good side, there are few moments as satisfying for a writer as landing an emotional beat with your audience. Whether you were trying to engender laughter, tears, or a gasp of surprise... realizing that your words have affected others exactly as you intended is near euphoric. I imagine it's like a gymnast sticking a perfect landing.
Of course, the opposite side of the coin exists as well. Beta Reading will reveal all the blind-spots we cling to as writers. When you hear that your favorite character is hated by everyone else, or the tension you've been building in that climactic moment falls flat, it can leave you questioning your skills and instincts as a writer. The silver-lining is that there's still time to fix these mistakes. In fact, identifying these missteps is exactly what a Beta Reading is for.
So, how can you create an effective Beta Reading for your future novel, short story, play, etc.?
You have to begin with people you trust. First, you need to trust them to do the work - because Beta Reading IS work. You're asking someone else to devote their time and energy not only to reading your work, but also to analyzing your work and sharing that analysis with you at a later date. If you think that sounds like homework, that's exactly what it is.
You also need Beta Readers that you can trust to tell you the truth. Hearing all the good things about your novel may boost your ego, but it seldom helps you improve your writing. You need Beta Readers who are unafraid to point out your mistakes and shortcomings. At the same time, you, as the writer, need to be willing to listen and accept that criticism - rather than defending yourself at every possible turn. If you consistently shutdown your Beta Readers by arguing with them over their opinions, they'll learn soon enough that it's better to keep silent.
After I've chosen my team, I establish a deadline. Depending on the length of my novel, I'll give my readers 1-2 months to finish reading my book and prepare their criticism. I want everyone to have enough time so that they don't feel rushed or harried in getting the work done, but I don't want to give them too much time so that the project gets shelved and forgotten.
When the deadline arrives, I host a conference for all of my Beta Readers, either in person or through teleconferencing, so that we can discuss the book together. I think there's value in receiving feedback through this group discussion (instead of 1-on-1) because one comment will often lead to another, and another, and another, and patterns are quickly established. For example, if everyone in your group agrees that they hate chapter 5, it's hard to argue that Chapter 5 shouldn't be changed.
Finally, I give my BETA READERS a list of questions to help focus their thoughts. I've included the questions here in case anyone wants to borrow them:
A Beta Reading can be a daunting step in the writing process. It may be the first time than anyone else is reading your new book, but it's also an important tool to sharpen your writing before publication. I hope you can use these suggestions in your own writing, as we continue to work at improving our craft.
Most importantly, no matter where you are in your own process, write on...