beta readers

I did something very unusual this weekend, which was send a book out to beta readers. Normally I…don’t do that. Broadly speaking I feel writing a book is largely a closed loop between myself and my editor: she’s the source of feedback that I need, and I generally find adding more people in to that cycle to be very stressful.

I am, in fact, finding it very stressful, which is totally on me, not the readers: they’re providing feedback in exactly the way a writer wants them to, which is clearly, concisely and specifically, without emotionally laden language or snarky commentary, and by cushioning it with comments about what they did like, too.

No lie: the absolute worst editing experience I’ve ever had, when a very rough draft book was sent to second readers without my knowledge, I got feedback from one of those readers that said, literally, when I’d gotten something wrong, “AHAHAHAH NO”. I’m still angry about that, on so many levels. The whole process was so upsetting it took me about three months longer than it should have to edit the book because every time I opened the file I became enraged. In fact, I finally had to turn all the comments off, on that project, and deal with the problems as I saw them in the book before reactivating them and taking one last grim stab at it to answer anything left.

A good beta reader doesn’t do that, obviously. A good beta reader remembers that they’re involved in part of the creative process and that artists tend to be somewhat delicate fragile flowers about their art. And a good artist remembers that the way to improve their art is to listen to feedback about it…which doesn’t stop me from having an Instantaneous Sulk whenever I get a revision letter.

I mean, for example, the MAGIC & MANNERS revision letter was so light that even I couldn’t get into a sulk about it, which is pretty astonishing. Normally I glance at the letter, then, regardless of what it actually says, think something to the effect of OH MY GOD SHE HATES ME WHAT DOES SHE WANT ME TO DO TO MY PRECIOUS STORY NO I HATE HER I HATE IT ALL HOW DARE SHE and then about three days later, sullenly, I circle back around and actually read it and go “okay that’s not really so bad after all…” This is my process. I recognize that. :)

But it *is* my process, which means beta readers tend to put me in the OH MY GOD THEY HATE ME cycle for several days while feedback comes in, and, as I said, I find that stressful. It’s worse when the book is on a (hopefully) short turn-around, as this one is, and I have less time to sit and breathe my way through the sulks because I need to get the edits in place and ready to go.

All that said, though, in this particular case, though, when I’m revising a 20 year old book and I have far too much baggage clouding my judgment of the material, boy are they being helpful. Two of them (so far) have called out one thing as something that needs either clarification or excising, and a third has commented on something that I…well, I wondered about it, which is why I needed these readers.

Actually, I wondered about the thing the other two commented on, as well, which is probably good, as it means I’ve probably got a clearer picture of the material than I’m afraid I do…but it also means I really needed somebody else to read it and say “no really you do have to deal with this” rather than allow myself to believe that naaaaaaaah it’s fiiiiiiiiiiiine. :)

Anyway, despite the stress angle of it, I’m glad I’ve done this, as it’ll improve the book in exactly the ways I hope to. Onward!