Sunday, January 9, 2011

Beta Readers

As a writer, who helps you check your manuscript before you submit it to your publisher or agent? Of course, your publisher will provide you with their own editor in the final stages, but before you submit, you want the work to be letter perfect, right?

Critique partners are hard to come by, especially those who work with you in the spirit you want - like someone who'll tell you if a scene isn't working, who'll find your dumb mistakes, but who doesn't try to prove how brilliant they are by crushing you with menial suggestions. And it's also hard to find someone who continues to work with you through thick and thin, over the years, consistently. Some folks are good for one book, or for a few chapters, but they peter out because of their own time limitations or new directions.

Once you find the perfect pal for this - hold onto them! I'm proud to say my partner for the past eight years has been Sonya Bateman, and I am the luckiest writer on this planet to have such a sweet, smart, and savvy friend to read my stuff when it pops out of my brain. I adore her writing, and consider her my hero. (Thanks, Kiddo!)

But beyond the serious critique partners, we really need a stable of readers from what I call my "Inner Circle" to go through and read our manuscripts to help us find stupid typos, inconsistencies, etc. I call them Beta Readers. I try to have anywhere from five to ten people at a time help me with this task. Usually they like my work anyway, and want a "sneak peek" at the next novel to be released. So they get a special invite, I always thank them in the acknowledgments, plus they get a free copy of the book.

I recently sent out a newsletter with a request for some more Beta Readers. The results have set my head reeling, because I'm so impressed with the quality of edits and comments I'm getting from folks. It interests me greatly that their perspectives can be so different, yet the value and substance of their comments are like gold.

For example, a former coworker of mine from Kodak, long since moved on to greener pastures, recently responded to my request. Her name is Nancy. She is the most thorough and amazing proof reader I've ever come across. She found a mistake in chapter titles, a section where the font changed (very subtle, I couldn't tell by looking!), a ton of little tiny stupid errors that were missed by previous readers, and especially the spot where I called Quinn's eyes brown. (they're now turquoise, a recent change!) On top of that, she did it all in 24 hours, and wanted another book after that, which she also finished in 24 hours. Talk about heaven!

Next came Sheila, who offered to give the process a shot since she enjoyed reading Mazurka and also happened to be a writer as well! I loved reading her comments. She found little inconsistencies that I never would have picked up on - like my heroine Marcella Hollister, who was very frugal when it came to getting car repairs or letting her husband buy gadgets, but when she got into the jewelry store, she whipped out her credit card without batting an eyelash! She found many things like this, and I used every one of her ideas. Thanks, Sheila!

I am so grateful for my Inner Circle. You know who you are! Thank you.

Now, how do you manage to polish your manuscript when the time is right? Who helps you? Or are you a solo flyer? Tell us about your experiences, below.

Aaron Paul Lazar


Kim Smith said...

Very happy to be in your "inner circle" Aaron. Also I have the help of a great book to pick up on things. It's on self-editing and makes you think of things like the overuse of certain words a particular problem of mine.

Unknown said...

Here's to Beta Readers!

Sonya said...

Too right - I know my crit partner is invaluable! *G*

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I've be with three wonderful critique online groups and what a blessing it's made to my career. One of my dearest and most valuable partners is Keith Pyeatt who I first worked with back in the mid-90s. It's been so long I'm no longer sure of the year. I have others from the UK and the States, not to mention my best friend who finds all my brain-dead typos, like "you" for "her". I still can't understand why I continually make that mistake.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, everyone! Glad to hear from you all!

Sheila Deeth said...

I really enjoyed the chance to read another of your books Aaron. And to find you mentioning me in your post is a lovely bonus! I suspect I should borrow your idea and look for beta readers when I get nearer the end of my edits.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Sheila! I truly enjoyed your perspective on the story and characters. You are a wonder! Thank you. And yes, you should, when the time comes!