Tag Archives: beta-reading

Art Is Never Finished: AKA beta-reading round two

You know that feeling when you’ve quoted a phrase for years, but then something happens that gives you a much deeper understanding of it?

If you’ve kept up with me here or on Instagram, you may have seen me talk about my adventure with beta-reading over the last year or so (holy crap it’s been that long how did that happen). If not, to catch you up in a sentence, I made structural changes to my current WIP due to the initial round of beta-reading feedback, and wanted another set of eyeballs to make sure I hadn’t completely missed the mark. (If you want to read about my experiment, can read about it here.)

That second-round feedback has returned over the past couple months, and I’m starting the final round of revisions before querying.

How do I know this will be the final round?

Well.

The manuscript is far from perfect, it’s true. It’s been an incredible learning process to re-envision this story, and to embark on a thorough beta-reading journey to help me see my blind spots for this story. I honestly think I’m a better storyteller than I was even a few months ago. But the reality is, I’m never going to please everyone. No matter what I do, there will be readers who dislike parts of my story (or the whole thing).

But instead of torturing myself trying to please everyone, or falling into a continuous loop of I’m better now let’s try one more time, or throwing up my hands in defeat, I found a whole new meaning in this quote:

Thus my initial question. Because it hit me, that barring a few clarification points I’m fixing, feedback is telling me that most of what I want to show in this story is coming through.

Yes, a few years from now, I’ll probably know how to do it better. Yes, there’s always another reader, another perspective, another opinion to help me see the story in a new light.

But what’s the point if the story is never going to actually be in the world?

People are enjoying my story. They’re wanting more.

And THAT is the whole point.

So, my manuscript is ready for the next step. Or maybe more accurately, I’m ready for the next step. I’m happy with what my story is saying, I’m content with its flaws, and it’s time to “abandon” this phase for the next.

But it made me wonder if others have experienced this: knowing that a “flaw” exists in their story and keeping it anyway. I’m sure someone with better skills will disagree with me, but I even think that addressing my manuscripts “flaws” might end up fundamentally changing parts of the story in a way I would hate.

So, in case anyone is interested and just for fun, I thought I’d share what I’m intentionally leaving in my manuscript and why. There are about three main things.

The beginning is slow to build.

Weeeell. That’s because I’m telling a really big story. The ironic thing is I initially started this manuscript with the deliberate challenge of never telling the reader anything until they absolutely needed it. As my betas can probably attest, I seriously hang on to the mystery for a while. But there is still a lot of set up for this story.

That’s not to say I’m spending paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition. More that the character has to make things happen in a situation where she has very little control, with a lot of different factors, and it takes a minute to get that momentum going.

This problem actually came up after the first round of beta-reading, and I have thoroughly changed or taken out as much as I possibly can without taking out subplots entirely. If I end up going the traditional publishing route, I will probably have to fight about keeping some of those subplots in there, but I have all of them for a reason. I will challenge them to find a subplot that can be removed without fundamentally changing the story. (Caveat: yes, I will be doing one more pass to see what else I can condense or change.)

This leads to number 2.

There are a lot of threads to this story.

This and the above go hand in hand. I have a lot of elements in this story. Surviving trauma. Dealing with heavy-handed, even abusive parents. Negotiating friendship as you drift apart. Found family, and acceptance. Carving your own path in the world. Finding unintended consequences when you do.

I think the trick here is to weave these all together in an engaging way. Because, the point is, as long as you keep the reader reading. I think I… mostly succeed, and I’m working on tightening this up and pulling these together in this last revision.

Again, a shoutout to all my beta-readers who are forcing me (they’re not forcing; you know what I mean) to push myself and rethink what I can.

My main character is both childish and mature

I know that’s a complaint in the YA community, that the teenagers act like adults. (My book isn’t YA, to be clear, though there’s a lot of coming-of-age elements.) My MC is like 20. She’s going to make reckless decisions where we as readers can see the consequences coming a mile away. She’s also the product of trauma, which can regress someone at times. But, hand in hand with that, there’s a maturity that comes from being forced to grow up quickly. She’s also very self aware and book-smart.

So. All of this is to say I’ve made things really hard on myself and have given her a childlike sense of curiosity and wonder that’s constantly at odds with a weary cynicism. At this point, whenever someone says they can’t quite get a sense of her age, my response is “yes.”

I can hear the rebuttals already. Yes, the reader has to be grounded or they’ll get confused and won’t enjoy the story. I’m tweaking a couple things here and there to hopefully get this across better. And it’s true I’ve probably invested a little too much of myself in this character to see her clearly.

But I’m okay with that. 😉

Because my manuscript will never be “finished.” I’ve done all I can with the skillset and perspective I have now. So, I’m going to abandon it to the world, and come what may, good and bad.

So. Your thoughts? Tell me I’m not alone in intentionally keeping these “flaws”!


My Beta-Reading Experiment

I’ll be honest. I’m not very good at seeking feedback for my writing. I don’t like sharing things as I write them. I want to sit on it and polish it for a million years before it even sees the light of day. I’ve sent manuscripts to family members and close friends to ask what they think— and while this can be great for certain things (alpha reads, self-confidence, etc)— I’ve never gone beyond that comfort zone.

So, now having finished a serious revision, and in the mind to push myself, I wanted to do something broader and more critical. I also wanted to be organized and structured about it. As I’ve talked about previously, I’m a soft marshmallow when it comes to criticism, and I wanted to guide feedback in a way that would be helpful and not crushing.

This is what I did.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

I started by setting up a Google Form and:

  • Created a series of questions that would cover what I needed answered about the manuscript, based off my own interest and of suggestions I found by researching.
    • Most questions I kept broad, but I did add specific details of the story to direct what I’m looking for.
    • And hey, if anyone is interested, I can totally write them out!
  • I made a list of people to send the manuscript to and asked them.
    • Trusted friends and family, along with, yes, fellow writers, inside and outside the genre I’m writing.
    • Part of the problem in my previous hesitant attempts at beta-reading was that I didn’t get enough variety and quantity of perspectives. Yes, this was due to not wanting influences that could be negative. I’d hoped to structure the questions so there was less possibility of that.
  • I sent the manuscript, with an overview of what I was looking for but not the specific questions, and how to access the form with the questions once they’d finished reading.

*Five months later*

Well, to start with, it turns out that asking people to respond in such a complex way was a bit too much to ask. Out of 15 people that I ultimately sent the manuscript to (over the course of several months), 5 have read it, and 0 have used the form.

(I’m still trying to decide if a 1/3 read rate is indicating something bad, or if people are just busy, which is totally legitimate.)

Most of them responded by sending back the manuscript with comments in-document and an overall thoughts letter, which I think is pretty typical in the world of beta-reading. The ones that said they’d go back to fill out the form… haven’t as of yet. People have lives beyond being my reading minions, that’s *dramatic sigh* fine I guess.

After a while, I simply followed up with them and asked some questions to compare and contrast with the comments I’d gotten from others. For example: “Hey do you think the beginning is slow?”

(The answer, by the way, is 4 out of 5 say yes. Ooops.)

Now it’s looking like I’m doing a second round of beta-reading. Because apparently I can’t stop torturing myself with the idea of perfection. Which I KNOW will never happen, because art is subjective and skills improve and perspectives are fluid and GAH why am I doing this to myself.

But I made some pretty big changes, including rearranging the first half quite a bit and rewriting a few chapters, and don’t I need perspective on that now to make sure I changed it in the right direction?

Anyway, moving on.

Despite getting really good feedback, and comments that helped me identify weaknesses I could then improve, I’m feeling more insecure about it than last time. Maybe before I was in a high of denial on how vulnerable this made me? I thought I’d get to hide behind data and my Google Form, and somehow disconnect feedback from the reality of receiving criticism on my manuscript child?

That’s not to say I didn’t receive positive comments. I got a lot of positive feedback, and everyone who’s responded said I met the ultimate test: they want to read more.

Am I going to try to use my Google Form again? Eh. I’m not sure. I think I’ll probably still put it out there as an option, but put the questions upfront, like in the body of the email I send with the document attached.

And yes, I know I need to put a limit on myself on how many times I do this. I can’t revise this thing forever. I want to get it actually into the world. And I need to get a move on, so that I can stop realizing six months later “Oh, I’ve improved as an writer, let’s change some things up!”

It feels close. I think the manuscript is almost there. Even if that means just forcing myself to stawwwwwp.

Until next time! I think my next post will be on how I cut over 30k words from my manuscript. I talked about it on my Instagram Stories a while ago, but I think it would be neat to revisit and write out the process. And hey, it might even help somebody.