Beta Readers!

girl-hugging-teddy

That’s how I feel about beta readers right now. They are a wonderful breed of people.

Today I received some surprise feedback on Vengeance Will Come from a beta reader. I’d assumed I wasn’t going to be getting a response, but the email had been left and forgotten in their “draft” folder. Needless to say; every beta reader’s comments are precious, so I feel like I’ve just found a $100 note on the pavement.

It also doesn’t hurt my mood that their comments were largely positive. I can’t begin to express how that spurs me on to continue writing – both to finish this project and others.

You mean I haven’t wasted hundreds of hours writing? You mean you’d willingly pay money for it and be happy you did at the end? Music to my ears.

Of course not every beta reader is so complimentary, and I do genuinely also appreciate the constructive criticism. I know some of my beta readers have picked up on weaknesses – because I had those same doubts. What’s even better is when they detect a problem which I hadn’t seen without their perspective.

 

I’m still looking for a few more readers for up to five chapters of my novel. More details on the previous post.

Lab Rats Sought for Experiment

And by “Lab Rats” I mean generous, heroic, courageous individuals (of course). If that sounds like you, or embodies characteristics that you aspire to, read on…

I’m looking for approximately 10 helpful people who are willing to read up to the first 5 chapters of Vengeance Will Come, my first novel. 

All I’m looking for is an answer to 1-3 simple questions:

  • 1) “Did you make it?” Under normal circumstances (i.e. you just picked this book up of a shelf) would you continue reading, or did you put the book down in boredom before reaching the end of the 5th chapter?
  • If you didn’t make it to the end:
    • 2a) Where did you stop?
    • 2b) Any particular reason why?

Easy, right?

Ideally I’m looking for people who enjoy reading (adult level). In terms of genre, it’s a ‘light’ fantasy/scifi adventure. (* Previous beta readers exempted; I need fresh blood, and, hopefully, a consensus).

At an average reading pace I can tell that will be approximately 30 minute reading time. You could help me realise my dreams in spending a morning commute reading. I’d be very appreciative, especially if you’re willing to answer any follow up questions I might have (not required).

If you’re interested please contact me on [my-first-name].[my-last-name]@internode.on.net (after replacing the bracketed bits), or post a comment below with your contact details.

Naturally I’d request that you don’t send it onto anyone else. (Under Australian law the mere fact I wrote it makes it copyrighted, which is nice).

I’ll fire back an email, and then all you need is a cup of tea or coffee and somewhere comfy to sit…

My Beta Reading Experience (Part 1)

As Vengeance Will Come is my first novel it stands to reason that I’ve never had beta readers before. In this post I describe what I did, how it worked out (part 1, anyway) and what I’d do differently.

Who to choose as beta readers

Listening to the Writing Excuses podcast it’s pretty clear that the who and why of beta readers varies from author to author. Some authors want industry insiders to beta read and other authors want average Jill-and-Joe reader.

Ideally I was looking for people who would cover off on some of these criterion:

  • could be relied upon to give an honest assessment. Liars, be they ever so motivated by noble sentiment in this instance, will not help me improve my craft.
  • well-read in my genre. Not only do they read a lot, they also read in fantasy/sci-fi so they can compare or contrast, and have some kind of benchmark or knowledge of common norms.
  • people who are likely to provide the most valuable feedback. More than just a thumbs up or down; detail behind what they liked or didn’t like.
  • grammar aficionados. Although I was more interested in the sweeping narrative than the minute detail, I’m also happy for someone to spot errors.

To be honest I didn’t feel like I had an already assembled go-to group. Quite possibly this is something I need to remedy. Maybe some of my time online needs to be spent on genre forums. Decision made: I’m going to try it getting into a few fantasy forums.

Without a go-to group, I just about begged passersby. I did manage to pull together a group of people who were willing read for me. It helps to remember that these people were doing me a favor. They were taking time out of other leisure activities to read a first novel (with all its inherent problems). Good people.

How I managed the Betas

beta readers

In the interest of focusing the feedback I inserted a page at the beginning of the book with some directions for my beta readers. By putting it in the book it meant that it was always available for them to refer to, not something separate in an email that might get lost or deleted.

Inserting a ‘due date’ is also a must. The last thing I wanted to do was leave it wide open. I didn’t want to be delayed by a well-meaning but continual, “I’ll get it to you soon.” I gave my readers two months, which I thought was a reasonable timeline. While setting a date I correctly guessed that it would be pushed out, but at least there were still goal posts. One beta reader returned it super fast and others around the due date.

I also gave my readers an ‘out’. The last thing I wanted to do was harm friendships or make it a heavy chore. Again, generous volunteers should not be abused.

I’ve also heard of some authors providing templates or more structure for their beta readers. I likewise have ideas for a number of tools that I’d like to be able to implement in the future.

I received feedback from only a portion of my beta readers, and I think that is to be expected. Life happens and sometimes unavoidably crushes everything that stands in its way. It’s also a reflection of my choices: I knew some people read less, and in different genres than were ideal.

It’d be naive to think that some readers didn’t just got bored and hit the delete key, too-kind to tell me.

I did intend on sending a reminder email to my betas at the halfway point, but didn’t do it. I didn’t want to harass them. In hindsight a single (or couple of) reminders really isn’t that much hassle and may have increased the number of returns I received.

Going back over the text, I question if it was too early for beta readers; a heinous crime. The goodwill of potential betas shouldn’t be exhausted with three-quarter-baked reads. Choosing and working with beta readers is absolutely a skill that needs to be developed. Beta reading is also a skill (one that I don’t possess myself). Undoubtedly as my skill improves for picking betas, and writing, others will become more interested, improving the fruitfulness of beta reading.

Nobody talked me down…

I’ve had a mini break from writing (dangerous, I know). But it’s been a time of enjoyment and productivity (albeit in other areas), so I don’t regret it.

Firstly since no one talked me down, I’ve been doing some coding in Java. It’s not a writing program yet but the framework to support it (at about 75% completion, to pull a number from the sky). And while I’m making up numbers let’s also say its a thousand percent under budget. (Speaking of budgets – the Australian budget is out tonight and here’s an excellent article on the immorality of spending the next generation(s) money). But I digress…

For my framework I’ve gone with what’s called an internal frame application because it allows maximum flexibility to the user. You can stretch the application over multiple monitors and position and size any number of internal windows to your preferences.

Writing Framework1

Each window can then have any number of panels added to it. (For example a writing panel, a character attributes panel, a todo panel…)

On other matters I’ve also been enjoying more time in the kitchen, having fun preparing a few more meals. (This gives both me enjoyment and my beautiful wife a break: wins-all round).

But now that I have some feedback from my beta readers it’s time to get back to writing and Vengeance Will Come. My next few posts I plan on writing about how I work through those beta reader comments.

Ugh-hoo-doh

It is the sound of layered feelings and emotions: tiredness tinged with joy, covered by a sad but inevitable postponement.

Let me paint the scene:

Ugh: It was the last night before a return to work after a long and relaxing holiday.

I had good intentions of getting my body clock back into work-sync; early to rise and early to bed. They were however just intentions, and de-railed by binge watching of seasons 1 & 2 of the great* scifi show “The 100”. (*I would call the show excellent if it weren’t for a few issues, detailed below).

So instead of getting to bed at an early but regular 2130 it had been closer to 2300 for the previous week. Rising had been anywhere from 0645 to 0830, a far cry from the required 0445 that was rapidly approaching reality.

Hoo. (As in, woo-hoo) I was in bed at 2200, still fairly awake when the beautiful Mrs Ezard returned home.

“A surprise,” she said, “I have for you.” One of my trusted and respected beta readers had returned hald of Vengeance Will Come, my first novel.

“And it is filled with tonnes of comments.” She annotated.

I remained in bed for all of about 13 seconds before announcing, “I’ll just have a quick look.” and sprung up with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morn.

True to my word I only skimmed for about 15 minutes. In this I showed epic restraint. I tried to get a decent night’s sleep but the die had already been cast. Many of you will understand how excitement kept me awake, and woke me early (0330).

Doh. And let’s not forget that while it waits for me at home I must now go and spend the day at work, not-writing. Which I believe adequately explains the title ugh-hoo-doh.

‘The 100’: Just Great, not Excellent

  • I’m all for a bit of character evolution, after all, your character’s should have arcs. I love a well done transition from good guy to bad guy. But I can’t stress enough these things should happen over time. Evolution takes time, a lot of time – not within the space of a single episode.There are far too-many character’s having too-quick changes for my liking: reckless to responsible, responsible to reckless; pacifist to psycho, psycho to pacifist; patient to rash, rash to patient. It’s the characters are playing musical-mood-chairs.
  • It has touches of Lost (which I hated) where they need something new, and they put it in without foreshadowing (e.g. giant ape). Foreshadowing is important… otherwise it comes off looking like a tacky plot element.
  • In the same mindset: there’s a girl-on-girl kiss that reeks of popularism (“everybody’s doing it in TV so we should too”). There is absolutely no foreshadowing that it was ever on the cards. Not to mention the character is kissing-back the woman who just killed her boyfriend an episode or two ago…
  • Also, I don’t think a main character has died since S01E03, which is unrealistic considering the challenges they’ve faced. Yes, it’s scifi but don’t over abuse my willingness to dial-down my disbelief.

 

The Rebel Queen

It started when I was writing my first novel Vengeance Will Come (Galactic Darkness series, book 1) and realised that I was introducing a BIG sub plot and a whole clown-car full of new characters half way through the story.Which is less than clever for a cohesive story.

So I cut out the juicy plot, planning to make it a novelette of around 17,500 words. I began working on this novelette in October 2015. The Rebel Queen is not book 2 of the series, but a bonus-story that runs slightly parallel to book 1 and 2, as shown in this graphic.

Timelines

I started with about 10,000 words of material and thought I could knock the project off in a couple of months. Ha! Evidently I am still learning to gauge time-and-writing- reality properly.

Two busy-writing months after my internal deadline, I am pleased to announce that I have sent The Rebel Queen out to my earliest alpha readers. Far from being a novelette, at nearly 64,000 words it is what I would call a short novel. It is an other-planet based story of empire-building, struggle and strife.

Back in October I used this as the blurb-descriptor:

There are rumours of a rebel faction hiding somewhere within the Deckarian colony. Such a presence threatens the unity of the colony and the Queen’s own ruling interest. The rebels must be swiftly crushed to remove all thoughts of a new Queen…

The rebel is young, inexperienced and has radical and controversial plans for the colony. She wants minimal bloodshed in the transition, but will her idealism prove fatal?

An unexpected human provocation will be the catalyst that puts the opposing forces onto a collision course. They will both learn that victory isn’t always what you expect.

I also like the below version, though it doesn’t describe the factions as well. Which do you like?

The hermaphrodite Deckarian Sue-Le sat in the bowels of the colony complex. The small antennae on her head that revealed her to be a genetic Queen were tied down and covered with a grey scarf. The small group sat in a corner of laundry facility 57, mending the pile of clothes beside them.Surrounded by vast boiling pots of filthy linen and kilometres of drying lines they plotted the overthrow of the colony.

I’m looking for beta readers if you’re interested, please let me know.

Trial Readers Sought for Vengeance Will Come

I’ve just finished revising the ending of Vengeance Will Come my first novel-length story.

So now I am looking for a few readers who would be kind enough to give me their written constructive criticism.

The Story

It’s a light-fantasy, set among the stars at a future time.

I’m just starting to write my blurb, but here’s a first cut:

Regent Danyel Abudra is unaware of the danger that lurks at his doorstep, or the lengths to which an old enemy will go to get revenge. He’s about to find out that it’s going to be worse than he could ever imagine, and survival is going to take everything he has…

Regent Menas Senay wants revenge at any cost and is willing to accept any offer of help to achieve it, even if that means aligning himself with a shadowy cult…

Both men will soon find out that vengeance has a cost that they must continue to pay…

It is about 476 pages long and 116k words.

What feedback am I after?

The kind of feedback that I am looking for is for your honest responses to the below kind of questions. The more feedback, the better…

Plot

  • What did you enjoy (or not enjoy) about the story?
  • Were there points in the story where you wanted to stop reading, or just had-to-read-one-more-chapter?
  • Were you bored or confused at any points?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • Would you be interested in reading the rest of the series?
  • What was the worst / best part of the story, if you had to pick?
  • Would you recommend this story to a friend? Why or why not?

Characters

  • Are the characters’ reactions to what is happening believable to you?
  • How do you feel about the characters? What emotions do they evoke? (love, hate, frustrated, curious).
  • Could you picture the characters in your mind?
  • Do you understand the relationships between the characters?

Setting

  • Could you “see” the setting where the action was taking place?

Style

  • Were there points where you feel I stuffed something up?
  • Any points where my word-choice was distracting?

I am less interested in (but would still gratefully accept) grammar or typing errors, especially if it’s a mistake that I am making repeatedly which is jarring to the reader. Normally as a reader you can’t both do this sentence-level checking and enjoy the story… I’d rather have perspectives on the story as a whole than the nitty-gritty.

I’d be hoping to have the feedback in approximately a month’s time (early-mid November) if possible.

Yep, I’m up for it

Excellent. Just leave a comment below and I’ll be in contact with you.

However, I’m after a range of readers so please let me know:

  1. Your age / gender
  2. How many fiction books would you read in an average year?
  3. Do you normally read fantasy / sci-fi books?
  4. Do you have any experience in writing / editing / publishing?

I’d really appreciate your help, thanks!