QSFer Elizabeth Schechter has a new MM / FF fantasy book out, and she’s stopping by QSF with a guest post:
On the Care and Feeding of Beta Readers
All writers know that there is one group of people who you cherish and protect, that you treat with absolute respect and not a little bit of awe, and who you should go out of your way to make certain they are happy.
No, not editors. Editors are wonderful people, and they deserve their own blog posts about how wonderful they are. The people I’m talking about now are the people who make your editors lives easier.
These are your beta readers. And when you find a good one, you should treat them like gold, and never mistreat them. Herein follows a guide to the care and feeding of your shiny new beta reader.
When first approaching a beta reader, be considerate. Make sure that they know what they are getting themselves into. Be clear about what you’re looking for, and what your expectations are from the beta reader. “I’d like for you to read this and see if there are any glaring inconsistencies. Does the injury move from his right to his left? Does his hair/eye/skin color change from the beginning to the end of the book? Does the villain’s name change? And, can you finish that in a month?”
(Those, by the way, are all things that beta readers have pointed out to me as mistakes in my own manuscripts. This is why beta readers are important!)
If the beta reader agrees, then add in the trigger warnings. This is the point where you will lose ninety-five percent of your betas, but you can’t skip it! If you don’t warn your new beta reader than your manuscript includes something that will cause them distress, not only will they never want to work with you again, but they probably won’t finish that manuscript. And even if they do, you won’t get an accurate reading from them. So warn them, and if they demur, accept with grace and keep their name in your files. Don’t burn your bridges— there will be other manuscripts.
Once you have your manuscripts in the hands of beta readers comes the hard part: you have to wait for them to get back to you. Be patient. Remember in the first step, where you told your potential beta readers how long they had to read? You have to give them that time. No rushing; a rushed beta reader is a sloppy beta reader. Let them work.
Now, here’s a horrible truth — in my experience, about half of the beta readers you ask to read the manuscript won’t get back to you at all. Remember that they’re doing this for free, and as a favor. Try to have twice the number of readers lined up as you want opinions.
All right. The month is up, and you have your responses from the beta readers. Now what? Now, read through them all. All the comments, all the glowing praise, all the “But this part here needs work” sections. See where the beta readers agree. Odds are pretty good that those are the things you need to address in the manuscript. Once that is done, see where they disagree. Look at each reader’s feedback individually, and see what they have to say. Are the comments indicating a problem with the story, or a preference on the part of the reader? Can you tell the difference? Here’s a hint: usually, you can’t, unless you really know your reader. When the reader tells you that the dog that comes into your story in chapter 6 is a distraction, and you know that your reader doesn’t like dogs, then that might just be their preference showing. And here’s the important part: you are the author. If that dog in chapter 6 is important in the final chapter, don’t change it to a monkey just because one reader told you they don’t like the dog!
All right. You’ve gone over what the beta readers have to say. You’ve sent the manuscript off. And, miracle of miracles, you have a signed contract. What then? Then, you thank your beta readers. I have thanked every beta reader who has ever given me their time and their opinion in the dedication of the books they’ve read. If you want to do something a little more concrete, that’s up to you. (Fresh cookies are never a wrong answer.)
Finally, there is one vitally important thing to remember about working with beta readers. Do not, under any circumstances, take anything they have to tell you personally — there is no failure here, only feedback. Which is what you wanted, right?
About the Book
Haven had been their goal since escaping the destruction of the School. Haven had promised safety, rest, an end to running and death. But things had gone badly wrong in the mountains. Tam and Linnea had to leave Matthias and Solomon behind to face the Elders, hoping to return for them once they’d found Haven.
The reality did not live up to the promise. Isolated and dying, Haven feared outsiders almost more than it needed new blood. With only the griffon Dancer and the human healer Ilane for allies, Tam and Linnea feared that Haven’s rulers would prevent them from going back for their friends—then fire rained down from the sky, and things became so much worse for everyone. (M/M, M/F)
Rebel Mage, Book Two
The contrivance that had brought the gryphon and the human healer out of Haven in answer to Matthias’ call for help was nothing like any transport that Tam had ever seen before. There seemed to be an open wagon somewhere in its recent ancestry, something that Tam was trying very hard not to think about as he sat in the back of what Dancer called her sleigh. There was a shield keeping the cold night wind out, but it was otherwise entirely open to the sky and the elements. Tam once more firmly shoved aside thoughts about how fast they were traveling, and how high they were above the ground, and how this contraption stayed in the air. There simply wasn’t enough room on his already crowded plate for another set of worries.
“She’ll be all right?” he asked again, looking down at Linnea’s pale face. She was bundled up in blankets and fur cloaks against the cold, and hadn’t moved a muscle since Tam had laid her down here. Which wasn’t right — Linnea had never been a quiet sleeper, even when they were kids together. “Shouldn’t she be moving? Or something?”
The little, dark-haired healer sitting on Linnea’s other side smiled at him, and he couldn’t tell if the smile was meant to reassure, or was simply because she was too polite to laugh at him for asking the same question for the third time.
“She’s in a healing trance,” she said. “It’s holding her quiet and stable while the rest of the spells work on healing the damage to her arm and,” She paused, met Tam’s eyes. “She’ll be fine. She’s responding very well to the spells. And the baby will be fine, too.”
Tam nodded. “I should have asked that, too. I’m still not used to the idea.” He swallowed, then smiled. “When I ask again in ten minutes—”
“I’ll tell you the same thing,” she finished.
Tam grinned. “Remind me? What’s your name?” he asked. “I think I’ve lost it. So much has happened, and I don’t think I’m really over whatever it was that Lin slipped into my tea last night.” He stopped and frowned. “Was it just last night? I’m not sure anymore.”
“Give me your hand.” The healer held her hand out; Tam took it, and felt warmth spread up his arm. “You’re right. There is still sedative in your blood. Ilane.”
Tam blinked, trying to ignore the warmth. “That the sedative?” She giggled. It was a good sound. “That’s my name.”
Tam smiled. “Ilane. Nice to meet you. I wish it had been under better circumstances.” He looked down at Linnea, then sighed.
“Is she your woman?” Ilane asked, letting go of Tam’s hand.
“Lin? No, she’s her own woman. She’s my best friend, since we were kids together.” He looked down at her. “At least, I thought she was.”
“And she drugged you?”
“Yeah. I don’t understand it.” Tam pulled his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair. “When she wakes up, I’ll ask her. But for now—”
“She’s fine, Tam,” Ilane repeated. “She’s fine, and you’re both safe now.” She frowned. “What about the others? Matthias and his lover?”
“Solomon,” Tam murmured. His stomach lurched. “I don’t know, Ilane.”
We will go back for them.
Elizabeth A. Schechter is a stay-at-home-mom who lives in Central Florida, where she enjoys seeing the looks on the faces of the other playgroup moms when she answers the question “What do you do?” by describing herself as a pervy fetish writer. Her first novel, Princes of Air, was published in 2011 by Circlet Press, and her second, a steampunk novel entitled House of the Sable Locks, is forthcoming.