Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why You May, Or May Not, Need A Beta Reader

Reading some articles and feedback on the net today and caught myself shaking my head. I was torn between agreeing with some people's claim that beta readers are unnecessary and being offended because, well, duh!

It had me sitting back and thinking about my experiences with other beta readers and as a beta reader myself. I may have touched on this subject before but I want to revisit it due to some resent events that both baffled and angered me. But I digress, beta reading.

Here is Wiki's definition for you, for those who have no idea what I'm talking about:
"An alpha reader or beta reader (also spelled alphareader / betareader, or shortened to alpha / beta), also pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.
Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking."

That is the basic gist of it. Some betas do take the time to do a read for editing mistakes though some only look for content issues. 
As far as others beta reading for me, I have had mixed results. I have asked perfect strangers to beta for me, which is, in my opinion, the best way to do it so your relationship doesn't affect what they say. (Except when I beta, because I don't care who you are, I will tell you what I really think.) I usually just ask if they read the genre, give them a summary/blurb, and ask for opinions and if they see any serious issues. I might give them a few questions to answer depending on the book itself. I have had some people take months and months to read this free, unpublished book I just trusted them with, and only get back with me to say that they enjoyed it. Really? That's it? 
I had a few people say they liked the genre, the blurb sounded great, then a few weeks later, tell me they couldn't finish it because it wasn't anything like they thought it would be. Although I think I'm pretty clear in my summaries, I gave them the silent salute, thank them for their time, and move on. I won't pretend that my writing can't be really intense sometimes and I know it is not for everyone. I have no illusions that some people won't hate it.
I have also had people reply with pages and pages of notes about why they hated this, that, and how I should rewrite the entire story to make it sound how they want. I had one person take a short story of mine and basically cover it in red ink. They thought everything was wrong. Umm, sorry. This is my story and I will be telling it in my own voice, thank you. 
I have had some really great experiences, though. People who give me detailed notes about areas they thought needed help. They were honest but not jerks about it. These are the ones I will go back to again. This is the kind of results that we as writers really need. Honest but not brutal. Truthful without coming across as a know-it-all asshole. 

But, it seems, every writer is not of the same opinion as me. I beta read for friends on occasion and I also do it as a side job for a small company that does line editing as well. I have also had mixed results with this because writers, like anyone, are so different. We might all write, but we do not all think alike. Hmm, that rhymes...
You have some writers who do it all for the money. To them, writing is a business and they will change their story in whatever way they need to to make it appeal more to a wider audience. 
Some writers are all passion. They write how they want, sales be damned. They are putting their story out there because it needed to be told.
There are also writers who write because they love it, but are so unsure of themselves and afraid of others' opinion of their works, that they may never actually publish. Or they will but won't really promote it or make a point to tell friends and family.
There are always authors that fit in more than one category, I mean, we aren't robots, but this is a generalization. You may be none of these things. My point is, what you are looking for with your writing can affect how you react to a beta read and exactly what you want from it. 

Some writers just want to be told that they are the best. They can't take any kind of constructive criticism, no matter how you word it, and refuse to change anything. 
Some writers are waiting on pin and needles for your input. They just need to know what you thought about their work and what was wrong with it. They would change everything you suggested because they doubt their own creative power.
There are those in between as well, of course. I like as many opinions as I can get so I can weed through and see if I can find a common thread. If five people tell me that one chapter is really bad, I'm probably going to rewrite that chapter. 
It takes all kinds in this world and writer's personalities and opinions are as varied as the color spectrum. 

The problem is, you never know what you are going to get from Joe Blow off the street. Do your research on who you ask to beta read for you. If you ask someone who seems interested but their Goodreads account says they have only read two books this year, I seriously doubt that they will be helpful to you. Make sure they are well read in your genre. Make sure they have the time to take actual notes about it. Make sure they understand exactly what you want from them. Don't be afraid to give them your own questionnaire, if they don't have one that they use already. (Some do but just because they don't, doesn't mean they are amateurs and won't take excellent notes.)

So, to conclude this super-frickin-long post, many people feel they don't need a beta reader because they have had bad experiences before. I sympathize with you, truly. It is enough to make me want to strangle people. Because you really, really, don't need a bad beta reader. That is just a waste of your time. But if you find a few good beta readers, stick with them! Their input could be very valuable.

I am an avid reader. I have been writing since childhood. I recognize most editing mistakes, though I am sure to miss some because, you know, the whole being human thing. I have read in multiple genres but the ones I enjoy the most, I have read hundreds of books in, therefore I can recognize cliche scenes and plot holes a mile away. I give people professional, if not sometimes snarky, feedback that is thoughtful and detailed. I get paid to do this because I do a damn good job.
I'm not stating this to get you to hire me. I'm stating this because I feel like writers should not give up this vital part of the publishing process because of a few bad apples. Good betas are out there and a few suggestions can go a long way to making a story go from okay to un-put-downable.

Look at it this way: would you rather have a beta tell you your book needs some serious help before it is published or have a bunch of reviewers say so after it is published? On the internet, where millions of people can see it?

Sunday, March 6, 2016


I always have so much going on that I feel seriously guilty when I take a few moments for myself. Between kids, writing, publishing, editing, marketing and promotion, three blogs, three Twitter accounts, two Facebook accounts, a newsletter, reading and reviewing, beta reading, housework, making and attempting to sell jewelry, beta reading, cooking meals, potty training a two-year-old, and all the other crap I do on a daily basis, I actually feel bad when I sit down and take a few minutes for me.
I honestly have forgotten how to fully relax. I can't sit down and read a few chapters of a book without worrying about the stuff I feel like I should be doing. I love watching TV shows and anime but it takes me forever to get through a series. So many interruptions. So many times I end up watching on my phone. It took me five days to watch an episode of Sword Art Online for crying out loud, watching ten minutes here and there when I could sneak it in.
Mommy needs a break.

My break used to be reading and writing. Escaping to those alternate worlds. Immersing myself in some character's life. Being somewhere else and being someone else. It was a great breather. A vacation from reality.
Not so much anymore. Too much worry in my mind. 

I worry about finishing a book so I can post a review, especially with my indie author friends. I worry about being objective with my reviews, being honest about errors without being an asshole or being overly gushy without sounding fake.
I get anxious when I think about publishing. I have not published a book since January 1st and I had planned to have two more out by now, one under each pen name. People keep asking me when the next Spunky book is coming out. Umm, Kyra is writing that one so, I have no clue?
I get headaches stressing about money and my multiple side jobs that are so failing at making any extra cash for our family. Being poor sucks.

In other words, I need to take a chill pill. Like, I need a serious enema of happy to chill the hell out these days. I have been so anxious that I haven't been able to write anything but poetry in a month and that is pretty bad, folks. 

I have to get a handle on this. I may really just go off the grid at the end of this month. No internet or social media of any kind. (See, I can't even think about that without worrying about people trying to contact me for book information or for help with their writing or wanting to buy jewelry, or... something.) It has gotten that ridiculous.

So, my faithful readers, I might have to disappear for a while. I might need to take an explore in the Hundred-Acre Woods or something. Get the hell out of Online Life and back into nature. Ah yes, nature, the thing that has always calmed me the most. That is most likely the real problem right there, I have not been out in nature enough in the past year. I miss it. 
Maybe I will go camping. Alone. With no electronics of any kind.

Okay, maybe a camera. Let's not get too crazy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

February Book Reviews & Other News

February is finally over, including the loneliest holiday of the year.

Binge eating chocolates aside, I had a lot of personal stuff going on this month including deaths and health issues so I was not able to read half as many books as I had originally planned. But let us take a look at the one I did sit down and enjoy.

by Various Authors

Rating: 5 Stars

An assortment of delicious stories and poems that are sure to please!
As the title suggests, each piece of this collection involves a gruesome death, undying love, or a passionate sexual need. Some contain all three. Each author brought their own voice, their own style to this anthology and though every story contained the same central themes, they were each unique. Some brought tears, some brought a sense of longing, some brought terror, and some brought lust. Every work contained in this collection grasped me firmly and held me, riveted, to the page.
I was captivated from the start, each story and poem leaving me in a dreamy daze of contemplation. I recommend reading it in the dark. 

To purchase this title, find it on Amazon here.

I was able to read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I found this to be an excellent book that I easily give five stars. I plan on starting the next installment soon.

I also launched my new author website last week! Yay!
This site will have all my author info, including buy links for my books, reviews, videos, and a short bio. What I am looking forward to the most is the new blog. Don't worry, this blog isn't going anywhere, the new blog is completely different. That one will be a writing blog. I will be posting a new chapter to an ongoing story called Fur & Feathers each week. Fur & Feathers is a fantasy romance with some action and drama mixed in. 
Come by and check out the new site here.