Beta Readers: What’s the Point?

As I get ready to ship out version 1.4 of the rewrite of Flight of the Spider: Book 2 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, to beta readers, I’m reminded again of the value of these early readers.

What’s a beta reader? You ask.

It’s someone who agrees to read your unpublished manuscript and provide an opinion about the work as a whole and comment (briefly) on things that worked and didn’t worked. Quite frankly, the comments about what doesn’t work are more valuable to me than anything else.

If I don’t realize something is broken, I can’t fix it.

And believe me, the manuscript beta readers get is far different from the first, second or even third version. Most, but not all, of the characters have survived. About 75% of the action is the same.

Much else is completely different. In the latest rewrite of The Flight of the Spider, I deleted 98 pages of material and wrote 100 pages of new material in a manuscript that comes in at about 420 pages.

Two other thoughts about betas:

  1. They are getting a manuscript I think is ready to publish. In my mind, there are no more rewrites — unless, of course, the beta readers say it’s necessary.
  2. Beta readers are not writers or editors: They are READERS. I want their opinion as readers.

What I Ask of Beta Readers

The point of a beta reader is to perform a reality check. Is this really a story? Are the characters interesting? Do they do interesting things? Does the ending justify the beginning and middle?

Here’s what I want to know:

(These are literally the questions I send to beta readers.)

  • questionsDid you enjoy the book? Why? Why not?
  • What part or parts bored you?
    • Was there any part you would condense or delete?
    • Was there any part you wanted more of, or greater detail?
  • Was there anything that confused or frustrated you?
  • Were the characters believable?
    • Could you relate to the main character?
    •  Did you have a favorite character? Who? Why?
    • Did you find Empaya Iba frightening, scary or evil in any way?
  • Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
  • Was the ending satisfying? Believable?
  • Did anything offend you?
  • What would you change?
  • Would you recommend the book to a friend? If not, why not?

Flight of the Spider should make its appearance in late spring or early summer. Watch this space.

If you would like to be a beta reader for Book 3 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, tentatively entitled Spider’s Revenge, drop me a line using my contact page.


Where Have I Been?

Damned if I can remember.

Shoved a full-flown memoir of my two years in Southeast Asia during the Viet-Nam War — “HOTEL CONSTELLATION: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos” — to the family and a few very close (tolerant) friends.

Finished a supernatural adventure novel called “The Mark of the Spider” and sent it out to beta readers last spring. Still awaiting feedback, so that’s not promising.

Rewriting a straight sci-fi called “PSNGR” — formerly “The Passenger”? — seemingly forever. Instead of tackling chapter 28 today, I’m doing this.

I first wrote PSNGR as a long short story; then as a graphic novel when I had a comic book publisher willing to take a look at it. Now trying to finish it as a potential indie publishing project.

Bailed on my writer’s group for personal reasons having nothing to do with the calibre of their kind feedback.

Journeys, which is what this writing process was intended to be, can be tortuous. Witness The Odyssey. Which is not to say my journey has been nearly as exciting, or even interesting.

And the point is …

But I digress from my intent today, which is to point out links to two stories that struck my fancy.

Ten Books that Were Written on a Bet — From the terse Dr. Seuss to the loquacious James Fennimore Cooper and C.S. Lewis, I’ll be dipping into this list in future.

Publishers Are Now Shedding Best-Selling Authors — So … what’s the point?

Bottom line