Recently I gave my manuscript to early readers, or beta readers as the literary lingo goes. A beta reader* is someone who scours a manuscript for plot holes, inconsistencies, confusing passages, character flaws, etc.—before you send the book off to an agent or publisher.
All my early readers brought something different to the table, and I can’t thank them enough. But to keep this post a reasonable length, I’ll expound only on two.
Rain Man Yoda
The first was Oldest Teen Son. Don’t laugh. Although only sixteen at the time, the kid has the insight of Yoda. In fact, his high school English essays come back bathed in comments like:
“A joy to read!”
Little stinker. He’ll be the one with a best-seller.
Given one of my characters is a fifteen-year-old boy, I wanted to make sure I captured the voice. Who better than a teenage boy to tell me?
But not only is my son Yoda, he’s apparently Rain Man as well, because when I took him to lunch to discuss the novel, he recited page numbers and manuscript problems from memory. The nuances and inconsistencies he spotted proved invaluable, all minus the sugar-coating. For example:
“Mom, that part’s stupid. Get rid of it.”
Another early reader was my fantabulous brother-in-law. Let’s call him Super BIL. Yes, I know, another family member, but this man entered our lives late, and I’ve only met him twice. Plus, he’s a lawyer, a former journalist, and a hands-on father of a small army.
How Super BIL does everything in the course of a day, I have no idea, but he can now add Super Beta Reader to his résumé.
I originally petitioned him because he enjoys thrillers, and I wanted his input as a lawyer for the legalese in my book. But he went beyond that, writing detailed notes in the margins of the manuscript, pointing out everything from weird words to unclear passages to dislikes and likes.
Like my son, Super BIL did not sugar-coat. But thanks to him, I saw my manuscript through new eyes and made several changes as a result.
Tears Or Cheers?
So, were my feelings hurt by my readers’ suggestions and criticisms?
Because as a writer I’ve grown.
Had it been my first novel, I would have fretted and fussed. No more. I wanted the nitty-gritty, and the nitty-gritty is what I got. Luckily, nobody’s suggestions had to do with weak structure. As such, the changes were easy to incorporate. Perhaps my lofty outline paid off.
So why the thicker skin?
- Is it because my writing is stronger since my first book? I hope that’s part of it.
- Is it because I’ve already weathered a few bad reviews? Probably.
- Is it because with increased confidence comes increased ability to separate objective criticism from personal insult? Certainly.
I can make that separation easily in medicine, just as I suspect you can in your areas of expertise. But writing was a new world to me, and as with any new world, we must cross rocky terrain before smooth.
Am I made of rhinoceros hide yet? No, not quite.
But I’m getting there…
To all my early readers, I truly cannot thank you enough. And to Super BIL—you rock!
*For an excellent series on beta readers, see JM McDowell’s page.
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