Friday, March 25, 2011

Beta Readers

Interno-- Gigi Chessa -1895-1935I think I’ve mentioned before that my writing is a fairly solo process up until my deadline.

I really do look at my books as collaborative efforts between me, my agent, and the editorial staffs at my publishers. I’m open to suggestions, I’m happy to make changes or substitutions. Want to send the plot off in another direction? I’m game. Want me to write in a character or kill one off? I’m your writer. If you have an idea, I can write it and we can see what happens. Try me!

But I don’t really have the beta readers in on the drafting process. I should. It would definitely help me out.

The reason I don’t, I think, is because I’m frequently working on more than one project at once and my drafts are disasters. Right now I’m editing two different manuscripts and writing a requested synopsis for the second book of the new series. I’m under several deadlines.

I know what’s going on in my draft. I make cryptic notes to myself with Track Changes in the margins. I know that there are huge sections that are out of place. I know that there are unintentional cliffhangers that lead off into nothingness. It all makes sense…to me. And I know in my head exactly how I’m going to fix it.

It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else though. My cryptic notes in the margins don’t even make sense unless you can get inside my head. And that’s why I’m really reluctant to share it out.

My next deadline is June 1. When I was in Anderson, SC, last weekend, I gave my mother the manuscript. She needs to edit on paper, so I carefully printed it out for her.

This time I actually thought ahead and tried to be considerate. Ordinarily, there are no page numbers on the document, and no chapter breaks. :) And this time, the manuscript was even sort of in order.

But… “Mama?” I said. “The only thing is that the ending won’t make sense.”

“Oh, it’s one of those endings where you have to think about it and figure it out?” she asked.

“No, I mean it’s really just an incomplete ending. Like—not finished. But no worries! It’s all under control!”

You can only do something like this to your mother. Here’s a book. Please read it very carefully from start to finish, the sooner the better. But you’ll have to make up your own ending because it’s not included.

If I gave that mess to my agent, I can only imagine what she’d say. She’s a little more worried about endings that don’t make sense or endings that are completely AWOL. Since our livelihoods are somewhat tied together, I can understand why she’d be concerned.

I've had some great offers from beta readers and I really do mean to take advantage of them…when my manuscripts are a little more orderly. The only problem is that by the time they’re orderly, I’m right up on the deadline. And it’s not very nice to ask someone to critique a book in three days time. :)

So…I’m dumping it all on my poor mother. Because mothers take on stuff like that! She’s a special kind of first reader.

So this is my question for you—if you use a beta/first reader, what kind of condition is your manuscript in when you hand it over? Do you have different kinds of beta readers—some who you could dump a messy manuscript on, some who get a more finished product? If you don’t have a beta reader, why not? Is it just a matter of not finding one, not having time to return critiques, or another reason altogether?