Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beta readers: the unsung heroes of the indie world

Welcome, you few, you proud, you unfortunate followers of Overly Verbose!  The only place on das interwebz where I talk about myself and only about myself!  Ok, maybe not so much, but hey, let's call a spade a spade here...I do tend to chatter on about yours truly an awful lot here.  BUT, I'm getting some web traffic, so I guess I haven't turned people off completely?  Or maybe it's like a train wreck; you just can't take your eyes offa it!  Anyway, enough with the lead in.  Let's get to the post, shall we?

As many of you may know (and for those of you who don't, you're gonna know in about a second here) I'd written a quasi-urban fantasy novel last year.  It's about a down and out medium named Seth.  He sees dead people.  He talks to dead people.  He likes tequilla and gyros and tends to spend a bit too much money on hookers.  He's also separated and is father to a 12 year old son.  Long story short, he saw something in high school and he's convinced himself he was mistaken.  Fast forward to his 32nd year on this, our planet Earth, and he takes on a case that may drive him back down the path of insanity.  When I'd written it, I had very little writing experience.  I'd written a book previously (which I do intend to get back to and edit/clean up/make more awesomer), as well as a couple short stories, one of which got published.  

So, how did my UF get written?  I had the idea for the character in my head and how the story was going to go and I just started writing.  With the prologue, I started the book near the 'end' and went from there, all the while having a general idea of where I was going.  No notes, no outline, no character sketches: it was all in my head.  I solved problems as I went and it seemed to work out.  Anyhoo, I let it sit and wrote Words With Fiends (which you really should buy cause it's gotten awesome reviews and people seem to dig it.  I think everyone should read it.  It's groovy in a far out way) and revisited it back in the fall of 2012.  I changed it up some, transforming a few story elements here and there, fixing up dialogue, cleaning it up.  

I let it sit some more.

I revisited it yet AGAIN a couple months back.  (Yes, I am getting to my point here.  The blog IS called OVERLY VERBOSE, so I tend to type a lot.)  When I revisited it, I worked furiously to make it even better.  For nearly three weeks I did nothing but go through it, tracking the changes, fine tuning it even more.  I realized that, when I'd written it, I had no idea what I was doing so it benefited from me having spent about a year at the keyboard.

And yet I still wasn't convinced that it was any good.  That's where beta readers come in.  For those of you who don't know what a beta reader is, they're basically a test audience.  They can be friends, acquaintances, readers, writers...anybody who's willing and has the time to give your material a read for you.  They take their FREE time and perform this service for us writers out of the goodness of their hearts.  Why?  Because they want to help.  They're  generous people who harbor a genuine fondness for writers, especially small time hoods like myself, and would like nothing more than to read a good book and see indies succeed.  **for the record, I've been a beta/proofer for three indie authors, one of whom is very successful right now.  I worked my nuts off to read and proof two of her books.  I did each one in a DAY, cause that's how I roll.  I will tell you this.  I may not be great at editing my own work, but I fucking smoke at going over other people's.  Confidence isn't my strong suit but any author types out there looking for a cold read/proofer? I'm your friggin' huckleberry.  I have the references to prove it. And I also know how much work it can be.**

I count myself lucky in that I've found a very good crop of beta readers.  During the writing of my Seth novel, I bounced ideas off of one of my best friends.  I had an idea?  I pitched it to him.  If it didn't work out, we'd talk about it until I solved the problem.  He was 'Beta Zero'.  After I'd gotten the thing written, I shipped it to about four other people.  They made comments.  I went back and changed it again.  After I'd gone through my uber editing a few weeks back, I shipped it off to yet ANOTHER five people.  Two have finished it.  Both loved it.  In particular, one liked it so much that she suggested/offered to do blog tours and release events on Facebook and the like.  

I was blown away by this reaction.  I knew she'd liked it after she finished my manuscript, but this is going wayyyyy above and beyond the call of duty.  She's positively giddy at the prospect of helping me out.  ME!  Who the hell am I?  Nobody!  BUT, I'd written something she liked to the point where she wants other people to share in the experience.  This came at a time (early this week as a matter of fact) when I was pretty down on myself.  I had an idea for a short story and had finally decided to write it and when things weren't just flowing from my fingers to the keyboard to the screen, I got highly upset with myself.  Not every day is going to be productive (Stephen King said that 'sometimes you feel as if you're in a chair, shoveling shit') but for some reason I was really down on myself.  And then this one beta starts messaging me about how much she's digging the book and once she was done, goes on to tell me that she's going to help me out when it comes time for it to go out into the world.  It made me feel good.  It made me feel REAL gooood, uh huh, uh huh (that's a Stripes reference for those of you not in the know.).  

So, seven out of ten people who have read/are reading the book like it.  These are people from all walks of life.  Some I know in person, some I've never met.  Some write, some read, some don't read.  The end result has been the same.  They've all enjoyed it.  What's more?  They've all taken the time to read something from a complete and utter nobody, sacrificing their own free time not knowing what in the blue hell they were going to get.  

You should see some of the detailed comments I've gotten.  It takes time to be a beta reader, folks.  They're not just skimming over shit.  They're going through it with a fine toothed comb, doing their best to make sure what you've written can be the best it can possibly be and some go well above and beyond the call, offering to use even more of their time to help spread the word about your work when they believe in it so strongly.  

Without beta readers, I'd imagine most indies would be dead in the water.  I know that's true about myself.  If you find some that are willing to do this, don't stop thanking them.  Never stop thanking them.  Thank them until they tell you to stop thanking them....then thank them some more.  They work their nether regions off to help us the fuck out and they may just be able to give you some much needed confidence when you think you're just churning out meaningless bullshit.  You can't put a price on that.

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