Sunday, August 31, 2014

Beta Readers

I'm almost afraid to say it - the story is as ready for beta-reading as I can make it.

What is a beta reader? Well, you might guess that it's similar to a beta tester for software - and you would be correct. If you're not familiar with the practice of software beta testing, it essentially means that you get a copy of the application, and this software is feature-complete or very close to it. However, it likely will contain some bugs that have not been discovered yet, or perhaps they are known but are still in the process of being fixed. The beta tester's job is to test every feature they can, and document any problems they find. Then, they send those issues back to the software maker to investigate and fix.

A beta reader is someone who gets an advance copy of an as-yet unpublished book. The book is "complete", in that the author has already spent a lot of time and effort to make it the best story he can, with a solid plot, fully fleshed-out main characters, and the text of the story has also been proofread for grammar and spelling errors. Of course, the book also very likely contains weaknesses - "bugs" - that the author has not discovered, or maybe has noticed but has not had a chance to fix yet.

As a beta reader, what do you get out of the deal? First, you get to read an advance copy of a new book that no one else in the world (except the author and his wife) has ever read or even seen. Second, you get to be on the cutting edge of fandom for a new author (ha!). You get to say, "I knew him before he got too big for his britches and started demanding cash for his autograph." And third, you get to have your name listed in the Author's Thank-You list, as one of a few people who helped to make the book as good as it will be. Hey, that's gotta be worth something, right?

What do I expect from a beta reader? My expectations are fairly modest, but there is some work involved. Ultimately, what I am looking for is feedback in the forms of constructive criticism and constructive praise. As I mentioned above, I would expect written notes on what you think of the plot, the characters, and the situations; are there any plot holes that you noticed; do the main characters feel like they are fleshed out; are the descriptions of people, places and things sufficient to give you a mental picture; as you read, do you have questions about anything; and are those questions answered within the story, later on?

I think that chapter-by-chapter feedback would be best, although you may change your mind about certain things, or get your questions answered in later chapters. In many cases I will know the answer is coming, but it will still be interesting for me to see what your questions are. I would like feedback on at least three chapters per week. Since there are twenty-four chapters, it may take up to eight weeks to read and provide comments on the entire book. My chapters are usually around 6000 words, or about 20 pages. So the expectation is that you will read at least 60 pages per week, and provide written commentary and feedback to me on a per-chapter basis.

At the end of the story, I would be interested in your overall feedback, thoughts on the complete story, etc. Basically your concluding thoughts, including whether you were surprised by anything, or found the story predictable, or... anything really. Whatever you want to say.

This is definitely a bit of work, and I realize it won't be something that many people are able or willing to commit to. I respect that, and I expect to only receive a few responses. If you're afraid you won't be able to reply quickly enough (i.e. all the open slots will be taken), don't worry about that. My readership is still fairly small, and like I said, with the effort I'm asking people to put in, I'm probably scaring away a few people who thought they might be interested anyway.

I am currently investigating the best way to put out a call for beta readers. You might think that doing it right here on the blog would be ideal, but based on my site traffic, I know that my readership is still pretty small. And for the effort I'm asking people to put in, I may very well have scared you all off! So I'm doing a bit of reading around the web, getting advice from other authors who have done the same thing. Assuming that I put out a call on Goodreads or some other sites, I will also do it on the blog here.

If you are sure that you can make the commitment I've outlined above, and are interested in doing so, feel free to email me directly at thurianknight(at)gmail(dot)com. Please put [beta reader] in the subject line, so I can catch it easily. I'd be happy to hear from you, and will add your name to the list when I put out the official call.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Story Update 2014-08-24

OK, here is Sunday's update, as promised on Friday. I didn't get quite as far as I'd hoped, however I did get almost done with my "final" edits. I use the air quotes because hey, is anything really ever final? Especially if I end up working with a professional editor in the last phase before publication.

But as it stands, I did get through all of Geekwif's comments for the last two chapters, as planned. I also went back over some really old notes that I had, stuff I had almost forgotten but am glad I did not. Some of those I was also able to close off, but I do have three tiny little items left to take care of. I might get them done yet tonight, otherwise this week for sure.

And that's about it! The story is very close to being ready for beta testing. Keep checking back, I plan to have another update before the end of the week, probably including an offer for beta readers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Story Update 2014-08-22


Well, mostly. Geekwif completed her read-through and commentary yesterday, and I have a few loose ends to tie up based on her final comments from the last two chapters. But the (very) good and encouraging news is that SHE LIKED IT! Yay!

So, I plan to complete my final editing tasks some time this weekend, and then the book will actually be ready for beta testers. I can hardly believe we've made it this far!

Check back for more, later this weekend. There may be an opportunity to be a beta reader, as I have mentioned previously.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Story Update 2014-08-16

As of today, Geekwif has edited through chapter nineteen - only four more chapters to go! It is likely that she will finish chapter twenty tomorrow, and then we'll see how far she gets during the week. It is certainly conceivable that she could be done by next weekend.

I am putting the finishing touches on my author's bio. Not a big deal, it's just a short blurb telling who I am and what I do. One publisher that I intend to submit the book to requests the bio to be written in a certain format, so that is the specific version I am working on. I will very likely write different bios for different publishers, depending on their requirements and core readership.

I have also started looking through some of my other old story ideas and notes, giving thought to the next novel I will write. There's no reason for me to sit on my duff waiting for a publisher to respond, since they can take quite a while and sometimes don't respond at all. So, I'll keep giving it more thought - I might even decide to write an entirely new story. Hard to tell at this point, but I'm sure I will post an update on that topic when I either have a decision, or am down to two or three choices and feel like talking about it.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Story Update 2014-08-10

Editing slowed down a little bit this week, although we did get through another three chapters (Geekwif is ready to start chapter eighteen -- only seven more chapters to go!). She actually found a couple of big stumbling blocks for me this week, but we worked as a team to figure out good solutions and I have already re-written the affected parts of the story, thus greatly improving them. Even at only three chapters per week, we will be done in two or three weeks at most, which keeps us on target for the end of August.

So let's talk about one of those weaknesses, because it is one that I happen to struggle with a little bit. Geekwif noticed that several of my characters sounded like the same person, which is to say, they did not each have their own "voice". The problem was that I was working to so hard to develop certain speech patterns (grammar, syntax, and style) that would have existed in that specific time and place, that I forgot to imbue each of my characters with their own style of speaking.

For example, I had a rather laconic northman who spoke with the same "voice" as a more gregarious man from a southern kingdom. In that case, they were not even from the same region, and I definitely had a problem there. So, using the Power of Technology (TM) I did a global search for every instance of the northman's name, finding all the places where he had a speaking part, and editing his words to bring them more in line with his character. I then did the same thing for the southerner who tended to be more wordy as well as witty, and did the same with a third character as well.

Now, at the same time as I was working to ensure that each character had his own voice, I also had to account for character development. Going back to the laconic northman, I also wanted him to begin speaking more and more openly, as he got to know his companions better and became more comfortable talking to them. So he becomes more talkative over time, which may seem out of character until you realize what's happening.

The other problem that she found was more structural, having to do with a certain character that was in and out of various scenes but did not seem to fulfill any important function in the story beyond a certain point. So the question became, what do I do with him? He is certainly important within the context of a few chapters, but after those events take place, he is no longer needed. It took us a few days of back and forth discussion, but we finally figured out a way to have him gracefully bow out of the story after his part in it was fulfilled.

So, in summary, progress continues. We find problems, and we fix them. And we are still on track for the end of August.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Story Update 2014-08-02

We're getting so close to being done with this round of editing, I can hardly stand it! I am working my way through chapter twenty-two today, and likely will finish the book by the end of the weekend. The Geekwif is on chapter fourteen, which puts her over half-way through it. And I've noticed that as the pace of the story picks up, we have both sped up our editing, which is why I pulled ahead so far. But I think she will catch up pretty quickly, meaning that we will definitely be done editing by the end of August -- maybe even sooner.

On a different note, for those of you who requested the first three chapters of the story, I hope you enjoyed (or are enjoying) them. Please send your feedback to me either by commenting on the blog post, or directly via email. If you send an email, I'd appreciate it if you put [Balfrith comments] in the subject, so I can pick it out easily.

Beautiful weather here in the upper midwest this weekend. We're going to go out and see Guardians of the Galaxy today, and do some work around the house too, along with our ongoing editing efforts.