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A beta reader is someone who gets an advance copy of an as-yet unpublished book.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.

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