If you are a writer, you know the deal. You’ve toiled for eighteen months, maybe more, over a manuscript. It’s taken over your life. Whenever you’re alone your thoughts have gravitated to it. Lunchtime walks have knocked plot dilemmas out of the park. Restless nights have padded away unresolved conflicts. Family holidays have triggered ideas that you’ve toyed with for hours when you should have been enjoying the moment and then in an instant you discard them as unworkable.
Finally, you reach a point where your novel is ready to be read. It’s not finished of course (you might ask if it’s ever finished?) but by this time you’re so familiar with every paragraph and you’ve read every sentence hundreds of times. You have favourite lines that make you smile each time you read them. And after a time the words just blend into one. It’s not surprising. After all what you’ve written has changed so much through your numerous drafts that you just can’t be sure that it hangs together anymore. No end of reading will answer your many questions.
So you send it out to Beta Readers. Guinea Pigs. Hand chosen family, friends and colleagues whose job is to set you straight. Finally this is an opportunity to find out if all your effort has been worthwhile. The trouble is that you’re presenting every one of those readers with a poisoned chalice. Why? Well it’s obvious isn’t it? What do you think they’re going to say?
“Look Simon, I know you’ve spent eighteen months writing this but quite frankly its piffle. So dire in fact, that you referring to it as a novel could be considered misleading. It’s hopeless. A goldfish could have held the story together better than you.” Mr B Reader.
No. Don’t worry. They won’t say that. They’re going to tell you they like it. Why? Because they are in awe of your effort. They respect you. They never thought you’d finish it. You’re doing something that many of them secretly dreamed of. Even if you do suck at it! But that doesn’t help you as a writer. You need feedback, not platitudes. After all, how can you finish a book without knowing what it feels like to read it for the first time? How can you fix plot holes without knowing where they are?
The answer is that you select your Beta Readers carefully. Even then they'll be reluctant to give it to you both barrels. So make it easy for them to tell you what you need to know by asking them to give their feedback anonymously once they’ve finished reading it. Create an online survey! It’s free! (I used Typeform for mine). It’s the only way to truly know what they think. Trust me, though I warn you that you’ll spend all your time guessing who it was who wrote which piece of feedback! It really is a great game!
Of course even then, you still won’t be able to resist asking them directly.
“Read any good books lately?”
“Do you like the story?”
And you know what the answer will be. Don’t you!
Fortunately the window for anonymous feedback on Ancient Tide is about to close. In just a few days I will have what I need. Not only do I have some excellent feedback and ideas for my next draft, I’ve learned something unexpected. If it’s really good, you won’t have to ask people whether they like your novel. They’ll volunteer it.
If you’re interested in the second round of Beta reading, go to www.simon-harding.com and sign up. I can’t promise you that you’ll be selected but hey, when it’s published I promise to ask you what you thought of it!