Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why you need Beta Readers

I've just been reading a great book by Stephen King called On Writing.  In it he speaks about the need to find a special reader whom you trust to read your book and be a critical friend.  He uses his wife Tabitha.  Author T.K. Harris, author of Phantom Dreams, shares her insights in getting beta readers.
T.K. Harris was born in California and lived a gypsy sort of life traveling the world as a military brat. She has been writing since she was a child and as had several short stories published by various magazines, including one in Woman's World. She currently lives and works in Colorado as a Senior Solutions Architect and IT Instructor and has recently had her first novel, Phantom Dreams, published. She is looking forward to her next two books, already outlined and partially written. You can find out more at: http://www.tkharrisonline.com.
Beta Readers.  Get Some.
Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them
But that doesn’t work as well for a novel.  First off, they are right when they say don’t let anyone read a novel you are currently writing.  You're either going to get great feedback that will probably go to your head and make you lazy or you're going to get so much constructive criticism that you may become discouraged and give up.   The only time you want to receive feedback while writing that first draft is when you’re stuck and just need something to pry you out of whatever corner you wrote yourself into.
Once you’re done with that first draft, you put it away for a month or two, then pull it back out and edit. And edit. And edit.  Its mind numbing.  It may drive you a little crazy.  But it has to be done.  And it’s probably the hardest part of the entire venture, next to marketing your baby.  (But that’s another story.)  But now, you need readers.   Readers to help you find the holes in your plot, or to tell you the places where your brilliant novel becomes boring or confusing.  But also readers to tell you what you did right!
For those of you who already have dedicated readers willing to wade through what is, inevitably, a manuscript still in need of major repairs, good for you.  I’ll try not to be jealous!  For the rest of us, we know that no matter how much our friends and family say they may help, getting them to finish, is like pulling teeth.  (Although I’ve never pulled teeth, I hear it’s quite difficult.)
So where do you find them?  I tried book clubs, college students, etc.  No luck. But then I decided to try something a little different.  I posted an ad on Craigslist.  I know you’re thinking “brilliant” right?  Or, more likely, “Are you crazy?  What if they steal your book?!”  Well, it’s a risk.  And it didn’t happen. 
I basically asked for 5-10 people to read my novel, answer a few questions, and I’d send them a ten dollar Money Order.  The response was overwhelming.  In fact, I had to turn people away.  For those that responded, I outlined the questions, explained that once I got the answers back, I’d send the money.  And, most importantly, I gave them a two week deadline.  Once they agreed to all of this, I sent them the book.
What I got back blew me away.  The comments devastated and inspired me. 
They didn’t like my main character.  She was boring. (A result of writing late at night no doubt).  They got confused in the beginning and at the very end. They couldn’t put the book down in the middle.  In fact, one lady said her interest was so caught in the middle that she sat in her car outside of her gym, until she finished it.  (How cool is that?!)
I used the comments to plug the holes. I rewrote and started the book with Jack, instead of Kathy. And, when I became discouraged, I read and re-read the comments that told me how much they liked the book and would be willing to read it again once it was ready. 
It was an amazing experience that helped me make an OK story so much better.  I will definitely be doing the same for my next book!  And I hope this was helpful!
I’d be happy to send anyone the actual Craigslist post and the questions I sent the readers.  Simply contact me at: https://www.tkharrisonline.com and go to the contact page OR my Phantom Dreams page on Facebook and leave a comment requesting the information. 
You can also just stop by to say "hi" or ask another question! 
T.K. Harris
And you can find Tamara's books here: 

1 comment:

T.K. Harris said...

Thanks Cindy for having me today! I look forward to hearing from your readers.