Beta & Switch

As I near the finish line with my fantasy epic, I’ve posted requests for beta-readers. I have now sent out Book 1 to several readers, and have received a round of responses from people who actually sat down and read the silly thing.

They’ve made a few good suggestions, and basically they’re being very complimentary. They like it — yay!

Sadly, this silver lining has a cloud. These readers are themselves writers, having in most cases produced self-published novels of one sort or another. So I figured, what the hell, the least I can do is buy their books to repay them for their hard work in volunteering to read mine. Scoot over to Amazon, download a few novels to the Kindle app. Mission accomplished.

I’m not going to name names, because one or another of these people might stumble upon this blog, and it would be hideous to repay their support and enthusiasm by ripping holes in their egos. But after slogging my way through Chapter 1 of a novel by one of my readers, I’m compelled to wonder whether the whole idea of beta-reading is a mistake. What’s the point of having someone compliment you on your writing or your characters if they’re not actually writing at anything like a professional level? If my writing were bad (it’s not — I’m just saying…), how would such a reader know? Can I trust their judgment? Clearly not.

If they make specific inept suggestions, I can easily breeze past the suggestion and move on. What concerns me is the big picture. Well, that and the medium-sized picture. The opening chapter that I read this evening was written with no conception of tone or mechanics, no conception of how to ground the reader in the scene, and no conception of how an opening chapter ought to get the plot in gear. If I were making any of these mistakes, it’s clear that this particular reader wouldn’t notice.

I think I’m probably going to scrap the whole beta-reading process. I could certainly use good solid feedback on what I could improve, and in fact earlier this year I paid a professional editor several thousand dollars for exactly that sort of feedback. It was money moderately well spent.

Hiring another editor at this point, though, strikes me as not really very cost-effective. I think I’ll just publish the damn thing, warts and all. The nice thing about electronic publishing is that if I get feedback from readers who bought the books after they were published, I can make a few changes and do a 1.1 release.

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