At a recent event at the Everybody’s Reading Festival I was asked what I meant when I referred to ‘my beta readers’. I explained that my beta readers are people who read my manuscript as a fairly early draft. Obtaining objective feedback is part of my writing process.
Two of my beta readers I trust to notice holes in plots, tell me when a character’s coming over wrongly or the storyline is hard to follow, point out when eyes change colour or that I have two characters of the same name. (Yes. I have reached the end of a draft without noting that little detail!) They are both men. I rely on them to tell me when my male characters don’t sound, think or react like men.
Other beta readers – and these vary from book-to-book – are people who have helped me with the research. I ask them to tell me what I’ve got wrong. I’m bound to get stuff wrong! I want them to help me avoid readers bombarding my publishers with complaints.
As Is This Love? has just been released as an ebook (on Kindle and all other ebook platforms) and will launch in paperback on 7 November, I thought I’d tell you a little about my four beta readers, and what their role was in the book’s creation.
Mark West is a horror writer. This strikes some as a bizarre partnership, as I write romantic fiction, but Mark can not only write a mean love scene (although there may be demons, ghosts or severed body parts involved) he’s got an instinctive understanding of story and makes me laugh. His comments, typed on an electronic version of the manuscript, are short and pithy. ‘And … breathe!’ tells me when I’ve written an overlong sentence and ‘I’m hitting my head on the desk now …’ suggests my heroine’s overlooking the obvious. Mark’s my longest standing beta reader.
Dominic was my major research source for Dream a Little Dream, as he has narcolepsy, the same neurological condition as the hero (also called Dominic, confusingly) which causes uncontrolled sleep. He was so good at feeding back that I asked him if he’d take on the role for Is This Love? He writes his thoughts in the margin of a hard copy of the manuscript and tacks on bits of paper if he runs out of space. He’s precise and to the point, understands the value of pointing out the good as well as the bad, and is particularly good at analysing break up behaviour. This proved surprisingly useful.
Gail is a yoga instructor and columnist and I thought of her when I was looking for just the right job for my heroine, Tamara. She helped me create Tamara’s business and excelled at telling me what I needed to know before realised that I needed to know it. Without her, I probably would never have thought that if you work for millionaires, in their homes, you’ll probably have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That NDA really helped my plot! Gail read the manuscript on her kindle and gave me about four sentences of notes, none of which were about yoga. (She spotted cups and cars that changed colour – where were you, Mark and Dominic?) She said the yoga was right, which made me feel very insecure. Research is rarely right first time. But she did point out that I listen to her instruct twice a week and have practised yoga for years …
Sue and Adrian keep alpacas. I visited their farm and met the alpacas, learning about their habits and preferences (their babies are just so cute!) and borrowed alpaca-keepers’ magazines. Sue read the manuscript on her Kindle and read aloud any bits she thought needed work, to get Adrian’s opinion. Her notes, too, were pretty light, but there were several details that needed changing, so I was grateful for her ‘saves’.
So that’s what beta readers are about! Useful, aren’t they?
Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 at the Festival of Romance and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012 and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. The vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Sue’s the editor of the Association’s two short story anthologies.
Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles and courses, is the head judge and columnist for the Writers’ Forum fiction competition and a creative writing tutor.