What to Expect from the Beta Review Process

What to Expect from the Beta Review Process

On June 6th, I shared that I had come to the end of the review process for my paranormal murder mystery, The Moreau WitchesAfter providing a copy of the first draft to thirteen readers, only five people finished the book. Some of the others did provide feedback as they made their way through the story, while the rest did not get back to me at all. A few didn’t even start it.

Even before this dismal end, the review process was quite an experience. What one reader praised, annoyed another. What one reader wanted removed, two more were ready to raise hell if it should ever be altered or deleted. I also noticed a big divide in how readers perceived and engaged with various aspects of the book based on their race, culture, and even geographical location.

If you are a new writer, or have just never seen the point of a beta review process, you are likely wondering if this is normal. The unfortunate answer is yes. Until you build a loyal and reliable group of beta readers, this is likely to be your Fate. Take it from me.

Even though I never published until recently, at 29 years old, I have written nearly forty novels since 2002. I put a dozen or so of them through the review process in one form or another. I still have a lot to learn, but here are a few things I have come to expect from the beta review process.

Many Readers Won’t Finish

As I mentioned before, of thirteen readers, only five ultimately finished the novel. In other words, only 38 per cent of my beta readers actually read the whole story.

Based on prior experience, I had a sneaking suspicion that this would happen and took extra measures to reduce the likelihood. As I knew some of my readers were students and teachers, I picked a month where most of them were on break. I also gave an entire 30 days to finish a book that once took my British editor just two days to read. This all made little difference.

I share this to illustrate that no matter what you do, until you build up a reliable set of beta readers you can count on this time and time again: even many of the people who begged to have your book, won’t get around to it. In other words, don’t take it personally.

Some Readers Misinterpret their Role

Often, you will have at least one beta reviewer who decides to go through the book and do a line-by-line edit. The problem is that line edits are useless on a first draft, since whole characters, scenes, and chapters may be removed or changed—as was the case with my draft. To add to this, finding the feedback you need means working your way through a pile of line edits, first. This. Takes. Forever.

The other extreme is the reviewer who doesn’t believe they have the authority to suggest changes to your novel. These reviewers will be silent if they dislike something, but will praise what they like. Unfortunately, while ego-stroking improves an author’s confidence, this doesn’t always improve our writing. In fact, it may make it worse.

Thankfully, most of my reviewers fell somewhere in the middle, providing sound, detailed feedback and making themselves available for further discussions regarding that feedback later on. These reviewers were the most helpful, and I rewarded my best three with gifts from my store for their hard work.

Differences of Opinion

As authors, we often have a love-hate relationship with our work. We may love our characters and the plot and the idea that first inspired us. However, we may suffer doubts about how well we presented this. Even so, we may feel strongly that our characters or certain scenes will definitely be viewed a certain way, since we left so many hints and painted it so obviously. This idea is false.

Though only five beta readers finished the whole book, there were an additional four who gave me feedback based on what they did read. Of this nine, no more than three agreed on any one thing—and that happened only once or twice. There was no such consensus on anything else.

For me, it was interesting to see how different people perceived different characters, and interpreted the same cues, differently. Had they seen each other’s opposing feedback, I might have sparked World War III.

As I combed through the differing opinions of my beta reviewers on various topics, I began to notice that my readers could be grouped demographically according to their responses and perceptions. This, perhaps more than anything else, was absolutely fascinating to me.

To remedy this, I picked one reviewer to work through some of the feedback and help me decide how best they may help or hurt the story. I then wrote a glossary of terms at the back of the book to explain all the terms, words, and phrases that some readers struggled with.

Standing Your Ground

The point of a beta review is not just to hear feedback, but also to apply it. You must be prepared to have your feelings potentially hurt, and to make necessary changes where possible. However, it’s also important to find a way to stand your ground in the process.

To do this, you must know what you absolutely most hold on to in your novel, and what things you may be willing to part with. One of the things I refused to change in my novel was writing 100 percent in Victorian English, not as historical fiction authors write it now, but as it was written back in the 1800s. This was an ambitious goal, to say the very least.

One beta reader proceeded to make line edits that attempted to change my book to a more modern English formula, and even worse, to American English. But, most of my beta readers enjoyed the antiquarian English. One editor called it very niche and unique; another called it brilliant.

Back to the Drawing Board

For many authors, the thought of giving a group of thirteen people the right to find fault with their novel is scary. Thus, it can be tempting to believe that a beta review that leads to no changes in your novel is a successful one. However, if you complete a beta review and change nothing, you have failed.

There is no way your beta draft is so perfect that nothing should be changed. I love my beta draft and think it would be a reasonably good final draft. However, the actual final draft of my novel put the beta draft to shame. Those who have read both remind me of this time and time again. They are also proud to see bits and pieces of their feedback put to work.

In the rewriting process, I fleshed out two characters that were barely mentioned before and made them central to the plot. I moved half the epilogue of the beta draft to a few chapters back, and deleted the second half of it. At least two of my characters had their names changed, and one that did not have a name at all suddenly had one.

All of these were due to suggestions made from the beta review, and some of them took me some time to warm up to. But, the end result was well worth the initial discomfort.

So what’s my final verdict of the beta review process? With all these challenges and potential discomforts to deal with, is it worth the headache? My answer is an unequivocal yes. I don’t believe I would ever submit a book to the public without first completing a beta review process. 

Many authors argue that they don’t think they can handle having their work criticised. Well, here’s my thought on that. Someone is going to hate that book no matter how good it is. I would rather hear that at the time I ask for it, and either make amends in the book, or prepare to stand my ground when the public reiterates that same critique.

Have you ever used the beta review process for your book? Did you have similar experiences to me? How did you handle the challenges that arose?

About the Author

Alexis Chateau Option C Curved

Alexis Chateau is a Jamaican author of mystery, paranormal, and crime fiction. Follow her non-fictional tales of trials and triumphs at www.alexischateau.com.

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How to Fight Your Way Out of a Writing Slump

How to Fight Your Way Out of a Writing Slump

Writers’ block is every author’s worst nightmare, especially when there is a deadline looming overhead. It’s frightening to stare at a blank screen only to have it stare right back at you, with no words. After all, if you don’t feel thrilled about writing your own novel, why should your readers feel thrilled about reading it?

But while all writers have experienced this, do any of us know how to cure it? Probably not. But I am no ordinary writer; I am a cat, and therefore know all the things. Here’s my #kittywisdom on how to fight your way out of a writing slump and kick writers’ block in the you-know-where!

Watch a Related Show

Stuck on an action scene? Watch an action movie. Having a hard time picturing Victorian-Era Britain? Watch a British Victorian show. Trying to pick up some new details on an old revolution as research for your book? Watch a related documentary. It’s amazing how much easier it is to write about what you see, as opposed to only what you have heard, read, or imagined.

Read a Related Book

Watching TV isn’t for everyone, and doesn’t solve every problem. Sometimes you need the kind of research you can highlight and copy and paste pieces from for future reference. And sometimes, especially if you’re writing in another era or a new genre, it’s good to read related books to see how the experts have done it in the past and better decide how you can do it in the present.

Do Some Research

Whether by movies, books, or surveys, a little research goes a long way; thorough research will take your book even further. Don’t skimp on the fact-checking. Ask the experts. Follow up on their recommendations. The more familiar you are with a topic, and the more you know it inside out, the easier it is to write about it.

Tackle Some Editing

Few humans like to edit—until they’re procrastinating about writing. It is often much easier to revise something already written than it is to draw new words out of thin air. While it’s important not to get stuck in the editing cycle, if you can’t add new words, reviewing the old ones isn’t a bad idea.

Write Something Else

Writers’ block is often on a per-project basis. For instance, a writer could struggle with a novel for three weeks, but churn out ten articles for clients on an unrelated subject, and then three blog posts lamenting their current standstill. If one project won’t budge, find another. Just take care not to become that author who starts a thousand books, but finishes none.

Join a Writers’ Group

Writers’ groups exist online and off. My favorite online is #turtlewriters on Twitter, which is dedicated to slower writers, though speedy wordsmiths—like my mistress—are also more than welcome! Nothing beats meeting up in person though, and there are plenty of writing groups offering this opportunity, if you’re willing to give it a shot. Looking for somewhere to start? Try MeetUp!

For more tips on staying productive with your creative work, check out my human’s blog post, How to Stay Inspired & Keep on Creating.

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About the Author

Shadow the PR Cat

Shadow the PR Cat is the Goodwill Ambassador at Alexis Chateau PRand head of the firm’s indie author division. His job includes tweeting, taking selfies, rolling in catnip, and advocating for animal rights and social equality. Follow his kitty adventures on Twitter as @ShadowThePRcat.

How to Handle Bad Press When Someone HATES your Book

How to Handle Bad Press When Someone HATES your Book

Being the author of a published book is a lot like being a customer service rep, at a place of business. No one wants to think of it that way at first. After all, what kid ever dreamed of being a customer service rep when they grew up?

But as the face of the brand, when someone hates your book (and someone always will!), you’ll likely be the first person they come to about it. So what do you do when this happens to ensure it doesn’t blow up into something ten times worse than what it started as?

There is no one-size fits all approach to the situation. Readers and reviewers are all different, and will go about their dissatisfaction in different ways. Whatever route they choose, here are a few of the ways you can help to fix the situation.

Be Easy to Reach

Some people will hate your book, roll their eyes and toss it into a forgotten pile. Those are not the readers you need to be worried about. Art is subjective, and not everyone will love what you have to say.

The reader you want to watch out for is the one who will want you to know, in no uncertain terms, how they feel. The easier you are to reach, so they can unleash their wrath directly, the less likely they are to write an entire blog post about how much they hate the book.

No one wants to receive messages about how much someone hates something they poured their heart and soul into. But this is a much better option than having an entire 500 – 2500 blog post about it online.

Ensure your readers have a direct line of contact to you via your website, an email address, or social media. Do not make your social media accounts private. If you must have a private account, then create another for the public. Facebook and Twitter are your two best options.

Respond Promptly

When it comes to unpleasantness online, many people will tell you the mature answer is to mute, block, and/or ignore. This is great advice, until it comes to your book. Why? Because if the person doesn’t get the frustration out of their system from speaking directly to you, then they will move on to larger forums out of spite.

The longer you let them boil and simmer, the more likely they are to spit deadly fire in the direction of your book. If the book is recently released, or you are an indie author with very few reviews, having 1-star ratings pop up on Amazon, Goodreads, and several blogs is not an easy thing to deal with. But it is easy for them to do.

While you are under no obligation to pander to a troll, acknowledge their dissatisfaction. Do not ignore them. Besides, as many writers will tell you, some of the worst critique they ever received of their work, contained some of the best advice for their improvement.

A standard response that is likely to keep the peace?

I am sorry you did not enjoy my book, but do thank you for bringing it to my attention. I will take all you have said into consideration, as I continue to work on future projects. Thanks again.

Act on Your Persona

While pacifying the dissatisfied reader is often the best approach, it is not the best approach for everyone. If you are a writer of controversial topics and sassy characters, a bit of sass may serve you well. However, keep in mind that this can backfire and is a tactic best left to the witty, quick thinkers.

Many authors have mastered the art of shaming trolls who attempt to drag them through the mud, and often have the support of their readers when they do so. They may choose to out trolls, shine the light on their nefarious activities, and silence them by besting them in public.

My human, Alex, for instance, though mostly amused and rarely offended by terrible critiques, generally chooses that route over pacifying when it comes to her personal blog and her fiction. Think of her as the author version of Wendy’s.

It works for her, because any other response would be out of character. Her writing covers a lot of controversial topics in fact and fiction, which are always written under the influence of her quick wit and fluent sass. That is not the work of a pacifier, but the work of an outspoken activist.

Keep in mind, however, that this puts you at risk of being blasted online. If you are not prepared to suffer the consequences and risks of taking on trolls and truly dissatisfied readers, stick to pacifying.

Offer a Refund

One of the great things about online shopping is how quick online stores usually are to issue a full or partial refund if you are unsatisfied with the product. Obviously, many people abuse this system; claiming dissatisfaction with a product they loved, just so they can get their money back. But, it has its virtues.

If a reader is truly dissatisfied with your book, especially to the point that they didn’t finish it, offer them a refund if possible. This is unlikely to be something you can do every time someone makes a complaint, so you will have to look at each individual case and save this remedy for the worst of the worst ie the people most likely to stir trouble online if not appeased.

Hire a Community Manager

Whether the particular situation requires a partial refund, a dose of sass, or extra doses of patience, you may not want to deal with these instances as an author. Some people are more sensitive than others, or would just rather spend their time actually working on their novel, than managing the PR behind it.

If this is you, then your best bet is to hire a community manager. A community manager checks your reviews online, your social media mentions, and mentions of your book, to ensure that all is well. If all is not well, then they are responsible for resolving those issues on your behalf, as best as they can.

Meanwhile, you get to focus on what you do best. Writing. Do you need a community manager to speak with a few dissatisfied readers, or deflect a few trolls? I’d be happy to help! Just shoot me an email to get started.

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About the Author

Shadow the PR Cat

Shadow the PR Cat is the Goodwill Ambassador at Alexis Chateau PRand head of the firm’s indie author division. His job includes tweeting, taking selfies, rolling in catnip, and advocating for animal rights and social equality. Follow his kitty adventures on Twitter as @ShadowThePRcat.

Reading is a Simple Heresy

Reading is a Simple Heresy

Just this week I read a new article about the collective loss of an important skill. We have, as a society, lost the ability to read.

This is not new news. Neil Gaiman spoke about the importance of reading and libraries in 2013. In 2010 Karen Hovde spoke of the importance of reading, of libraries, and the folly of relying on digital editions of everything. During the same year, Nicholas Carr wrote The Shallows, later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Each of these writers has raised an alarm that no one can hear. Our inability to read well, and read deeply, does not mean we have lost the ability to make sense of the words in this blog post, or in numerous articles like the ones linked above, but instead, that we have collectively rewired out neuropathways. We are hooked on fast and easy information. Reading has become a simple heresy. It is not just the children teething on tablets and smartphones, nor is it only the young adults who brokered teenage relationships in AOL chatrooms, but the neurological changes are evident in the cynical GenXers and  BabyBoomers who are reprogramming the worlds most adaptable processing hardware – the human brain. What has changed in the discussions surrounding the ability to read like we did a century ago, is how we talk about it.

The articles and books from 2010 to 2013 speak of the travesty of intellectual loss. The 2018 article, by Canadian writer and journalist Michael Harris, discusses how we are reverting to a more natural state of distraction and that change is inevitable. It is comforting to read that the dumbing down of society is inevitable because our brains are easily distracted, however, we have managed to overcome our wiring and find a deeper ability to imagine, to understand, and to empathize through reading. Should we let that ability diminish in favor of fast and easy entertainment?

Paired with the loss of cursive as a school subject in all but a handful of United States schools, numerous historical documents are no longer accessible to graduating classes of high school seniors. Firstly, they were written in the long-thought format of pre-digital minds, and secondly, they were written in the long-hand of a pre-print society.  If our children’s children continue on the path of fast and easy information, then the less than 8,000 words of the Constitution and Amendments will be as incomprehensible as the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs were before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.

The plasticity of our personal supercomputers allows us to rebuild, or in some cases start building the pathways required for deep, independent, imaginative thought. We just have to exercise our minds and we can do that by reading books. Pick up, and work through every page of an actual factual, ink on paper, book. It may be slow, it may be difficult, but the future is worth it.

Originally published on Simple Heresy. You may find the original article, here.

About the Author[s]

Simple Heresy is a blog focused on a simple living – outside the mainstream.

5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

Recently, I’ve spent some time working my way through the bestseller list of YA romance fiction – everything from John Green to hit debuts such as Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, which was recently made into a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. But for now I’m done with YA fiction and going back to my usual genre of world lit, classics and general gritty depressing stories that leave me in existential doubt for days afterwards.

As charming as it sometimes is to indulge in the idealistic world of manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs); deep conversations under the stars; and passionate, obsessive love affairs; it’s all starting to feel a bit fake. Here are the 5 biggest cliches that I think have been way overdone in YA these days.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

She’s beautiful. She’s deep. She’s probably a metaphor. She’s ‘broken’ but ‘strong’ and wants to make cryptic remarks about the meaning of life on a rooftop at 3am. She’s ‘not like the other girls’ because she’s a special snowflake and apparently has the ability to understand life better than everyone else, despite being a teenager with no actual life experience.

Most likely she has a mental illness that’s probably being romanticised by the male love interest. Examples: basically anything written by John Green, pretty much ever.

Astronomy.

The MPDGs favourite activity? Astronomy of course. Because relating everything in your life to the workings of the universe automatically makes you deep, apparently. Sorry, no. It doesn’t make you deep. It makes you sound kind of egotistical and occasionally like a bad science textbook. Example: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon.

The dead parent/sibling/relative trope.

Quite often it just seems like a lazy attempt to remove the adults from the story so the author doesn’t have to write them. In reality, family relationships are a pretty damn huge part of teenager’s lives. It’d be nice to see some more YA novels accurately reflect that.

Romanticising mental illness.

This one worries me. While I have read some books which have given the topic the gravity it deserves (Laurie Halse Anderson does this excellently) I’ve also read many more that treat it as ‘teenage angst’ or an interesting quirk to make the character seem broody, mysterious and ultimately more attractive.

Yeah, no. Just don’t. Being depressed isn’t sexy, it’s just extremely unpleasant and soul-destroying really.

Instalove!

Because why spend valuable pages on having the characters actually get to know each other when they could be discussing the stars and their undying love instead.

What tropes and cliches do you hate in YA fiction? 

This article was originally published here, and was edited and reformatted for publishing at black CATastrophy.

About the Author

Annmarie McQueen is a London-based writer, blogger, and idealistic millennial. She enjoys instagramming food, taking selfies with dogs, and spoken word. If you want to make her super happy, please check out her my new novel ‘This Really Happened’ here.

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Book Bears, and Reading Aloud

Book Bears, and Reading Aloud

A Teacher's Reflections

My library reading group is Book Bears.  We read a book each month, and I host the discussion.  These are mostly second graders, eager to read.  We have a full and lively house, until…  Let me back up.  Many things have happened.

When Book Bears first met in September, everyone brought their favorite book that they read over the summer.  I did, too.  I brought Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls.  He was also the author of Where the Red Fern Grows.

Every summer I get lost in books, just like the Book Bears.  Sometimes there is one that sticks with me for a long time.  A very long time.  This one did.  His writing is fluid.  His words are a quiver of arrows, shot to the heart.

Book Bears now know that.  I read a random page from the book.  That’s all it took.  They were hooked…

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Happy Hogmanay – guest post – author Helen Fairfax

Happy Hogmanay – guest post – author Helen Fairfax

New Romantics Press

I hope you will all be staying up until past midnight to welcome in the new year. In our house my husband Dave leaves by the front door well before the first stroke of midnight carrying a a silver coin, bread, salt, coal, evergreen, and a wee dram, which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, long-life, and good cheer.  2017-11-02 10.15.57When I was growing up in Scotland it was considered bad form to go to bed before midnight and I still adhere to that. Nowadays, church bells are usually drowned out by fireworks, and the chimes of Big Ben on the television. However, I still view Hogmanay as a time for reflection and contemplation when we raise a glass to absent friends, and then stride forward into the new year with hope and optimism. I’m not a great one for new year resolutions, I’m usually happy to settle for love…

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