A few weeks ago I gave the second draft of my novel The Chokecherry Tree to my first beta reader. I was looking for someone who is not family, someone who I know to be unafraid to speak their mind, and who is highly literate. My family read parts of the book and tell me “this is very good. You’re a good writer.” Note the overuse of the word “good” without detail as to why it’s good, or what I might do to make the work even better. On the other hand, one can trust family not to say that it sucks, that I’m fooling myself if I believe I can write, and in fact, I should be legally barred from ever putting pen to paper.
I want my novel to be the best work of which I’m capable before I start looking for an agent. To get there, I needed a frank critique of this second draft of my book. My beta reader delivered! As I drove to her house to retrieve the marked-up copy of my novel, I reminded my fragile male ego that this exercise is about becoming a better writer. It’s not about surrounding myself with people who tell me everything I write is fantastic.
Despite my best mental preparation, I may initially have been a bit defensive. My intrepid beta reader sure gave her red pen a workout! But she found several plot holes for me to fill and several places where character motivation was unclear or unrealistic. She convinced me to make one of my main characters two years older so she’d be more believable. (That one I struggled against for a while, till my wife told me she agreed with the beta reader. Now it seems as though the girl has always been twelve rather than ten years old.) And of course, my beta reader found some misused homonyms, etc., that my spell checker and Grammarly failed to catch.
As I write this blog post, this same beta reader just returned to me her thoughts on my synopsis of The Chokecherry Tree that I will need as I look for an agent. I agree with every one of her suggestions.
The third draft of my novel is tight. I’ve fixed every point that she made. So based on my n=1 experience with using beta readers, count me as an enthusiastic proponent!