Beta Round the Bush

The Tempus Project went off to my beta readers this week. I joked online that in some ways it's more stressful than submitting to an editor, and I was only half-joking – for me, at least, what I send to beta readers is still very much unfinished, and several revision passes away from what will eventually be called the First Draft.

I'm an iterative writer – I like to get a quick version down, then tidy and polish it, then get feedback, then revise it based on that feedback, then tidy and polish it some moreā€¦ and so on. The beta reading stage is that first round of feedback, where the manuscript is in no fit state to be shown to the public, but complete enough to be read by a small number of people whom I trust.

And beta reading is all about trust, on both sides. From the author's perspective, I trust my readers will understand it's not finished, that of course I know it has problems, and I value their opinions on how those problems can be solved. From the beta reader's side, they trust I won't waste their time; that I'll listen to their feedback and take their criticism seriously, in good faith. After all, I asked for it.

This is why authors curate beta readers carefully, and mostly draw on other writers, because they understand the process. Sending out unfinished work leaves us vulnerable; first impressions make a lasting mark. It's important to know that won't be abused.

Acting on beta feedback, meanwhile, is a balancing act of weighted opinions and my own instincts. If two people give directly contradictory opinions – “I loved this part”, “I hated this part” – they kind of cancel each other out, and I'll listen to my gut (cf The Exphoria Code with That Scene in the Syrian desert – it divided beta readers, and even my editor, but ultimately I firmly believed it was right for the story).

On the other hand, if several people all give the same note, or dislike the same scene, then I'll take a close look at it to address those concerns. As I often say in games work, “Fight for your vision, but recognise when someone else's idea is better.” That's applicable in many situations.

Anyway! So here I am, anxiously awaiting notes and feedback, and quite frankly that anxiety isn't helped by the shitshow that is the UK's political circus right now. If I keel over from stress, blame those 650 numpties in Westminster. J'accuse.

Originally published April 2019

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