The importance of Beta Readers

Most of us writers probably have a similar response to finishing a story.  We gaze at our manuscript with starry eyes and proclaim it’s the best thing we’ve ever written, conveniently forgetting how we said the same thing after the last finished manuscript.  To be fair, it probably is at least a little better, but from how we (I) feel you’d think we skipped fifty developmental steps and just wrote the GREATEST AMERICAN NOVEL EVER.

I did this after finishing The Apocalypse Gazette.  Greatest.  American.  Novel.  Ever.

It’s not, I know, but it feels like it is.

Then come those pesky Beta Readers, poking holes in our ego.

It’s not pleasant but it’s important.

One of my favorite things about The Apocalypse Gazette is that it’s vague about what’s real in the story and what’s just in the main character’s head.  He’s losing his marbles and I like the fact that it’s not obvious how much of the story is actually happening vs. what he thinks is happening.  To me, that opens up this whole playful world that takes ‘post-apocalyptic’ into ‘anything goes’.

I passed the story on to a trusted friend for her opinions.  She’s read most of my stuff and is quick to point out any issues she has.

The first thing she said?  “I don’t understand what’s going on with Wally when XYZ happens…”

My ego wanted to jump in and say “That’s the point, isn’t it clever?”

But that wasn’t how it worked for her, she found the vagueness distracting and confusing.

As much as it pained me to admit, if she found it distracting and confusing, a large percentage of the readers would too.  And that’s not what I want.

So, back to the writing board to rework all those sections, trying to balance the parts I like with just enough clarity that I don’t lose the audience.  Sigh.  But that’s why Beta Readers are so important, the good ones will point out the good and the bad, hopefully leading to a better book.

6 thoughts on “The importance of Beta Readers”

  1. Isn’t it amazing what beta readers catch. I love it. And you are so right that there’s a difference between reader feeling confused and reader feeling intrigued by a mystery in the story. Great post. 🙂

  2. You have an unreliable narrator, a first person POV (apparently), and therefore nothing to ground the plot in reality for the reader. I’m afraid you have a literary work on your hands. The road to successful literary publication is simple to describe: make it the best of its kind.

    So read lots of Iain Pears, Allen Kurzweil, John Irving, Günter Grass. If I were you, I’d continue to work on this book, but I wouldn’t let it be the only thing I develop. Build platform. Write novels. Find an agent. Find a publisher. Market your works. Then finish The Apocalypse Gazette. Or you could just change to third person or omniscient POV.

    1. Almost all of it is written in third person omniscient, with a narrator that pops in sometimes to add tidbits in first. It’s more complicated than I thought it would be.

      Good suggestions, and I’m definitely working on several different projects while I try and finish this story.

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