Jude Knight is the pen name of Judy Knighton. After a career in commercial writing, editing, and publishing, she is returning to her first love, fiction. Her novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair, was released in December 2014, and is in the top ten on several Amazon bestseller lists in the US and UK. Jude’s novel Farewell to Kindness, will be released on 1 April. It is number one in a series: The Golden Redepennings. She have several novels in progress, and plot outlines for 40+, all set in the early 19th century. The plans include seven series, several stand-alone novels, novellas, and short stories, and a number of characters who intersect across series.
Thank you, Jude for taking part in the Layered Pages Beta Readers Series. Do you use beta readers?
Yes. I’ve been in commercial writing most of my life, part of the time as a technical writer in the software industry. I’ve always sought peer review of my work, and user tested it with readers. There was never any question that I would do the same with my fiction. I just had to figure out how to go about it.
I know of a few authors who use beta readers for different phases of their manuscript. How many do you use and in what phase of your WIP do you require them?
I send a few chapters at a time to two wonderful people as I finish them. One is my first reader, my sister Sue. The other is my critique partner, Cathy. This lets me incorporate feedback as I go.
I send a draft that is as good as I can get it to a wider audience. By this stage, it has been through several edits. I edit as I go; I do a second edit incorporating the feedback from Sue and Cathy, and picking up story threads that I dropped on the way through, and I then I chart all the plot lines and the characters, and do a third, major edit, with extensive rewriting where I think I need it.
For the novella, I was working to a very short timeframe, and I sent it to only three people. I sent Farewell to Kindness to 20 people, and heard back from 17 of them in the six week timeframe.
What is it that you look for in a beta reader? And what is the importance of them?
Ideally, I want a mix of readers and writers. Writers are far more critical of the technical skill I’ve used, which is very helpful. Both react as readers.
I want a large group, because life happens. People promise to respond, but it is a huge ask. I got 17 responses out of 20, which was better than I expected.
I want people who read in my genre, people who write in my genre, and — if possible — an outlier or two who don’t normally read historical fiction.
And I want at least one man to tell me if the men I write are credible. Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband who will give me his honest opinion.
To me, beta readers are vital. I’m too close to the story to be able to judge it. I don’t know whether I’ve kept the secrets I want to surprise the reader with. I don’t know if my clues are too obscure or too obvious. I don’t know if my characters come across the way I want them to.
Each reader picks up different things. Every view is helpful.
How do you choose your beta readers?
I put out a request on the Facebook Groups I belong to, at the office where I work, and through family. I accepted everyone who offered. Next time, I’ll approach those who gave me the most substantive feedback, and also directly ask a couple of writers and readers I’ve become friendly with. Over time, I hope to build up a group of people I can ask. I’d like around 30 people, to allow people space to say ‘no, not this time’.
What has been your experience with them?
My experience has been very positive. I’ve had both affirmation and really practical suggestions. I’m very grateful to all those who have taken time out of their busy lives to not just read a book that is only 90% polished, but to also give me ideas for the last 10%.
How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?
At the end of the day, it’s my book, and I’m responsible for the decisions I make. But when two or beta readers tell me that the number of characters in the early part of the book is confusing, or ask if I can inject more humour in the interactions between my hero and heroine, you can bet I’m going to listen. How I solve the problems they uncover is over to me.
Often, one reader will make a great suggestion. For example, one reader suggested putting a key to the language of flowers into the back of the novella, since the language of flowers was an important part of Candle’s courtship. Great idea. Why didn’t I think of that.
Or one reader might cause me to question and go and check my research. Someone from Southwest England suggested that I had the dialect a little wrong. I was basing it on an aunt from the region, but when I checked, my reader was right. My aunt had picked up the expression she was using from her north-England born father.
Beta readers pick up glaring errors, parts of the plot that don’t work, and trudging bits of prose. I’d far rather find out about them before I publish than in a one-star review on Amazon.
As I write my second novel, I’m keeping in mind many of the lessons I’ve learned from the beta readers of the novella and the first novel. We’ll see whether the beta readers of Encouraging Prudence agree that I’m getting better!
Do you use them for every book you write?
I intend to use beta readers for every book I write.