The Importance of A Beta Reader with Lisa Brunette

Lisa Brunette_Author BRAGI’d like to welcome back Lisa Brunette to Layered Pages. She has agreed to take part in my beta readers series. Lisa is the author of the Dreamslippers mystery series. Book One, Cat in the Flock, is an indieBRAG honoree title that has been praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, and others.

Brunette is a career writer/editor whose work has appeared in major daily newspapers and magazines, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Boston Globe, Seattle Woman, and Poets & Writers. She’s interviewed a Pulitzer-prize-winning author, a sex expert, homeless women, and the designer of the Batmobile, among others. She also has story design credits in hundreds of bestselling mystery-themed video-games.

She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of Miami, where she was a Michener Fellow. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Bellingham Review, The Comstock Review, Icarus International, and elsewhere.

She’s also received many honors for her writing, including a major grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission, the William Stafford Award, and the Associated Writing Programs Intro Journals Project Award.

Lisa, do you use beta readers?

Yes, I do.

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 never have anyone other than my husband, who acts as a sort of sounding board and coach for me, look at what to me are “shitty first drafts,” to quote Anne Lamott. At that early stage, the work can only take the most loving sort of scrutiny, and only one person can do that for me.

But once I’ve got to the point where 1) I have a relatively solid, finished draft and 2) I can no longer see it clearly enough on my own, I seek out BETA readers.

For my first novel, Cat in the Flock, I used a small handful of trusted BETA readers who read an early draft. Based on their feedback, I revised, and then I sent the new draft to another small cohort, some of them overlapping from the first.

This worked reasonably well, but for the second book, I wanted a larger BETA pool, and I also wanted to look at their feedback in the aggregate instead of specific commentary, which is often loaded with personal, subjective opinion. So I recruited more widely and had them all take an online survey after they read the draft. They can still provide narrative feedback, and some of that is useful in the way that anecdotal evidence is useful to researchers. But what I’m primarily paying attention to is the aggregate results.

What is it that you look for in a beta reader? And what is the importance of them?

My ideal BETA reader is someone who reads mystery novels. They are important because I would have to put a draft away for about six months in order to gain sufficient distance enough to see it the way they will, with fresh eyes. In our current publishing environment, I don’t have that kind of time.

Cat in the flock

How do you choose your beta readers?

I put out a call on my blog, my newsletter, and social media.

What has been your experience with them?

Ten people can tell you they are having a problem with something, but they’ll have ten different opinions as to what’s broken about it and ten different suggestions for how to fix it. All you should pay attention to is that enough people have said there’s a problem. Then you go in and figure out how best to fix it yourself.

You have to discount the outliers – statistically, they don’t matter. You also have to discount any feedback that is written from the point-of-view of the reader’s vision instead of someone who is trying to help you, the writer, achieve her vision. That is a real art. As someone who regularly critiques game story concepts, I can tell you it’s not easily done.

How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?

I never take anyone’s “advice.” This isn’t anyone else’s book. The feedback is incredibly useful, but like I said, I’m the captain of the ship. I’m not writing by committee here. The time for advice was when I was a student, or when I was younger and greener. Now it’s all about data – how readers are responding to a draft – and how I choose to use that data to revise.

Do you use them for every book you write?

Yes. And I highly recommend it to others.

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