The Importance of a Beta Reader with Heidi Skarie

Heidi Skarie BRAG

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Heidi Skarie today to talk with me about the importance of Beta Readers. She writes visionary novels that are an intoxicating amalgam of action, adventure and romance, featuring strong, spiritually inquisitive heroines. Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge is her first science fiction novel. She previously published Red Willow’s Quest, a historical novel based on a past life, about a Native American maiden training to become a medicine woman.

In the fall of 2015 Heidi plans to publish her new novel: Annoure and the Dragonships, another historical novel based on a past life, about a young woman kidnapped by the Vikings. In 2016 Star Rider and the Ahimsa Warrior, the second book in her Star Rider series will be published.

 Heidi, do you use beta readers?

Yes, it’s wonderful to get feedback on your book.

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 write the first draft of my novel without any input so I can create a cohesive story without being influenced by anyone else. Then I work with my critique group and go through the manuscript chapter by chapter.  After I’ve gone through the manuscript with them, I use beta readers for feedback on the entire book.

On my last book I used three beta readers, but I’d like to have more.

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

I look for people who like novels in my genres, which are science fiction and historical fiction.  People who read a lot are best so they have a good sense of story and can give me constructive feedback.  I want to know both what they liked about the book as well as the areas where they think it needs work.  An author gets so close to the novel that it is hard to see it as a whole. My critique group is helpful, but they only critique a few chapters at a time. A person sees different things when they read a novel through in its entirety.

I want feedback on the plot.  Are there are any inconsistencies? Was the ending satisfying? Did the story keep you engaged, so you didn’t want to put it down?  Did you think about the story after reading it?

I also want feedback on the characters.  Did you relate to the protagonists and their problems?  Were the main characters three-dimensional, including the antagonist?

I’ve found that beta readers are good at seeing different aspects of the book.  Some beta readers give very detailed feedback and others give their overall impression of the book.  For my last book, one of the readers pointed out the timing in one scene was off.  It was morning in the beginning of the scene and a few paragraphs later the sun was setting.  Another beta reader said there needed to be more references to the minor characters.  Both these points were well taken and easy to correct.

It’s also important to find people who have the time to read the manuscript fairly quickly so I can meet my deadlines.

Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge

How do you choose your beta readers?

I asked a few people who I know well and trust, but in the future I’d like to get feedback from people who I don’t know.  They might be more objective.

What has been your experience with them?

It’s been a great experience.  They are usually supportive and happy to read what I’m working on.  They often tell me they get emotionally involved with the characters and storyline.

Is it always helpful to get feedback?

Not always.  You can’t change your story to please everyone.  Not everyone is going to like it. It’s like a painting: some people like modern art, some impressionistic and some classical.  If your book is space opera and they like hard science, they aren’t your best choice as readers.

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

I try to keep my vision and the theme of the novel in mind as I go through the comments.  If the comment is just pointing out a mistake, I fix it.  If the comment is subjective, I think about it.  If different readers have conflicting ideas, I go with what I think will best fit the characters and overall plotline.  In the end I have to trust my own inner voice.

Do you use them for every book you write?

Yes, and I plan to continue to use them.  Many successful novelists find beta readers helpful and constructive.

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Q&A About Beta Readers with Author E.M. Powell

Stephanie: I would like to introduce Author E.M. Powell. She is here to take part in my series about Beta Readers and has some very interesting and helpful things to say….E.M. is the author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, The Fifth Knight, a medieval thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The next book in the series, The Blood of The Fifth Knight, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in late 2014. Visit her website or her facebook page . The audio version of The Fifth Knight can be purchased here: Amazon

Do you use beta readers?

E.M.: Yes.

Stephanie: 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?

E.M.: I am also one of those authors! First reader is my long-suffering spouse. Many people would think that this is a recipe for domestic turmoil. But he’s extremely sensible and he knows the importance of getting things right. If he thinks something’s not working, he says so, and more importantly, why. Next is my agent, the peerless Josh Getzler. You could argue that an agent is not a beta reader but he certainly meets the definition. Again, he is completely honest and probably over-kind with some of the stuff I have put before him. He’s also brilliant with editorial suggestions. At this early stage, it’s asking them to read on a partial. Then a full. And once a whole lot of changes have been made, it’s over to my team of three other beta readers.

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

E.M.: I think the important word here is reader. None of the people who so generously help are writers. As for importance, it’s impossible to quantify just how important they are. Something that I think might be working fine in my head can get a universal thumbs-down. And they’re always right. I don’t use beta readers for grammar/spelling/typos specifically. To me that’s a different request and if they’re looking for those issues, then the chances are, they’re going to be thinking less about the characters and the story.

Stephanie: How do you choose your beta readers?

E.M.: It’s a tricky decision and one which is probably individual to every writer. I don’t have a choice about my agent seeing early versions- which is good! For me, it’s all about trust. So yes, I have chosen my spouse and three friends. But all of them know how much this matters to me and all of them understand the importance of my manuscripts working as novels. I know they won’t say things are great when they’re not.

The_Fifth_Knight_V4

Stephanie: What has been your experiences with them?

E.M.: All good. And when I use the word good, I don’t mean that they say everything is good. But good in the sense that I have been told where I’m going wrong. And you know what? They’ve been right. Right to the extent that I deleted 20,000 words out of the first 30,000 word partial of my current novel. Yes, it was painful, but I was weirdly happy to do it. I had a little voice in the back of my mind telling me things weren’t working. My first-round beta-readers confirmed that.

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

E.M.: See above! In terms of the impact, it was about me recognizing my strengths (fast-paced action) and delivering more of that. And it’s so much more fun to write! In the ill-fated partial. I was even boring myself.

Stephanie: Do you use them for every book you write?

E.M.: Yes, I have used other writers for my unpublished novels (which will never see the light of day!). I have had tremendously useful feedback from different individuals over the years and honed my craft that way. But I think the group I have now works and I don’t want to change it. And they’re very good value for money. Only Josh sees a commission- the rest just have to help me drink wine!

Thank you, E.M.!