Wednesday Warble: Beta readers

joshua winning sentinel blog postEvery Wednesday (or whenever he feels like it), Sentinel author Joshua Winning will be checking in to variously vent, whine and blab about a topic that’s playing havoc with his tiny little mind .

This week: Beta readers

Three weeks ago, I took the plunge and did the unthinkable: I sent Ruins (book two of The Sentinel Trilogy) out to beta readers.

If you’re not familiar with the term, beta readers are basically ‘second’ readers. They’re trusted friends, writers and book-lovers who take a look at the latest draft of your manuscript (with Ruins, it’s the third draft) and offer constructive criticism.

That criticism can involve feedback on specific characters and plot arcs, use of language, grammatical errors and any factual discrepancies. All the things you’re no longer objective about (and probably never were to begin with) after weeks, months and years of grinding out your story.

Though it’s a vital part of the process, there’s honestly nothing more terrifying in writing than handing over your carefully-crafted words (and world) to somebody else for scrutiny. And it’s their job not to go easy on you. Sort of like Morpheus training Neo in The Matrix. Only more painful.

Ruins Joshua WinningA week after sending Ruins out, I had no fingernails left and was bracing myself for the worst. My readers would hate it. They’d tear it apart from the inside and leave it in tatters. I’d have to start all over again.

That anxiety will be familiar to anybody who’s handed any piece of work in anywhere – whether you’re at school, university or in the office. Nobody wants to be criticised, but it’s absolutely crucial to being an author.

I ask my beta readers to be brutal. I’d much rather they flag up any problems now. The alternative – seeing them in a Goodreads review when it’s too late to fix them – is unacceptable.

The great thing is, you all want the same thing – to get the story in the best shape possible. To make it the best it can be. And a fresh pair of eyes on material you’ve tortured yourself over for god-knows-how-long is the best thing an author can ask for.

So, yes, it’s been two weeks since I sent Ruins to my five betas and I’ve now received three lots of feedback sheets. I’ll be honest, I read them all with one eye squeezed shut, but all the feedback has been fantastic. There was praise for stuff I was anxious about and great suggestions for how to improve areas I suspected still needed work.

And there’s nothing like that feeling when a reader says they fell in love with a character you’re in love with yourself.

Now that I have the first wave of feedback to work with, I’m heading in to assemble the fourth draft of Ruins – and I couldn’t be more excited.

It goes without saying that I couldn’t do this without my betas, who are all busy people with their own jobs and lives. I can’t thank them enough for giving up their time to help me improve my stories, but I’m sending out a huge thanks to my betas anyway (Troy, David, John, Jez, Kyra). Your input and support is truly invaluable.

Sentinel Joshua Winning book cover raven

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