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Advice wanted on beta reading please

I can't believe I didn't think to ask my LJ friends this before. Tomorrow, I hand over Waking up Jack Thunder to my three wonderful beta readers, along with a note (copied below) listing the kind of feedback I'm looking for. This is the first time I've ever used beta readers as opposed to having someone read a draft. If anyone can think of anything else I should ask for, I'd be most grateful for their suggestions.

Here's the note as it stands:

WAKING UP JACK THUNDER – beta readers’ notes

Hi guys,

Let me start by thanking you in advance for doing this for me. I really appreciate it.

First the good news: I’m not looking for a detailed critique. Instead, I’d like you to read it as if it were any other book (albeit a letter-sized one). I would like you to make some notes though, along the lines of the following:

GENERAL

Sometimes when I’m reading a book, I get one of those ‘I’m really enjoying this!’ moments. In the unlikely event this happens to you while reading WuJT, please make a note of where and why.

Next, and sad to say, far more likely, if you get bored at any point, or confused, or the writing gives you a ‘huh?’ moment, or kicks your eyes off the page in any way, please make a note of where in the book that happened, and if possible, why you think it did.

CHAPTER ENDINGS (AND OPENINGS)

It’s quite possible for a book to be neither boring nor gripping. How easy was it to put this one down? I’m particularly interested in how easy it was to take a break at the end of a chapter and whether you had any problems getting your bearings at the beginning of a chapter?

CHARACTERS

This probably comes under those ‘huh?’ moments I referred to above, but were the characters' and their actions believable? Was there enough/too much information about them?

GENRE

I call Waking up Jack Thunder a sci-fi thriller (mostly because the opening chapter is more like a plain old thriller), but when I first started writing it, I considered it a sci-fi action/comedy – there’s a lot of humor in it. When you finished reading it, I’d be grateful for your opinion as to what genre I should pitch it as.

“What about the bad news?” you say. I’d have thought that was obvious – you have to read my book :)

Jon


Although I'm handing over the beta draft tomorrow, I don't expect the feedback until the middle of January, so if you do have some advice, but didn't read this until later in the week, don't worry about me not being able to use it.

Many thanks in advance,

Jon


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Comments

( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
positive_pat
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Hi Jon

It looks like you have most of the info needed from a beta in your write up which was very good BTW. You might want to ask about the "flow of the story" I know you asked about the Chapter Ending & Beginnings but I am talking about the "overall feel" of the story. Does it "flow" nicely or is it rough, choppy, disconnected etc? Just a Thought.

Again I think you have done a nice layout for your betas.

Best
Pat
jongibbs
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Pat, that's a good idea :)
mongrelheart
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
Those questions look great to me.

this is the first time I've ever used beta readers as opposed to having someone read a draft.
I'm not clear on the distinction? Aren't beta readers just the people who are reading the draft?
jongibbs
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
Lol, sadly no, they were just the poor suckers I gave an early draft of Fur-Face to, back when I didn't know enough to know I didn't know enough :(

Thankfully, all but one of them still speaks to me :)
(no subject) - mongrelheart - Nov. 13th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
ajjones
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
Ah, so you're a hybrid cross-genre mutant freak like yours truly. lol Good luck with it, I'm sure you'll get great feedback. I don't know what I'd do without my beta readers.
jongibbs
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
'...hybrid cross-genre mutant freak...'

Yep, that sounds about right :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
I don't think it would be fair to expect them to read a first draft (reading a book for someone's a lot of work). This is (I hope) the penultimate one - 10,000 words lighter than the original.

Aside from any changes brought about as a result of the reports, all I'll have to do is read it aloud and make those pesky grammar changes I missed already :)

Hehe, the sad thing is, I actually believe that ;)
bogwitch64
Nov. 13th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
If this is your LAST (haha) draft, you might want to consider asking your betas to note any writing ticks you might have. For example, too many 'said' tags, or worse, said bookisms. Do you use a certain word a LOT? Adverbs? Too many sentences starting with But? Does your strange British spelling of 'or' and 'ize' words turn their heads inside out? Ok, I'm kidding about the last one, but some writer ticks really distract a reader, and if you're not asking for that sort of notation, you might change an otherwise great bit because your reader wrote, "A bit boring, sorry old bean," in the margin when it was simply an abundance of dialog tags slowing the snappy banter down.
jongibbs
Nov. 13th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. We all have those personal cliches, stage directing habits etc. Hopefully, that would come under the 'bored' or 'huh?' headings.

As for strange British spellings, all I can say is pthhhhffrrrrrt! ;)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 13th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 13th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 13th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 13th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 13th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 13th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 13th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 13th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 13th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Nov. 14th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
'...at the risk of sounding really stupid...'

Not at all, I didn't know myself until I started reading about them on other people's blogs. It's the 'second' reader stage (up till now it's just been me). You get some writer friends to read your ms and give you honest feedback on your novel. My three are the folks in the critique cell I belong to at the GSHW.

I've had a couple of writing group friends read an early draft of Fur-Face, but I didn't know what feedback to ask for, and quite frankly, that early draft was... well let's just say I've learned a lot since then ;)
karen_w_newton
Nov. 14th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
You covered most of the bases. But I also probably ask:

Do any of the characters ever do anything that seems either out of character or just plain stupid-- something that is done solely in the service of the plot?

Is everyone's motivation clear, especially the villain/antagonist (if there is one)? (bad guys can come across as totally cardboard if they don't have sufficient motivation)

Good luck!
jongibbs
Nov. 14th, 2009 11:57 am (UTC)
Good points. Thanks for the help, Karen :)
onyxhawke
Nov. 14th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
Here's a post I put up a while back. http://onyxhawke.livejournal.com/11860.html
jongibbs
Nov. 14th, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)
That's good advice, thanks :)

My beta readers are other members in the critique cell I belong to. We've been together for a little over a year now, so I know I can trust them to be brutally honest. As you say in your post, anything else, isn't really helpful.
chant_1
Nov. 14th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
Congrats on being at the beta stage! I think your guidelines for feedback look pretty good - my only issue with them being your, you know, knocking yourself. Why should it be unlikely that they'll have an "I'm really enjoying this" moment? I think that you're being self-deprecating, but it automatically sets this up in a negative light. It's perfectly acceptable to just say "Let me know what you like as well as what you don't" and just leave it at that. Own your talent, Jon! : )
jongibbs
Nov. 14th, 2009 12:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words :)

I wouldn't poke fun at myself in a query letter, but my three beta readers are critique partners (and friends), so we all know each other.
(no subject) - chant_1 - Nov. 14th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 14th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
ailsa_cf
Nov. 14th, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
Most of the time when I've beta-read in the past, it's been for short pieces, and I've done the whole thing with spelling & grammar too, but the most recent one was a full length novel, and she had someone else specifically to help with that. So, I was doing most of what you talked about in your post - I just left little comments of what I was thinking - "Love the interactions between these characters" - "Ending to this chapter is a bit abrupt" - stuff like that. I was also catching things like, isn't she already wearing her coat? and little things like that. If the characters were behaving out of character, then I would comment on that too.
jongibbs
Nov. 14th, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ailsa. Yeah, those continuity checks are important. Especially when you've made a lot of changes since the first draft - I changed the villains name to Lazarus early on, but found a couple of references to his original name months later :)
clarionj
Nov. 14th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
I think with the way you've worded things that you'll get coverage on all levels--while leaving the readers room to interpret as is comfortable to them. Anything questions I think of--pacing, general style, etc.--get grouped into that first general question, which is essential what works and what doesn't. I hope you get back great feedback!
jongibbs
Nov. 14th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks. so do I ;)
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )

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