Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Beta Readers Rock the House!

You might have noticed I thank the Spartanica beta readers by name in the front of the book. That's because they were an absolutely critical part of the authoring process.

What's a "beta reader"? These are a select group of adult and young adult volunteers that offer up their time to read and give feedback to the pre-published versions of a book. For Spartanica, I had eight beta readers, each of whom read the entire story twice... once after the initial writing, and once after I'd incorporated their comments after the first read.

Did much get changed along the way? Oh, yeah... lots! For instance, I could tell after the first reading that I hadn't done a good enough job of describing how the main characters looked, especially the scary ones. For instance, the final description of a Desrata is as follows:

"They growled and snarled dauntingly, baring their canine-like teeth as drool dangled and flapped all around from the corners of their mouths. They were easily twice my height with ominously oversized, hairy, human-shaped bodies. Instead of hands, they had paws, each with four thick, yet surprisingly nimble digits, all with long, razor-sharp nails jutting out like ready-made daggers. Their barrel-chested physiques with grotesquely broad shoulders and cannon-sized arms were bigger and more muscular than anything I’d ever seen. Their strong, foreboding faces, with flat mouths and pushed-in noses that sat higher than their pitch-black recessed eyes vaguely reminded me of a bulldog. Unlike a bulldog, their heads were hairless with taut, dark gray skin over chiseled muscle and bone. I couldn’t tell whether their dark-brown skin was shiny or if they were wet, or maybe sweating. While they looked like animals, each one wore a black, military-style uniform with the sleeves torn off, undersized pants with frayed bottoms that stopped mid-shin, and ratty black army-style boots. As barbaric as these things appeared at first glance, they were definitely more than just wild beasts."  

When I spoke to my beta readers after the first read, they all gave me a different description of the Desrata. I knew I had a problem, so I completely rewrote their description. The second time around, the feedback was much more consistent, AND the beta readers loved it!

The graphic descriptions of the characters in Spartanica turned out to be a real strength of the book. Kirkus Reviews even referred to the "fantastical creatures" within the story. That was a big deal coming from them.

I'm working on book two now. My son, daughter, and wife actually read two to three chapters at a time along the way to help out, but I look forward to getting that first copy to the beta team. Then I know we're getting close!

Your friend in most excellent sci-fi...

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