Find the original blog post (and the rest of the interview) on Far-Sight Fiction here:
Tell us about your writing process and where the beta readers come into it.
Well, my writing process can be rather fluid. Generally, though, I come up with an idea and do all of my research at the front. A lot of brainstorming happens during this time with my editor. I’ll throw ideas around, we’ll discuss plausibility and whether or not something is too far-fetched, and eventually I’ll have between 20 and 30 pages of strict resources and randomly generated thoughts. For the most part I don’t outline extensively. I have a formula that I use for the number and size of my chapters to help me reach and then stay within my page/word counts. I jot down a paragraph or some bullet points of what needs to happen in each chapter, if I know, and then I start writing.
I have two beta-readers who read each chapter as it is finished in its full, messy, first draft goodness. They don’t edit for style, grammar, or functionality, unless there is something seriously egregious that I let slip by. Mostly they ask questions, verify that they understand the story correctly, and provide feedback, maybe a few thoughts if something isn’t very clear. They keep me honest about my goals (where’s the next chapter, eh?!) and they also help nudge me along if I seem to be straying from the path.
After the book is written, my editor will do a complete read of the raw draft. At this time the grammatical and stylistic errors will be notated and corrected, and any last tweaks to the flow of the story will be suggested. By this time, though, most of the major story flaws have already been noticed by the chapter-by-chapter beta readers. The goal is to send as clean and correct a manuscript to the editor as possible; extensive rewrites should occur during the writing process beforehand. If I did my job correctly, editing should always just be editing.
What are some concrete benefits that you have experienced by having beta readers?
No one lives in a vacuum. And even if you think it, you don’t always have the best ideas. Sometimes you can stagnate with no real resources for how to get out of this plot hole you’ve created. Sometimes you just don’t like a character, and a beta reader can tell you that character is their favorite and you’d better not touch anything—or their least favorite and yes, you do need to change it. Basically, beta readers help get you out of your own skull and to see things from a fresh perspective. Your readers are going to be forming opinions on your book anyway—what author wouldn’t want to know what some of those thoughts might be as they’re going along?
A beta reader may have a good suggestion, or they may say just the right thing, turning on that light bulb and getting you working again. Beta readers also, as I said before, keep you honest. You can’t do much dithering if you know your readers are waiting at the end of the line for that next chapter you promised them. Procrastination is a writer’s worst enemy. In my own experience, writer’s block, lack of inspiration, plot holes, anything that causes a delay in writing has nothing at all to do with the book. It’s all a hidden form of procrastination that then ends up in twenty games of lost Solitaire. Writers may not write every day; they may not write every week. What they write may not be good, it may be amazing. But writers do write, and beta readers help me get that writing on the page, good or bad. Rough drafts are allowed to stink. But you can’t finish a book if you don’t just giddy up and write it.
Another benefit is that, personally, I have the tendency to over-rewrite. If I could, I’d edit forever and end up getting nowhere. Beta readers have allowed me to throw that perfectionism to the winds—and as a result, my production timeline has gone through the roof. I wrote three books in the last two years and I have another planned to begin later this summer. And it’s the best writing I’ve ever done.
When you have a beta reader, there’s no time to agonize over perfecting the book the first time. Do your job and let them do theirs. Once that chapter is finished, don’t reread it, don’t edit it, don’t even look at it. Just send it along. They’ll let you know what’s what, and then you can go back and make tweaks. But at the same time, you have to keep pushing forward. They’re waiting for that next chapter.