Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Being a Beta
Let’s start with what a beta does. In its simplest form, it is reading a manuscript for an author and providing them with feedback but sometimes, it is a lot more than that. It depends on each individual author. Some need lots of help with every part of the manuscript from spelling to language and my biggest nemesis, punctuation. Others just want someone else to read their work and make sure they tie up loose ends and that everything makes sense to the reader. You might ask isn’t that the editor’s job? Yes, but it always helps to have a couple of people read the book. Sounds like a lot of fun doesn’t it?? Sometimes it is, other times not so much. I can only write this from my experience. Every beta is different and not every writer needs the same thing from their betas. You will get a couple of different blogs from a few different betas, so you will know if it is a non-paying job you want to take on.
How did I become a beta? I am not really sure. I had never even entertained the idea of being a beta reader nor did I seek it out. I am not special in anyway, except in my ability to read fast. I have always put authors in a category of Gods. I have the utmost respect for anyone who can put pen to paper or nowadays fingers to keyboard. There is no way in hell I could ever write a book or even a short story. I have trouble writing these blogs and yep, I have several people reading them and correcting my atrocious language skills. And spell check is my best friend. I am not a fan of reading a book and critiquing it. I rarely even write reviews because I hate them. I don’t know what makes a good book. I just know if I enjoyed it and most of the time, I don’t know what it is that made it good for me. Besides, who cares what I think about a book? I was raised to be an individual and if I didn’t like a book, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t strike a chord with someone else and their life experiences. I know that is not a popular opinion and lots of people write reviews, and I say more power to them. It just isn’t my cup of tea. I will rate the book and tag them on Amazon and things like that to help an author. But nope, I’m going to try like hell not to have to write a review. But I digress and am beginning to ramble so back to the blog.
I have had several authors ask me to read something for them and see what I thought (why I have no idea). Like I said before, I have no special talent except being able to read a book in a couple of hours. So how did I become a beta, you ask? Well, let me tell you my short story. I became friends with some crazy chick (even though she didn’t like my porn) and then found out she was an author. She was looking for a couple of betas and she was crazy enough to ask me. She has told me that for her Trust is the biggest thing she needs from a beta. This seems to be a reoccurring theme with authors, which I understand completely. They are putting not just their livelihood in your hands, but they are also giving you a part of their soul. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it is true none the less. They have worked for months on their book. They have fretted on everything from character names, sex scenes, emotions and relationships, to setting up the next book, if it is a series. I have been on this journey with my author a couple of times and even as a beta, you get wrapped up in wanting the book to be the best it can be as well. This is the hardest job I have ever had, and I doubt myself every time I give her an opinion. I mean who signs up to tell a friend that their work sometimes sucks or that they are just rambling and going nowhere with the story they are trying to tell? A crazy person that is who!!
Before I start talking about my author, let me just let you know that she is going to be reading this so I will not be telling you secrets (unless you contact me privately). Now what does my author want or need from me?? That one is a hard question. It depends on the day. Each author is different and the relationship is different with each beta—if they have more than one. Sometimes we spend hours on the phone talking about our days just like girlfriends do and then move on to the book or problem of the day. Other days we just get right down to the nitty gritty and plot the book and smack around the characters till they behave (which rarely works). I never tell her what to put in a book or what to say, but we do talk about scenes and what could make them better or if they won’t work at all. Sometimes she just needs someone to bounce ideas off of, and I can listen and give her my opinion. Most of the time she tells me to bite her, but I keep refusing and remind her that she has a husband for that kind of thing. Again with the rambling.
The next step after the manuscript is done and she has read it over one last time and fretted for days over each and every word, she finally sends it in to the editor. Now the really hard part begins. We wait ….And wait…..and wait some more. Most of the time I am trying to get her to take a couple of days to unwind but normally, she can only do that for a day maybe. Then she is chomping at the bit to get back to writing. So she starts the next book or maybe I should say she plots the next book and writes scenes and annoys me with calls about names. Then the edits comeback. She reads them over and then calls me crying (just kidding). She gives me the gist of what the editor has said and at this point, I still have not seen a copy of the manuscript. I know the plot and some of the scenes, but I have not read it.
She will go through the edits and change a few things and then she reads it through again and sometimes again. Then I finally get the damn thing after weeks of talking about it (yep by this time, I am jonesing to get my hands on it). Now this is where it gets different for each author. Okay, most authors may or may not do any or all of the above mentioned things. In my case, I sit down and read it the same day I receive it. Depending on the time I finish, I may call her or I may just send her a text to give her a general idea of what I thought about it. I know she won’t sleep till I, at least, give her an idea of my thoughts.
Usually the next day, we get all our snacks together and for her the booze and pick up the phone. As I read, I highlight things that I find wrong or that just annoy me. I start at the beginning and she just opens her copy and gets her fingers ready for some corrections and cut and paste work. I give her the general rundown on the book then we really dig into it. We talk about what works and what doesn’t. We think about future books and if she needs to add a scene or cut one out. I rarely catch grammar, spelling or punctuation issues. I figure the editor will get that stuff. I am more about the story and tying up loose ends.
When we finish we then wait for the other beta to get back with her corrections. Usually we then ramble on about the next book and characters and when she is going to write my Sam’s book (yep, you knew I was going to have to mention him). When she talks to her other beta and they run through the book and fix any issues she has found then it is time for yet another read through. I have now usually read the whole manuscript once and some parts multiple times. She reads it one more time to fret over every single thing then back to another editor. Again, with the waiting. At this point, she may or may not have a cover. So far, she has had the release date so that is one more thing to think about, and we hope and pray that this round of edits comes back with just a couple of easy fixes. She finally gets it back and fingers crossed it is minor issues. We go through it one final time, and I will read it again all the way through and really this is the biggest one for me. I need to make sure that with all the changes that have been made there is no issue and we still have all the things tied up with nice little bows and no one is called by the wrong name and small issues that drive a reader up the wall. She reads it till I tell her to just send the damn thing in and stop trying to make herself crazy. Then she finally hits the send button. Now we can take a breath because there is nothing we can do to fix any issues that we may have missed.
My job is still not done though. The hardest part for me is done but for the author, it is still not over. No matter how successful they are, they still want people to love their books. They wait with bated breath for release day. When it finally gets here, they usually have a couple of things they do. Some go and keep themselves busy and try not to think about it (like that works) or they haunt the sales figures. I have told my author never to read reviews. Most so far have been good, but you never know when a bad one will make your author climb up on a ledge. I try and keep mine occupied by talk of ice cream and Sonic. But sometimes, you just have to let them vent about how it is not doing as well as the last one or that the next one is not going to live up to this one. Most authors seem to be confident in their work but really, they have put their heart and soul out there for others to comment on. Sometimes you have to be the one they can depend on to be in their corner and remind them they are talented or the publisher would not have bought the book.
It is a strange job, beta reading. You are part coach and part I hate to say it but cheerleader. You have to give them your honest opinion and yet not discourage them. This is not a job for the faint of heart because you have to be tough yet sometimes, you have to nurture their creativity and make sure you do not ever break their hearts.
I never knew how much went into a book till I started this job and now I am absofuckingly sure I NEVER want to be an author.