Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Five Beta Readers You Meet in Heaven

My revised opus is sitting in my agent's inbox. We shall see what happens.

But I want to tell you my revelatory experience with beta readers. There are TYPES. If you are lucky and have cultivated your writerly Team of Rivals well, you will be surrounded by very different beta readers that give you very different feedback.

Different is good. If everyone is agreeing with each other (and worse, you) this is bad. Is it possible that your work is so perfect, so completely without flaw that there is only consensus in your little garden? No. I really don't think so. Even if you disagree with most of your feedback, just being open to those different opinions will challenge you, make you think deeper. This can only make the work better. Which is the point, right?

Let me introduce you to my wonderful beta readers.

Maribel, my outsider beta, is my friend from high school. I love her dearly and trust her. But she's also smart, loves to read widely and has specialist knowledge that I needed to consult for this book (specifically, she's Cuban.) She's an outsider because she's NOT a writer. That means she's solely a reader; she doesn't toggle between reading like a reader and reading like a writer/editor. She gets immersed in the story and can truthfully tell me if I've accomplished the trick of transporting her to another world. Having said all that, she caught a plot hole that NONE of my other, more experienced Betas caught.

Jenny Herrera is a very talented writer who doesn't write in my genre (well, she's thinking about it - J! come over to the YA dark side!) This is important because she questions genre tropes that it sometimes becomes too easy to fall into. The love triangle, the frenemy, the distant parents. She probes these tropes with a sharp stick, making sure they aren't just made of cardboard but of fleshed out characters. She also has a wicked 'spidey' sense that ferrets out when things are too...convenient.

Kerri Maniscalco is a wonderful writer who has a fluid, expansive style. She's so good at feelings and interiority that you feel like her characters are sitting next to you, telling you their secrets. This is not my writing style, however. K's feedback is often about putting in more, showing more. She's excellent at spotting places where I *thought* I conveyed a message, but it's not on the page.

Renee Ahdieh kicks ass. Her writing is glorious - sharp and spare as a knife. There's never a sag in the action, the pacing is meticulous. This isn't my writing style either - but with R's feedback, I'm able to pare down repetitiveness and make my writing sleeker. Between Kerri and Renee, I'm able to find a balance that suits my style perfectly.

You need a team of rivals, but you also need an ally. In my case this is my husband and my mom. My mom because the world in my book is one she understands (her own mother and grandmother were curanderas - healers in their native Uruguay.) And because she was able to remind me that, whatever happens with this book, just writing it was an accomplishment. And she said it made her laugh, which made me so happy. My husband was the last to read my book and the last to comment. He knows how important this book has become to me, how much of my heart and hopes are tied up in it. And he's the first to say, "Good job, honey. What's next?" Because he knows that this book, even though I poured myself into it until I wondered if there was anything else left, is only one book on a continuum. There's more to write. ONWARD.

I am so grateful to my betas for letting me tap into their prodigious talents and wit.

Who's on your team of rivals?


  1. Excellent breakdown--I found myself immediately thinking of who in my critique group fits where :D Congratulations on delivering the MS to your agent, and I hope you hear back with lightning speed. Happy 2014!

  2. thanks Guilie! Right now, I'm just hoping she loves it as much as I do. I haven't yet gotten to the stage of obsessively hitting the 'check mail' button! :)

  3. This is so true! Enjoyed reading all the excellent-sounding CPs/betas you have. You have an awesome balance! My team is small but I've acquired 2 new ones to torture--I mean, try out. They don't all have to be way-experienced writers, I've found. Some newbies find plot holes and things the more "savvy" writers miss! They all come at it with their own backgrounds, and it's great. :)

    1. Hey Carol
      At least while you torture them, they'll be torturing you right back! that's the great thing about betas and crit partners - its quid pro quo, so everyone's got skin in the game and incentive (other than general niceness) to do their best. Everyone wins!

  4. Seriously? You almost made me cry. :-)

    1. Almost? DAMN! I must not be doing it right. :)
      Facts are facts. You are a kick ass writer and you've taught me so much in just the short time we've been writing buds. Hope I can return the favor on super sekret new story...So. Loving. It!


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