The Beta-Reader You Get, The Better Writer You’ll Be

At the moment, I’m in the throes of writing my second book. After writing my last book, there were a lot of improvements I wanted to make. Among these improvements was seeking some advice before publishing.

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When I look at my first book, I see a lot of good things in there, but also know that it could have been better. That’s natural and it’s alright. While everyone has a book inside of them, the technique of writing a book is a completely different beast. Writing turgid, embarrassing, confusingly awful (ok, ok, ok) … prose is always possible. But even if something brilliant is committed to paper, it may be outside the theme, style, flow, scope … or all in all, the entire purpose for writing the book or the proposed way in which the book is supposed to be written. That’s unfortunate because these flashes get buried. And even if the book is worked on methodically and lovingly, and has a lot going for it, every single line and word has to be in the book for a reason. EVERY SINGLE LINE AND EVERY WORD HAS TO BE IN THERE FOR A REASON. There cannot be anything superfluous in the book.

As a writer, the problem is that your head is buried so deep in the writing that it becomes difficult to see the wood for the trees. Good stuff that is in there you may want to cut, but it may need to be left in. Bad stuff or superfluous stuff (murder your darlings) may need to cut, but it may be painful to do so.

To surmount this difficulty for my current book, I sought advice from two ‘beta-readers.’ A beta-reader is someone who will look at your work after asking you questions about the book, what is the point of the book?, who are you trying to reach?, at what level are you pitching? When they look at your work they will give you feedback.

Now, there is always something in us that says ‘this stuff rocks’ when we hand work in (remember school?) but usually we don’t rock the world of the intended reader, in this case the ‘beta-reader.’ When I saw a message from the beta-reader saying they had completed their review, my heart beat a little. Criticism they gave, although cushioned (mostly!!), hurted. Not fatally wounded, but a little nick. And of course feedback from the beta-reader should do so. That is how we improve if we are serious about doing so.

Onwards and upwards … after digesting the criticism, that was the sentiment. When I went back over my work and criticisms, I felt some of their criticism was wrong and I didn’t respond to those particular suggestions, but a lot of criticisms I took on board. It also helped square in my mind exactly who I was trying to reach. There were also a lot of things that they found interesting and I received encouragement.

So, swallow your pride, take a slap in the face with the cold water of criticism, and keep on movin’.

Currently, I am researching a book on Carl Schmitt (that book that’s been beta-readed). Any comments or suggested corrections to this post are welcome. I have already authored one book Mysteries of State in the Renaissance. My Amazon page is here.

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