Meet Kaytalin McCarry.
Kaytalin Platt is a southern transplant to the suburbs of Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and their dog, Mr. Bones. Platt works in design and corporate marketing, with a background in publication design. The Living God is her debut novel, published May 21, 2019 by Inkshares.
The Guest Post.
Beta Reading, Feedback, and Rewrites, OH MY!
Writing a book is often an isolating and personal experience. As authors, we live with our characters for months or years or decades. We patiently and painstakingly craft our work, writing and rewriting until one day it feels finished.
But it isn’t finished, is it? Not really. There are several more stages a book goes through before being counted as “finished”. Before editing, before formatting, someone has to read our work and tell us what they think–point out all the flaws we didn’t notice, all the places that need work.
Queue the existential crisis.
The Beta Reader
Beta readers are a vital part of improving your craft and your project. A developmental/beta reader will give you insight into areas of improvement such as plot holes, pacing, offensiveness or insensitivity, and other issues that you may not have noticed when drafting.
Having a developmental reader isn’t all doom and gloom, though. While they point out problems that may need fixing, they also tell you what’s working! They encourage and uplift and validate your writing by letting you know what they loved.
No two people will interpret a book the same way, though, so I encourage you to find a small group to read your work. This gives you a healthy sample of feedback. Don’t choose readers at random, either. Make sure they enjoy the genre or topic, are honest, and are likely to follow through with reading and answering questions. Don’t be discouraged if the readers you chose disappear off the face of the earth It happens and I’ve experienced it on more than one occasion. Move on and ask someone else to take part.
Questions for Your Beta Reader…
No matter who you choose, know what you want them to look for. Think about your project, your theme, your mission, and determine a set of questions to ask that person once they’ve finished reading your work.
I learned a lot during the publishing process for The Living God. Having better questions for my beta readers would have minimized editing and rewrites. For the sequel, I compiled 25 Questions for Beta Readers to reference once it’s time for beta reading.
Use these questions or research your own. Just remember to go into the developmental reading process prepared; it will make editing so much easier.
Accepting Feedback and Criticism
Some people take criticism with ease. ‘Like water off a duck’s back,’ my dad would say.
Just as no two individuals interpret a story the same way, no two people handle criticism and feedback the same way. While one author may take feedback as a challenge to conquer, another may spend a few days (or weeks) in a Blackhole of Despair.
I’m a Blackhole of Despair type of person, and it isn’t because I think what I wrote is perfect. I know it isn’t perfect–that it will never be perfect, not really. I get overwhelmed by feedback, by the concept of changing and fixing and fine-tuning what I’ve already spent months or years working on. Sometimes, I can’t see the forest for the trees. How long I spend in my Blackhole of Despair varies from a day to weeks but, so far, I’ve always climbed out. I try to keep working. The path, the fix, the eureka moment comes along eventually.
Take your feedback in stages.
Once you receive it, read through it and walk away. Like immediately. Take a break. Drink some tea. Don’t dwell on it, especially if it seems like an ENORMOUS amount of work. Just absorb and move on to another task while your brain mulls it over.
Emotional, visceral reactions may happen. This is your baby. Your creation. You may be a little defensive, a little sensitive, and, dare I say it, maybe a bit petulant. That’s why we walk away and take a breather. Once you do, once you step away and mull and decompress, you notice that, hey, they’re kinda right about most of it. Stressed brains can’t think objectively.
But just because a reader notices a problem, doesn’t mean they know how to fix it. If your beta reader suggests a fix, consider it, but don’t feel obligated to use it. You may discover a better one that blows both your original idea and their idea out of the water. In the words of Neil Gaiman, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Another thing that beta readers sometimes lack is tact. I have a blog post that offers advice to your friends on how they can give feedback without crushing your soul.
Tackling Edits and Rewrites
There will be sections or chapters that need to be removed or rewritten. It happens.
- The first stage to editing and rewriting is acceptance. Take a deep breath. There is no escape. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.
- Take a break, step back, or work on another project if you need to. You might have to clear your head to tackle the problems in your writing.
- Map your scenes. This helps determine what scenes work and what don’t. I’ve always found scene mapping difficult because I’m a pantser, so I map scenes AFTER I write the story (which happens to be double the work, but that’s how my brain functions). If you aren’t a pantser, there are a variety of ways to map your scenes from Post-it notes, to programs like Scrivener or Scene Maps by OneStopForWriters. Whether you pantsed it or planned it, make a list of chapters/scenes and create short summary for each. Ask yourself a series of questions about those scenes. How does the scene progress or add to the story? Does the scene move the story forward? Establish character arcs, causes, effects? Connect to earlier events? It’s a good way to see what is necessary, what should be cut, and what changes you can make to strengthen your story.
- Make a plan. Take your feedback and make a list of what needs to change. Determine how to tackle your list and in what order. Order may determine the ease of editing.
- Tackle your plan in stages. You may need to take a break between section rewrites to approach problems with a clear head. How do I hande them? First, I tackle the rewrites or additions that will take the most brain power and emotional bandwidth, but I don’t tackle them all at once. I do them individually. Next, I edit and revise the new material, at least two passes. Finally, I do an editing pass over the whole manuscript to ensure the rewrites and additions flow with the rest of the text. For a streamlined process, incorporate #8, #9, and #10 from below into this pass.
- Don’t rush it. I know, you want to be over and done. You want to move on to the next project or just get your story out there. Don’t rush it. I wish I had heard this advice. I thought I needed to get done with the edits ASAP, and I wish I would have mulled it over or taken another go after the third round. Take your time; your writing will be better for it.
- Don’t force it. You’ve got problems that need fixing. Don’t cram a fix for the sake of moving on to the next one on your list.
- Kill your darlings. Kill them with fire. Actually, no. Don’t. Just do what I do and copy and paste them into a separate document where they can live forever in an alternate universe from your book.
- Remove filler words.
- Check your pacing.
Don’t Give Up
Editing and rewriting (especially when you’ve rewritten an entire book three times) will bring forth a lot of emotions. It’s going to feel hard. Impossible. You’re going to question your skills as a writer, your passion, your story. Is it even worth fixing?
Yes. YES! Yes it is.
Don’t give up. You might want to, but don’t. No one can tell your story but you. Finishing a book takes a tremendous amount of work and time and patience. It is all worth it. All the sadness, pain, tiredness, self-doubt, all of those emotions are worth it in the end. Work through your feelings. They are valid. But don’t give up because of them.
I can’t wait to read what you write.