Beta Readers: Post-Mortem

Between revisions and the Olympics, who has time to blog? Not this girl, obviously. But now that gymnastics are over (they are, right? because I'm not sure how many more nights I can stay up that late), I'm going to jot a bit about how things shook out with reader vs. agent feedback.

A while back, I blogged about beta readers and it turns out that the middle/high school students who read my current manuscript were awesome. You forget - or at least, I had - that they're in the thick of learning about writing. Story structure, grammar, foreshadowing, character development are all things they talk about in classes and so, are much more accessible to them than your average adult reader. The things some of them picked-up on and the level of detail to their notes was pretty impressive.

But when the manuscript got to my agent, Melissa, she had very different thoughts on it. Before we even got to the kinds of character and story tweaks the betas suggested, she thought the story needed a major shift in plot and focus. And having re-worked the it over this past month, I know she was right.

This very same thing happened with both The Mark and The Vision - my agent or editor wanted big picture changes that none of my beta readers touched on at all.

So what's the post-mortem on the beta reader discussion?

I think author Caragh O'Brien hit it spot-on when she said: I think [agents and editors] are more used to seeing books as fluid things, unlike readers who are used to books as fixed, final things.

I know I don't ever read a book and think about where the author could have made different or better choices to improve the story. I might if I were critiquing it, but as a general rule, readers read. They don't plot or change, they accept the story as is. Agents and editors don't. And because of that, they're much more likely to see major things that need to change.

Will I use beta readers next time around? Hard to say. My guess is that I'll make them gamma readers instead (the third to read, behind me and my agent) since their observations might be most helpful after the plot is pretty well set. But who knows? Every manuscript is so different and when I get to the end, sometimes I just need someone to tell me if it even makes sense.