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Archive for author coaching

15 Questions for Your Beta Readers

Beta readers can help your book develop. They’ll need specific guidance, though, or you’ll get a lot of “I thought it was great.” You want to hear that, but the book needs more specifics. It’s good to use beta reading as a backup to a complete development cycle. Craft the book first, then check your choices. A coach or a development editor can get you ready for the beta moment.

  1. Does the manuscript have a strong hook? Does the story start in the right place?
  2. What are the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses? Examine these elements
  • Point of view
  • Scene setting
  • Language and especially tone
  • Showing vs. telling balance
  • Clarity
  • Use of metaphors and similes
  • Length
  1. How is the characterization? Was there any place where you felt you couldn’t follow the motivations of a character, or didn’t buy them?
  2. How is the pacing? Were there any places where it slowed down or felt hurried?
  3. When did you feel the most and least engaged with the text? At what point did you start getting bored or distracted?
  4. Were there any scenes you didn’t get the point of, or felt that they didn’t serve the story as a whole?
  5. Which was your favorite character, and why?
  6. How was the imagery/description? Did the manuscript need more, less—and where?
  7. What were the overall themes of the book? How would you strengthen them?
  8. Did anything in the book seem fake or unrealistic to you?
  9. What concerns do you see readers having with the book?
  10. Was there enough conflict? Did it feel natural to you? Were there any points where it felt contrived or forced?
  11. What was your favorite part, thing, or scene of the book?
  12. What was your least favorite part, thing, or scene of the book?
  13. What is the one problem with the book that you are hesitant to bring up, possibly because you’re not sure how to fix it?

Open your wheelhouse: submit your requests

You might have been fortunate enough to have an agent request pages for your book. You may have taken a lot of time to make them better first. For example, if you’re writing crime fiction (a mystery) you may say

1. My book is too long today
2. I don’t want my mystery to be obvious.

Also

3. My plot is intricate, so I’m wary of severing the links throughout.

Those are all related. Your book is probably running as long as it does so it will contain everything to keep the plot bolted together. The complexity of the plot makes a mystery deeper, for example. If it’s longer for any other reason, it becomes a bit easier to cut. If it was a piece of seasoned beef, it might be overseasoned with characterization or scenes that run long.

That effect of “goes on too long” is a matter of taste and talent. Even when you’re writing well, you don’t get as many extra pages as you think. You get more pages, but you have to keep readers turning those pages.

If you want to be double sure that your plot is durable, you will need a second check. That’s a set of outside eyes. I’m talking development editing, not copy editing or line editing.

Letting your story loose into the world is the solution to these problems.

“I want a book that holds together and keeps the reader wondering what’s going to happen.” That’s noble. It can be a road sign toward complexity, of course, depending on how many subjects are in play. Your book should have a primary story mission, and that mission had better fulfill the protagonist’s desire.

Just because a book’s structure has come together over years of work, like it does for most of us, doesn’t mean it can’t get streamlined. I think here about the rivets in the planes that Howard Hughes built for competition. Always streamlining. He set records, his accomplishments you can see in The Aviator.

I once edited a book from 140,000 words to 75,000. The author went too deep in many passages and her protagonist was inside internal monologue at great length.

I edited my novel Viral Times down from 144,000 to 98,000 words. To do this, I discovered Scrivener and used it to identify what was in the book and what could go. It helped that I’d already worked 30 years as a copyeditor. Cutting isn’t easy, but it feels good after you face it down. At some point every creator has to have some compassion for readers who, frankly, would like to get to the next book, either in the series or from another author. Savoring a big novel is a delicious thing, of course.

It also helped that I performed in and watched many hours of theatre — where the dramatic arc includes nothing but scenes, and they each must have good work to do to serve the narrative.
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