August Update and Beta Readers

July was a good month, saw me add 34,000 words and finish off Draft one. It’s a feeling of achievement, and one of relief, the total word count’s at 236,000 although, to be honest, that’s really a secondary consideration. Only the story matters, and it takes as long as it takes to put it on paper.

So now comes the hard work, editing and polishing, time to pour red ink and disdain on what’s been written and try to massage it into something coherent and presentable. To me the plot makes sense, the characters are consistent, and it’s expressed clearly and concisely; now’s the time to pull on the reader’s shoes and tear it to bits, look for flaws and inconsistency, make it better.

With Sha’Kert I made use of Beta readers, as many if not all authors do. For me it was a mixed experience. Two were absolutely fantastic, supportive and critical at the same time, worth the time. Beyond them, I sent Sha’Kert out to a copy proofer who was more than worth the price; she picked up on many things, small and large, which I now keep my eyes open for.

But (and there’s always a but).

One Beta reader was a nightmare, a bit of a trap for a novice novelist. Many, many changes, altering character’s voices, intent, questioning if the characters would actually do what I had them doing. The worst thing was the “I wouldn’t do that if” they kept coming up with. In the end I felt they were trying to write Sha’Kert themselves, as they would do it, rather than point out flaws and issues from a reader’s perspective.

Once, long ago (or so I’m told), all this would be done through the publisher; proof readers, copy readers, test readers, all that. There was the arrangement; author writes as best they can, if accepted the publisher edits/polishes until it’s ready for the press. It’s a rare thing now, nearly extinct, so we’re left with freelancers, gig workers, our own devices.

Aside from the positives from the Sha’Kert experience, I’m left with a deep reticence to use Beta readers for Descent. I want to tell the story the way I want to tell the story, with my voice, with my characters being who I invented them to be; not for it to be some sort of collective endeavor that (as one old definition would have it) starts out to design a horse and ends up with an ass.

If a publisher picks Descent up then I will work with them, simply because they are focused on what sells; they won’t waste their time or mine on their own ego or opinion, or try to write vicariously through me. If I find I’m publishing Descent as an independent, it will be my work, my voice alone.