As those of you that follow this blog may know, twelve people recently read a draft of my Overlook novel while I anxiously bit my fingernails. I have spent the last week reviewing and absorbing their comments and am feeling pretty good about the manuscript. At first, only the harsh words of one or two of my cohorts registered but, after a few days, I feel it was a positive experience.
Things I learned from the experience:
- If everyone comments on the same thing, you have a problem – the last scene of the novel was universally commented on. Ten of the beta readers said that they found it emotionally satisfying but had logistical issues with the action. I can fix that. Some of the readers even left me suggestions on how the MC could accomplish her goal. Now, I have a list of ways I can rewrite that chapter.
- Every image and reference doesn’t work for everyone – some of my beta readers gave me their comments electronically so I was able to combine their comments into one big WORD file. It was very instructive. There were several passages that would have two or three “beautiful image” comments and one “I don’t get this” comment.
- A compelling main character pulls the reader through whether the reader agrees with their actions or not. The reader needs to understand why the character is acting the way they are, more than agree. Empathy is key.
- Different people pick up on different things. One of the beta readers was very conscious of my use of the word “but” (there will be 1/3 less but’s in the final draft). Another meticulously read for how people moved through space and commented on logistics. Another reader is a retired anatomist and picked up on the finer points of medical scenes. Some people read for grammar and spelling, others don’t. Some people couldn’t keep track of the minor characters and others could.
The most important thing I took away from the beta reader experience is – people bring their own experience to the page. The novel is about a marriage that is ripping apart, as well as a community that is fraying at the seams. Readers that have been married for awhile, saw the marriage issues as being far more plausible than readers that are still in the first years of marriage. People who have experienced the peer pressure of a small community felt that plot line rang true. Several of the beta readers had strong visceral reactions to the decisions the characters make. Agree or disagree, I have to assume a strong reaction is a good thing, right?