Finding the Right Beta Readers by E. B. Davis
I read a myriad of genres and mystery subgenres. To me, the writing is the most important element of a good read, and variety is the spice of life, isn’t it? When I thought about what I wanted to write, my thoughts turned to fun reads—entertainment, summoning books of the supernatural variety. The manuscript I wrote and am now querying fits into many shelf categories. It’s a mystery, but it also has supernatural, romantic, and police elements. It hadn’t occurred to me when getting beta readers that my subgenres would affect reviews because I like different subgenres, but I found that I am not the average reader. What your beta readers write and read will affect their critiques of your book. I went into the process ignorant of this fact.
Most writers I know write cozy mystery. When I submitted my manuscript to those writers, the reviews I received were not helpful. The responses fell into two categories: Cut the supernatural, or cut the mystery and make it romantic suspense. I wanted to do neither.
Was my script bad? Did those readers’ comments have validity? I decided before butchering my manuscript to find other beta readers. My need for expedience led me to hire a professional—a conceptual editor.
The letter I wrote her prompted an immediate reply. She read my first chapter and wrote back asking why I was so negative about the manuscript. I told her of my beta readers’ responses. She said she’d get back to me. Her review found problems with the execution of the mystery in the second act, the investigation, but she had no problems with the supernatural subgenre. Her suggestions forced me to portray the supernatural world in a more definitive way, but, as I suspected, getting rid of the supernatural would have killed the best of my novel. Hiring a professional gave me confidence in my work.
But even a professional’s opinion is only one opinion. I looked to authors and readers of fantasy to beta-read my work. Two responded to my call, read my manuscript, and gave me suggestions that were constructive. Their reviews provided further edits in defining the supernatural world, providing more clarity for readers and improving its credibility. Another, more academic reader, who writes traditional mystery, provided more edits to the romantic relationships from a male point of view. Not only did it increase the validity of the romantic relationship, it cut the manuscript by two thousand words—a plus since an unpublished writer has little chance of selling a ninety thousand plus word novel.
Lesson learned: Don’t blind yourself to beta readers’ comments but also don’t believe everything you read, not even reviews of your work. Look at what your beta readers write and read before submitting your work to them.
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E. B. Davis writes mystery stories. Her current novel manuscript, Toasting Fear, is a supernatural mystery set in the Outer Banks, NC. Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays presented her short story, “Compromised Circumstances.” A Shaker of Margaritas: That Mysterious Woman included E. B.’s “Wishing For Ignorance.” “Ice Cream Allure” a romantic crime spoof, was included in Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing. More of her work is featured on her website. (www.ebdavismysteries.com) She blogs at Writers Who Kill (http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com), and is a member of SinC and The Short Mystery Fiction Society.