Category Archives: The Fictorians

What is a beta reader? Part 1 of 3

What is a beta reader?  It’s someone who can read your freshly completed manuscript and give you feedback before you submit the story to a publisher or agent.  Or, if you’re self-publishing, beta readers help you know how to revise your manuscript so that it’s the best it can possibly be before you send it to a hired editor.

Beta reading is a significant amount of work.  These days there are more and more people offering their services as beta readers for pay.  If you choose to use a paid beta reader, check them out in advance.  Anyone can call themselves a beta reader – what quality of work can you expect for your money?  Is the rate fair?  How satisfied are the previous customers?

You might have some eager fans who are happy to give you a beta read in exchange for an early peek at the book.   Be sure they have the skills necessary to give you helpful feedback.  Enthusiastic readers might not always have the technical knowledge to provide advice for improvement.

My experience to date has been a “barter” system among writers – some published, some not, but all people who I trust to know a good story from a flawed one.   Such a system means I can trade my own skills for beta reads.  This arrangement might be more challenging if you’ve yet to build a circle of writing associates.  If I’m beta reading someone else’s novel, I know that when my next novel is finished, they will be there to beta read it for me.  As a double bonus, as writers themselves, they are generally able to express the parts that they found challenging in clear, specific ways.

On that note, beta reading is not editing.  If you’re looking for full edits, you should be prepared to hire an editor.


It’s useful to set a deadline for your beta reader to return your manuscript with their comments.

You will need to give yourself time to read the feedback, consider revisions, make those revisions, and get your story submitted before the publisher’s deadline.   Ask your beta reader to be sure they can commit to that deadline.  Some beta readers don’t understand that they can’t take all the time they want, unless you let them know otherwise.  I always add, “If you don’t feel you can get it done by X date, I understand, but since I have time constraints of my own, I need to know that I can count on you.”

The more time you can give your beta reader to read your piece, the better.  If I have only two days to beta read a novel, I’m getting very little other work done during those three days.  That’s why I’ll only “pinch beta” books for close associates—assuming I can rearrange my schedule to accommodate!

Sometimes life happens, people have emergencies, and deadlines get missed.  It’s useful to ask for multiple beta readers in case one has to drop out due to personal emergencies.


When you’re choosing a beta reader, you will need to find someone whom you can trust to keep your manuscript confidential.  I’ve worked for a publisher who required beta readers to sign non-disclosure agreements before they read.  This measure was taken to prevent beta readers from putting spoilers up on the Internet before the book even went on sale to the general public.  If you’ve already signed with a publisher, make sure you know their policy on beta readers.

If you’re self-publishing,  looking for an agent, or submitting your manuscript to calls for submissions, then you may not have to think about such agreements, but you do need to trust your beta reader not to plagiarize, post spoilers online, or distribute copies of your manuscript.

Tomorrow we’ll look at beta reader feedback:  the good, the bad and the ugly.

Conquering First Draft Fear: How to Proceed with the First Round of Revisions

You’ve done it! You’ve written the first draft of your book! A very merry congratulations to you, and you deserve a beer. Maybe even a vacation. At the very least, a trip to the gas station to buy three packets of candy. If you feel proud of yourself, you absolutely should. If you don’t feel very proud of yourself, then congratulations again, that just means you’re a writer.

Any good writing website or book worth its salt will tell you your next step is to revise the sucker. Yes, you must do this step. Yes, everyone else hates it, too. Some books or fellow writer humans will advise you to put the book down for a set period of time to let it “rest,” like a good yeast bread needs a good rise. Unfortunately for your book, it doesn’t keep getting better in that resting period like bread does. No, no. It’s still the piece of crap you left a few weeks ago. So instead of the story rising like bread, think of it this way: YOU’RE doing the rising. You walked away for a few weeks and grew wise enough to rise above the piece of crap you made in order to come to a place where you can look past your subjective love of the story and objectively say, “Ah yes, indeed, this is a piece of crap.”

That might sound a bit dreary, but I know you. *winks* I know you because you’re a writer like me, and although you see what you’ve written as a piece of crap in front of you, you still love it and will do the work necessary to make sure it’s a remarkably great piece of crap instead of just a regular, old piece of crap.

First, may I just confirm what you’ve already been feeling? Yes, it’s hard. It’s going to be difficult at times. But let me reassure you as well: if you’ve already written the first draft, you can certainly complete these revisions. Not only that, you can do it in less then ten years. Maybe even less than five. If you’re lucky and ignore all of your adult responsibilities, a month.

Let me tell you the secret of doing revisions. You’re going to be surprised, because you’ve already learned this lesson when you were writing the first draft.


Here it is.

You make yourself do them.

Just like you made yourself sit down and write when you didn’t feel like it, when you didn’t feel inspired to do so. You get yourself in the zone however you did when you were writing. You sit down with your cup of tea. You put on the music that gets you going, and you do it.

Everything else is just details. Should a comma go there? Is her hair dark brown or more of a medium brown? Do I italicize internal dialogue? Is the book long enough? Will people like it? Will I ever make it through all these stupid edits?

All of those fears and questions? Just the details.

Keep yourself focused on the big task in front of you: Just. Do. The. Revisions.

After the First Draft, What’s Next?

You’ve finished the first draft, what do you do now? Revise? Publish?

Of all the skills I had to learn about writing, this was the hardest. Revision takes patience, persistence and it requires objectivity. It also requires dealing with well-meaning friends and relatives and their enthusiasm for you. “You’ve written a book! That’s great! When will it be published? When can I buy it?”

Try explaining that the first draft is really just an in-depth outline which needs work and refinement. They don’t get it. Unfortunately, many writers don’t either. That’s a concern with self-published books. Most authors take the time to revise and perfect their manuscripts, but those who don’t have hurt the industry’s reputation.

The trouble is that revision is a hard thing to explain because many writers don’t understand the process or exactly what needs to happen. It’s more than just line by line revision, as we’ll come to learn in this month’s blogs. It’s about story structure and making certain scenes are doing their work. It’s about getting feedback from beta readers and perhaps even editors. We’ll hear from an acquisitions editor for a magazine and a freelance editor about what revision means to them.

We’ll even hear from a pantser about how she approaches revising her novels. This month’s blogs will also tell us HOW to revise. That’s what I had the most trouble with when I first started out, was knowing how to approach revision and what I needed to do.

The issue is this: we have lived, dreamed and scribed the story. We know the characters, the setting and the plot well. We know it so well, that we’re not aware of gaps, pitfalls, inconsistencies, clunky writing, too much telling, and not enough showing. But this creation is our baby and giving it time away from us so that others may applaud and criticize our efforts is a nerve wracking process.  Yet, it is so very necessary for if we don’t address the problems one of two things will happen: readers will either ignore us and never become fans, or the reviews will be so bad that no matter what we write again, it will not be read. And should that reader be an acquisitions editor – well, we don’t want our names to end up in the amateur, do not read pile. On all counts, that is a disaster because we writers desire to entertain through our marvelous creations of character, world, and plot.

My dear fellow writers, I have learned that the first draft is but a mere outline of the story. It begs to be revised time and time again until it becomes its best and perfect self. For it is in the perfection of creation that readers marvel. However, revision can be a joyful and creative process. But first, we must all learn the process, and that’s our goal for April!

Plotting a Series

A guest post by Gama Martinez

How do you approach a series? How do you make sure that you’re not setting yourself up for difficulties because the rules you established for your world in book 1 make the ending of book 6 not work? One way, naturally, is to outline the whole series, but that can be an equally daunting task. Like outlining a book, outlining a series is not for everyone. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s not for most people, and you won’t really know if it’s for you unless you try it. Here’s the method I use.

A number of years ago, I was talking to Brandon Sanderson, and I told him that the second book in the Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance, felt like the end of act 1, and I asked him if that was deliberate. He said that it really was. Books 1 and 2 are act 1. Books 3 and 4 are act 2, and book 5 is act 3. That completely opened my eyes to plotting a series.

The traditional three act structure has a number of parts. What I realized in my conversation with Brandon was that many of these could be applied to a series. It’s not as detailed as can be applied to a novel, but the major parts still apply. The first act is a setup. The second, which can be longer than the others, is the protagonist taking a more active role in their journey. Generally, halfway through, there is a shift. We learn that the world is not what it appeared to be. This act ends when things are pretty much as bad as they can possibly get. The third act is recovering and clawing your way toward victory. Fair warning. I am about to be giving a lot of Harry Potter spoilers, because that series illustrates this beautifully, but given that that series ended ten years ago, I’m going to assume that if you want to read it, you have. If that’s not the case, just skip over the next paragraph.

For Harry Potter, books 1-2 are act 1. Books 3-6 are act 2, and book 7 is act 3. Books 1 and 2 are basically “Harry goes to Hogwarts and something happens.” We’re introduced to the characters, and they start to come into their own. Sure, a couple of important plot details happen, namely, the destruction of the first horocrux, but it’s mainly getting to know the setting and people. In book 3, there is an immediate change. Harry starts off with a specific goal. He wants to kill Sirius Black. From then on, Harry is a more active protagonist. The shift in tone happens at the end of book 4, with the death of Cedric. Someone has died. They weren’t a monster. They were a friend. This is no longer a story for children. The low point, obviously, is the death of Dumbledore. Hogwarts has always been a safe place. Sure, dangerous things happened, but it was home. Harry was always happy to get there and sad to leave. Now, “father” is dead. Home belongs to the bad guys, and Harry cannot return.

I applied many of the same concepts to my Pharim War series. I changed how long each “act” was, but having these points in mind allowed me to outline the entire series fairly early on. I knew what had to happen in book 3. I knew that in book 4, there had to be a shift. I knew where to put the catastrophe. I never follow my outlines exactly, so book 2 didn’t end where I planned. As a result, I had to make minor adjustments to the outline of book 3 before I started, but I knew where the story was going, and that let me jump fairly easily from one book to the next. The ultimate result was a seven book series released entirely in the space of just under a year and a half. Try it out. See if it works for you.


Gama Ray Martinez lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. He moved there solely because he likes mountains. He collects weapons in case he ever needs to supply a medieval battalion, and he greatly resents when work or other real life things get in the way of writing. One of his greatest accomplishments is getting Brandon Sanderson to give him a cover quote for his book, Shadowguard. He secretly hopes to one day slay a dragon in single combat and doesn’t believe in letting pesky little things like reality stand in the way of dreams.