The Beauty of Beta Readers

Writing Process

Writing a book is like carving words into your flesh in reverse. It hurts and it’s messy and it’s terribly personal. And when we finally make the decision to open the door and let someone else in, it’s terrifying.

Because it isn’t just some story. It’s my story. Each and every project is the culmination of my entire identity at that point in time–my hopes and fears and imperfections–all of it buried beneath some fictional character’s quest for self-enlightment.

My book is me, whether I’m like the characters or not, whether I share their beliefs or not. My book is me and when I send it off to a complete stranger to be critiqued, I’m the one who feels like she’s exposed and I’m the one who’s afraid of being rejected.

Negative feedback, especially from a stranger, has the unfortunate power to totally crush a writer’s spirit. And even though it’s necessary, that initial sting stays with us, resurfacing every time we sit down to write, our own voice trapped under the opinion of someone else. Because they didn’t like it. Because it wasn’t their style. Because it wasn’t their genre. Because they just didn’t get it. They didn’t get us.

But then someone does.

They get it. They feel something. They connect. They understand. They just get it. And that’s the true beauty of beta readers. Besides all of the technical benefits of having a critique partner and besides all of the obvious connections that can be made with someone who shares our love of writing, it’s that one moment of finally being understood that is truly worth waiting for.

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Novellas-Everyone Loves Leftovers

Writing Process

Orphans of Paradise should be close to completion but I’m getting some mixed signals from my beta readers. There are two alternate story threads scattered throughout the main plot which combine for a total of 4 POVs—the two MCs and two minor characters whose plots intersect in the latter half of the book. The consensus has been that they’re well written and they’re interesting but something about them feels disconnected and distracting from the story as a whole.

A few readers suggested lengthening them to help ground them more in the story. Others have suggested combining the two minor character’s POVs into one. And someone else has suggested cutting them altogether. Obviously my ego is much opposed to the third option. Not because I don’t want to do what’s best for my story. I do and I will. But because I really love them (how many times do you think writers say that a day?) and I think there’s something to them; something that gives the main story an emotional depth and diversity that I’m afraid it might lack otherwise.

But the last thing I want to do is stand in my own way by presenting a story that’s difficult for people to follow and therefore connect with. So I’m considering turning these threads into a companion novella. I’ve never written a novella before. I’m currently attempting one for another book but still I’m no expert. There’s the issue of length—will ten chapters or so be too brief? I’ve read that novellas can run anywhere between 10,000 to 40,000 words but that sure is a lot of wiggle room. What do readers expect from a novella as opposed to a novel? Is the story thread strong enough to stand on its own?

Anyone out there written a novella? Can you clue me in to some of the rules or tricks of the trade that may be different from novel writing? Most of the companion novellas I’ve seen are extensions of a novel but maybe from another character’s POV or a means of providing more backstory. An organized collection of qualifiers and leftovers if you will. And everyone loves leftovers? Right?

I’m confused to say the least, and incredibly torn. I’ve made huge cuts to a novel before, but when you’ve been living with a particular story told in a particular way for so long, it’s really hard to part with that ideal. Especially when you’re not one hundred percent sure that it’s the right thing to do.

I’m waiting on feedback from three more beta readers which will hopefully provide me with some kind of clarity. But unfortunately, what I think is pretty clear is that I’m not nearly as close to being finished as I thought I was.