I’ve recently received my first beta review and, Dear Reader, I’d like to share that experience with you. My sincerest desire is that my story of survival will give hope to those of you going through similar tragedy.

So begins the review of the first beta review of my book, The Sarimist Loyal. A beta review review if you will. Or critique critique. Whatever you’d like to call it. A rose by any other name still has its thorns and jagged, rotary mandible. All the better for eating up your dreams like a trash disposal.

And, so there is no confusion going forward, this is not a review of the beta below. (Though if it were, I’d have to say it is an excellent specimen, albeit a bit of an asshole.)

A majestic red beta, silently mocking my book. A book which fell short of the majesty that is this fish.
Majestic but judgmental. You see it. The way it looks at you. Like it’s better than you and it knows it. It’s not wrong but… it still hurts.

First of all, what can you do to make certain you choose the right beta reader for you and your story? Aside from hugging your knees and hoping and praying you make the right choice.

  • Look for someone honest. You want a reader who will tell you the truth. Even if the truth is brutal. Even if you can’t handle the truth.
  • They should be fair. Never cruel. There is a huge difference between pointing out what doesn’t work and shitting all over your manuscript. You want someone who points out the good with the bad. Because, face it… if they’re being honest there’s likely something they will have to say that is going to hurt. And if you are new to this, whether you see it coming or not, it’s gonna hurt.
  • Make sure your book is a good fit for them. Know what they like to read. And they should definitely like to read. If they want to read A and you wrote B, then you’re setting yourself up for a negative opinion (a potentially unhelpful opinion). So if they only read historical fiction and you write hamster space drama with loads of debauchery, they probably aren’t a good match.
  • I find it helpful having someone with some degree of distance from you. Some aspect of anonymity or someone you don’t know in person or see regularly in your daily life. Mom, spouse, mailman… these are people who don’t want to hurt you, thus they might not be honest. Also, their love for you could make them overlook the flaws in your work.
  • They are/aren’t writers. So now I’m contradicting myself. Like I’ve never done that before. But there are ups and downs to both sides. Writers know what to look for. Writers can also be nitpicky and persnickety and other fun words. Opt for more experienced or seasoned writers. Those you consider peers or those you consider more skilled than yourself.

This all boils down to simply finding a decent person with a love of books (and some credentials, even if those credentials are as simple as you liking their writing). Have a few beta readers, but not a ton. Find people who are a good fit for your work. People who can break it to you without making you feel more like trash than is absolutely necessary. You can let your mom read it if you need a boost but take her opinion lightly. (If you have a brutally honest mother, I say just keep your work far, far away from her. When your mom hates your book, that’s one pit that’s hard to crawl out of.)

Anyways, moving on, this is the first outsider feedback I’ve received on The Sarimist Loyal. Their feedback more or less forms the basis of my experience with critique, so far as my writing goes. (I’ve been “critiqued” for lots of things. Leaving the toilet seat up. Where I choose to bury my bodies. J-walking. You know, normal stuff.)

But this person was the first to set eyes on my book (aside from my wife and myself).

It was brutal. And you better believe there was crying involved! (Full disclosure: I did not literally cry. I’m alright… or I will be. I’ve been given a bed at the local hospital that they have reserved for aspiring authors. Maybe I did tear up a little.)

Let’s rip the band-aid off this review, before I break down. I’ll start with the hardest hitting bit first.

“…this just read like a teenage sex fantasy and I hated every line of it.”

Okay, so… ouch. This doesn’t pertain to the book as a whole (I don’t think.) Only to the relationship arc. And, conversely, I have another reader quoted as saying, “…this just read like a teenage sex fantasy and I loved every line of it.”

So, I’m confused as to how I should handle this. I’ll admit, that second quote is from me. Stated out loud just now, so I could use it here. But still, I think it holds some weight. The guy who said it is a writer after all.

A shame my best friend has yet to open his beta copy. I think he’d really dig some good ole fashioned teen sex fantasy. I only sent the book to him to buffer myself for bad news. His buffer comes too late… if at all.

In all seriousness (or as much as is possible for me to muster), looking at my beta reader’s comment I have to say, “100% fair.”

There is a reason I’ve self-described my book as “You got your American Pie in my peanut butter.” The peanut butter here taking the place of dark fantasy. Like American Pie meets Game of Thrones meets the story Tolkien really wanted to write. Yeah, sounds about right.

The cover of an American classic, American Pie.
An American classic. Click the pic for Don McLean’s American Pie.

Speaking of American Pie, let’s completely leave the point for a moment. The director of American Pie, Chris Weitz, did indeed write a young adult fiction trilogy, starting with The Young World. I found it in Dollar Tree. (How do books end up in Dollar Tree? By being bad? I liked it alright. I guess I can’t say I liked it that much… I never finished the second book. Maybe that’s why it ended up there? Oh Gods! Are my books going to end up in Dollar Tree?!)

Let’s leave that horror and get on with… what were we doing?

*rereads post up to this point*

Alright. The protagonist of my book is a teen (the late end of teen and, if my math is right, almost not a teen at all by the end of my first book. But the problem, so far as I see it, isn’t with him but with the behavior of the love interest.

Unfortunately for those of you looking for wanking material, that’s all I can say on that point. But I have been given actionable advice by my beta and I think I can sort out the problems with the love interest by slight revising throughout the whole book. As opposed to a complete overhaul. But if not I’ll bring in the heavy equipment.

A lot of the rest of the review expressed feelings (completely justified feelings) of being lost and confused. I go too far in creating mystery that I turn out just being confusing. The specifics I’ll leave a mystery. Because I’m mysterious and confusing like that. A regular Camus.

This beta did point out good things about the book, such as having high expectations for it because it sets up well. And other things about settings and bladda bla and so forth. (I don’t want to share details because it reveals details of the book.) So they are either softening the blow with kindness or believe the book has redeeming qualities and, dare I say, potential?

I may come across as poking fun, but I’m genuinely thankful for them taking the time to read my book and provide me feedback. Honest, calling it like it was. Actionable advice.

Getting negative feedback has been the most fear inducing part of my decision to write. But now that it has happened, and I have survived. (Made it through the worst, at least. They say I’m in the clear, but you know how these things go. No promises, but I’ll do my best to pull through.)

Don’t be afraid. It’s part of the process. Don’t write like your afraid someone will read it. Write like your parents are dead. That last line is a quote from someone but I forget who… you know how to google.

All in all, the ego in me gives the beta reviewer a negative seven out of ten. The not-an-asshole, wants-to-grow, knows-he-has-plenty-of–room-for-improvement-as-a-writer gives ten out of ten.

Beta, you have my thanks for making this as painless as possible. Should you be willing, you may have the dishonor of beta-ing for me again.

Now I can dive back into my editing process with some direction (and some distance after letting it sit). This experience has left me feeling more prepared for future brutality (and may have turned me into something of a masochist).

All perfectly timed as I have a sit-down with my editor next week for a short story. (The one in my ARTS group anthology.) And no, I’m not in trouble. She wants to sit down with everyone who wrote a story.

Now that I know I can take a beating I’m all set. Still, I should watch The Notebook before hand.. or Fast and Furious. Do a little bit of pre-crying so I don’t tear up in front of her.

It’s gonna be hard not having the critique through e-mail or text. Taken from me is the ability to cry freely into a tub of mint chocolate chip. Ice cream seems a good idea right now, so that’s what I’m having. Ice cream for breakfast. (I don’t care when you are, I’m writing this at breakfast.)

I could go on forever… or at least until my wife gets home. I’m lonely and typing this all out to you, Dear Reader, makes me feel less alone. But you have stuff to do. And I have stuff to do. Totally. Lots of stuff. So.

Bye.

See you around.

But maybe we could hang… oh, you’re gone. Alright.

*piddles about*

*kicks a rock*

*embraces the darkness as it embraces the me*

*Billy Joel’s Piano Man starts up in the background. It started up after American Pie. And you’re missing it. Serves you right for walking out on me.*

*And now Here Comes the Sun.*