Tag Archives: Beta readers

IWSG: Are Australians more worried than Americans about political correctness in fiction?

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

“Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!” Alex J Cavanaugh

For this month’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group post, I’d like to talk about political correctness in fiction. Do you temper your writing style to accommodate other people’s insecurities or do you throw political correctness to the wind for the sake of ‘real characters’?

I take somewhat of a middle road. I want my characters to be as authentic as possible, but I’d prefer to do that without offending people.  I’m sure writers’ and readers’ opinions fall across the whole spectrum on this issue, but I noticed something interesting during my beta reader stage for The Big Smoke. I had a number of beta readers from both Australia and America, and several of my Australian readers pointed out phrases that could potentially offend people’s sensitivities. None of my American readers made comments of a similar nature. Is there something in that, do you think? Does it say something about our different cultures? Are Australians more worried than Americans about political correctness in fiction?

Obviously, my sample size is quite small, so I wanted to see what you think. These are the phrases that some of my Australian readers suggested I re-word:

  1. Robert forced a laugh. ‘Don’t worry about Cindy. She’s a schitzo.’
  2. I nodded in the direction of this fat chick in super-short shorts. ‘There’s your talent. Whatchya waiting for? Make a move.’
  3. She named me after the opera singer. Seriously, could you get any gayer?
  4. I was about as coordinated as a nine-year-old girl with bow-legs.
  5. And that hair. That fake, slutty red hair.

I took my readers’ advice on board and changed these phrases, but I’m interested in what you think. Would you suggest re-wording any of the above to avoid potentially offending people? Or do you thinks it’s OTT to even consider these phrases potentially offensive? I’ve numbered the phrases so you can be specific if there are particular ones you’d  like to refer to.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. In your comments, please identify where you live (country) so we can see if  cultural influences could be at play. Looking forward to hearing what you think!

P.S. Don’t forget to support other insecure writers!

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Filed under Beta readers, Insecure Writers Support Group, The Big Smoke, Writers, Writing, Writing style

Bring on beta reader round two!

You may have noticed that it’s been ages a little while since I’ve blogged about my progress on my WiP, The Big Smoke. That’s because, well… there hasn’t been much progress – until recently. Don’t get me wrong, I was doing a lot of thinking about my book and the feedback from my first group of beta readers, I just wasn’t making many hard and fast decisions about what changes to make. I guess I just needed some time for the ideas to percolate.

And percolate they did. Last week, I finally got my butt back in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard and made the hard decisions. And you know what? I’m really happy with how it’s come together. My beta readers helped me to see my work through different eyes and gave me some awesome ideas about where I could push things just that little bit further to really ramp up the tension.

So now that the changes are done, the manuscript is off to beta reader group two! My original plan was to get it to this group in December last year – hah! What high hopes I had. 😉 The last group received The Big Smoke in three chunks, whereas the new group will get it in one hit, so I’m looking forward to their feedback in terms of overall consistency and repetition that may not have been apparent to the first group (plus their opinions on anything else, of course).

I’ve asked the second group to give me their feedback within six to eight weeks, and while I’m waiting, I’ll be doing a lot more research into the Australian self publishing market (more on this soon) and starting to plot my next book. YAH!! How exciting is that?! I’ve been working on The Big Smoke (previously Tangled, previously Entwined…) for SO long, I can’t wait to create some new characters. My next book will still be young adult, but it’s going to have some historical and science fiction-y elements too. Can’t wait!

Your turn

How’s your writing going? Hit any major milestones recently? Or, avoiding making any hard decisions? 🙂

13 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Editing, Writing

The beauty of subjectivity

Last week, I posted about my lack of motivation to make changes to my work-in-progress The Big Smoke based on my beta readers’ feedback. I’m pleased to report that I spent quite a number of hours on the weekend reading through all of the feedback and deciding what to take on board.

I received feedback from seven beta readers and overall the comments were amazingly positive and encouraging. But one of the most fascinating things about the feedback was the huge variance in readers’ opinions. Each person enjoyed a different aspect of the plot, preferred different characters, and took something different from the story overall.

Here’s some of the feedback to show what you mean.

About Ceara’s story line

“There’s a lot going on in her story but you’ve set it all up well so it’s very believable and not at all difficult to follow.”

“Right now there are a lot of underlying plot threads, and I’m not sure how they contribute to the overall character arc.”

About Seb

“It seemed like you took a little while to settle comfortably into Seb. His first scene at the dam felt a little clunky and forced.”

“I really enjoyed the scene with Seb and his dad at the dam because it was so well described and well written. The reader gets a really good understanding of their relationship. Love it.”

“I enjoyed EVERY MOMENT of Seb’s narration. You did an amazing job narrating as Seb. He was witty, and very realistic.”

Who is your favourite character so far and why?

“I love Seb. He just seems so… tortured. Trying to be adult, but kind of sucking at it.”

“I like Ceara because I can relate to her.”

“Seb. He’s a bit of alright and I’m female so I should like the hero. He is a bit of an underdog and I’ll always barrack for an underdog.”

“This might surprise you, but Ceara by far.”

About a passage comparing two girls

“Wow, this is really good. Such an imaginatively descriptive passage.”

“Love this comparison.”

“I would cut this, it’s a little too insulting.”

Is there anything you would cut from what you’ve read so far?

“Not at all”

“Nope!”

“No, keep it all as it is.”

“I feel like some subplots need to be cut, and others expanded.”

___________________________________________

As you can see, there’s a LOT of varying opinions there. Originally, I found this really confusing. I mean, how was I supposed to know what changes to make if all of the feedback I got was conflicting? GAH!

But then I realized something: I was looking at it entirely the wrong way. The fact that everybody took something different from my story demonstrates that it’s complex and multi-layered (which I want it to be), and also shows that each person brought their individual perspective to the reading experience. And really, isn’t that one of the coolest parts about reading? i.e. finishing a book then discussing it – maybe even arguing about it – with friends who’ve read it too? That’s the beauty of the reading experience: the beauty of subjectivity. If everyone had the same taste and opinions, there wouldn’t be such an amazing variety of genres and plot lines out there for us to choose from. So really, if I only wanted one opinion, I should’ve only asked one person, and that wouldn’t have been nearly as enlightening in the long run.

And on another note, as I sifted through the feedback, I realised there was very little about the story that more than one reader didn’t like. Meaning, while most readers provided feedback about parts of the novel that didn’t totally blow them away, their criticisms didn’t overlap much (with one notable exception – corresponding dreams, anyone? ;)). So, looking at that from a positive angle, I think it means there’s very little about the story that completely doesn’t work – and that’s got to be a good thing, right?

While my beta readers may not have provided me with definitive solutions about what changes I need to make, they’ve definitely helped me see the novel in new ways and given me a multitude of suggestions to mull over.

So how will I decide what to take on board? Good old fashioned instinct. I’m going back to what I set out to achieve with this novel – if a suggestion helps me take it in that direction, then I’ll adopt it. If not, I’ll respectfully put the suggestion aside. I know I won’t please everyone with my final version, but what book does? And, really, as if we’d want that. Because that would take away the beauty of the individual reading experience: the beauty of subjectivity.

Your turn

Have you received contradictory feedback from beta readers? Or, have you read a book and had a completely different take on it than a friend? Please, regale me with your experiences! 🙂

15 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Editing, Writing

Beta readers: a change of plan

Earlier this evening, I had the great pleasure of sending Part 3 (the final part) of  The Big Smoke to my beta readers. This is only a week behind the original deadline I set myself back in August, so I’m pretty happy with that.

However, in my original project schedule, I allocated time in between editing parts to go back and consider feedback from my beta readers on the previous part and make changes. That didn’t happen, mainly because it felt more natural to continue on with editing in a linear fashion rather than backtracking, and also because editing took longer than I’d expected. Especially Part Three. Part Three was a slog.

Don’t get me wrong – I did read the feedback from my beta readers, I just haven’t processed it fully yet. Now that Part Three is in the hands of my beta readers, that’s exactly what I plan to do.

I already know I’ll have some difficult decisions to make because my readers had quite different opinions about what works and what doesn’t, but I’m happy to say that overall my readers have really enjoyed what they’ve read so far (phew!). They’ve also had some fantastic insights about how I could make the story even better so I’m looking forward to mulling those suggestions over and deciding what to take on board.

In my original project schedule, I planned to distribute the whole manuscript to my second group of beta readers at this point too, meaning I would receive feedback from my first group on Part 3 and my second group on the whole manuscript at roughly the same time. Obviously, that’s not possible any more because I haven’t made changes to parts 1 and 2 yet.

But even if I had, I think that I would’ve decided to wait until I received feedback from my first group on Part 3 before sending the entire manuscript to my second group. Why? Because if there are major doozies /deal breakers in Part 3, I’d want my first group to let me know so I can fix them up before my second group starts reading. That way, my second group will (hopefully) get a much more polished version of the entire manuscript, rather than two-thirds polished and one-third good but ‘flawed’.

This means my beta reading stage will take longer than I’d first hoped, but I think it will be more valuable this way. Fingers crossed that’s the case!

Your turn

What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts about drawing the beta reading process out or do you think I’m just trying to make myself feel better for not sticking to my original plan? (Feel free to be honest!) Have you done something similar with beta readers? If so, what were your experiences?

P.S. If you’re part of my second group of beta readers, expect an apologetic email about the delay coming your way soon! 🙂

10 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Progress update, Tangled

Location: truth or fiction?

It’s been another hard week of editing Part Three of The Big Smoke, but I’ve managed to get through another 25% (or 13,600 words) and I’m feeling quietly confident I’ll have Part Three ready for my beta readers by my revised deadline of 12 December (fingers crossed!).

While reading Part Two, one of my beta readers asked me about my choice to have my two main characters, Seb and Ceara, come from fictional country towns in rural Queensland. My answer: I didn’t want to say they were from real country towns and then have people from those towns identify things that clearly didn’t fit with their town (from scenery to slang words).  The only country town I know intimately enough to write about is Gatton, my home town. But I didn’t want either of my characters to come from there because I didn’t want readers (particularly readers who know me) to think the story was auto-biographical (because it isn’t).

That was my original rationale. But after my beta reader asked the question, I’ve been revisiting the decision in my mind. I know that I really enjoy books that have real settings, particularly if I’m familiar with those settings. But do I enjoy them more than books with imaginary settings? I’m not 100% decided, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think it’s a huge factor for me. I mean, I love reading books set in Brisbane, my current home (like Nick Earls’ The Fix and Ian Wynne’s Gavel), but I also enjoy reading books with fictional-but-still-realistic settings (like Christopher Currie’s The Ottoman Motel).

I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of a book if the settings are real or imaginary? The Big Smoke is realistic fiction – does this make a difference? Meaning, are you happy to read about imaginary settings in fantasy but not realistic fiction? Or does genre not change your opinion?

Also, many of my settings are real (like the city of Brisbane, where most of the book takes place). Would you prefer settings to be consistently real or imaginary, or does that not matter to you? And finally, do you think it would be worth the extra research involved to have my main characters come from real country towns or do you think fictional-but-still-realistic settings are good enough?

I love hearing other readers’ and writers’ opinions on things like this, so please let me know what you think!  🙂

16 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Progress update, Tangled

Past the halfway mark

Finally! I’ve passed the halfway mark in my edit of Part Three of The Big Smoke. It’s been a real slog, this last part. Much harder than the first two.

Yuck!

I should’ve expected it, really. When I was writing parts one and two, I went back and edited frequently. But with Part Three, I ploughed ahead regardless of the rubbish that came out. So, naturally, the standard of writing isn’t quite the same. Thankfully, amongst the rubbish, there are some gems. It’s just a matter of putting a peg on my nose and sorting through the awful stuff to find them.

I’m pretty happy with the passages that are emerging, but the editing process is taking much longer than I’d anticipated. At this stage, I’m thinking my goal of having Part Three ready for my beta readers by 5 December is a little ambitious. After all, that’s only two weeks away and I’ll definitely need to do another proofread before I send it off. With all of the changes I’ve been making, I’m sure the writing is littered with typos. And nobody wants to read that!

I’m hoping that another week will be enough and I’ll be able to distribute Part Three by 12 December, but time will tell whether that’s achievable. To give myself the best shot, I think I need to stick to one blog post a week until Part Three is complete. But don’t be glum, I have another crazy awesome picture to make up for my lack of posts…

80s bogans!

Yep, we get invited to a lot of fancy dress parties… heaps of fun! 🙂

How about you? How are you going against your goals and deadlines?

16 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Progress update, Tangled

A new working title!

You’ll have to forgive me. I’m a bit grumpy tonight. On my way home from work, I missed my normal train and unthinkingly got on the next one, not realising it was express. I was listening to my iPod and reading blogs on my mobile, so I missed all the warnings and only realised there was a problem when we starting sailing past stations. I watched out the window as we flew past mine. And the next 12. Yes, that’s right, the train didn’t stop for another 12 stations. So a 30-minute one-way train trip turned into a 90-minute return train trip. Yes, it was completely my fault but still. Frustrating much?! GAH!!!!

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for letting me vent. Moving on…

You may have noticed I didn’t post last night even though Sunday is my regular posting night. I blame Suzanne Collins for that. If she hadn’t made The Hunger Games so ridiculously addictive and unputdownable, I would have put it aside and kept to my schedule.

But hey, I’m a writer. And I write because I love stories. And The Hunger Games is one damn impressive story. I’ll do a proper review of it soon, but let me just say this – if you’re a bit slow on the uptake like me and haven’t yet read The Hunger Games, remedy that immediately. You won’t be disappointed.

Loving my new toy!

And to make the reading experience all the more exciting, it was the first book I’ve read on my new Kindle. Squeee! I’ve been umm’ing and ahh’ing about whether to buy a Kindle for a while now, and so when some wonderful girlfriends bought me a sizeable Amazon gift voucher for my birthday, I knew the time had come. I was worried that I wouldn’t like reading on a Kindle but I love it. LOVE it. I’ll do a full post about my thoughts once I’ve read a few more books on it. Stay tuned…

By now you’re probably wondering what the heck my headline has to do with this post. Perhaps I’ve left the most exciting news till last. I have a new working title for my novel-in-progress!

As my regular readers know, I love my previous working title, Tangled, but I believe that Disney has spoiled it for me. So, after a lengthy conversation at work with my awesome colleagues Laura and Joe, I’ve changed the title to… The Big Smoke! I really like it for a number of reasons, but I don’t want to tell you what they are because I’d rather hear what you think without skewing your judgement. So…. what do you think? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? What does it tell you about the book?

I sent Part 2 of said novel-in-progress off to my beta readers yesterday and I’m looking forward to their feedback on the new title and of course the 43,000-odd words they’ll be reading. They’ve already given me some wonderful, insightful feedback on Part 1, which is helping to guide me as I go forth and edit Part 3. Not far to go now!

So yeah, that’s me this week. What’s happening in your world? And don’t forget to tell me what you think of The Big Smoke as a title!

31 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Progress update, Tangled

WiP Part 1: off to beta readers!

Before I get onto the subject of tonight’s post, I just wanted to say a big HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to my wonderful husband, Mark. Seven years ago today, we promised to spend the rest of our lives together and I’m so glad we did. I was a month shy of 21 when we tied the knot, and Mark was 24. We may have been young, but we knew what we were doing. Here’s some photos from our special day:

The wedding party

Cally on her wedding day

Wedding: sitting among the flowers

Oh the memories! 🙂

Okay, enough reminiscing. On to tonight’s topic! I sent the first part of Tangled, my novel-in-progress, off to my Beta Reader Group One peeps tonight. It’s quite an exciting and scary feeling. Mostly exciting though. I’ve been working on this novel for so long, I’m really looking forward to hearing people’s thoughts about it.

I thought you might be interested to hear how I’ve approached this stage of my beta reading, so I’ll give you a look at the email I’ve sent my beta readers, which includes a link to my purpose-built reader survey.

Hi there

Thanks again for offering to beta read Tangled. I really appreciate the time and energy it takes to provide considered feedback. Tangled Part 1 (about 45K) is attached! This is coming to you a week earlier than I originally indicated, however if you can still have your feedback to me by 17 October, that would be great. Feel free to get it to me as soon as you like though. 🙂

You can go about providing feedback however you feel most comfortable. I’d really appreciate it if you could fill in this survey I’ve created, but if you find surveys stifling, please feel free to ignore it. At the least, it will provide you with a guide about the type of feedback I’m looking for.

.

In addition to the survey, I’d appreciate more nitty-gritty feedback marked on the manuscript (either in tracked changes in Word or scribbled on a hard copy – I’m happy to pay for postage). Please mark any spelling or grammar errors, passages that read awkwardly, and passages that make you smile or cringe (either because of what’s going on or because of the quality of the writing!). I’m just as interested in the passages you like as the ones you don’t, because it’s always good to know what’s actually working!

Please remember, I’m after your honest opinion, so don’t be afraid to tell me what you really think. If you have any concerns about anything I’ve said here, please just let me know.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Thanks
Cally

Your turn

What do you think of the survey? Too much? Too little? How are you going with your own writing? Please share. 🙂

23 Comments

Filed under Beta readers, Editing, Progress update, Revising, Tangled, Writing, YA fiction

Seeking: young adult beta readers

First page

Refine, refine, refine...

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who has offered to beta read Tangled. I now have enough beta readers. HOWEVER, if you’re aged between 15-18 years old and regularly read contemporary realistic YA fiction, I’d still love to hear from you because you’re smack bang in my target audience!

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I set myself a deadline of 5 September for micro-editing the first 50K of my novel-in-progress Tangled. I’m excited to report that I’m still on track to achieve that goal, having edited 30.5K to date.

My progress has got me thinking – what do I want to do once I’ve finished this round of editing? And the answer (as you probably guessed by the headline) is that I want to hand it over to beta readers. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, beta readers are people who read a manuscript in draft form and provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t. This feedback will inform future rounds of editing before (hopefully) publication. (You can read more about the role of beta readers in this marvellous post at the Open Vein.)

Because Tangled is such a hefty manuscript (175K to be exact), I think it would be best if I provided it to beta readers in parts. That way, I can start getting feedback sooner than later and people aren’t confronted with the whole book to critique in one hit. Now, before you run screaming at the word count, let me say that 175K was the final word count of the first draft. Of the chapters I’ve edited so far, I’ve reduced their word count by an average of 28%. If I continue at this rate, the word count will come down to about 126K. (Maths isn’t my strong point so if this don’t sound right, let me know!).

So, this is me putting the call out. Are you interested in beta reading Tangled (find out more about Tangled)? If so, keep reading…

Who I’m looking for

  • I’m seeking people who regularly read young adult contemporary fiction.
  • Ideally, I’d love to have a couple of beta readers who are in my target audience, i.e. 15-18 year olds. If I could get feedback from at least one girl and one guy from this age group, I’d be ecstatic.
  • I’m looking for people who are willing to make a commitment to read and provide feedback on the whole manuscript over time (and have an ongoing conversation about suggested changes and ideas).
  • I’m still deciding how many beta readers I’d like as I can see benefits to having a few (more detailed conversations) and to having a lot (able to see whether feedback is consistent or unique to one individual). Any feedback on this would be appreciated.

What I’m looking for

  • Honest feedback. I’m not looking for a pat on the back, I’m looking for genuine thoughts on what works and what doesn’t.
  • Feedback on all manner of things, such as:
    • Are the characters believable? Relatable? Likeable?
    • Does the plot move at a good pace? Does it ever lag or go too fast?
    • Are there any plot holes, character inconsistencies or sentences that jar?
    • Is there anything about the story that you particularly love or loathe?
    • At the end of the first part, where do you think the story is heading from here? What do you hope happens? What do you think WILL happen?
    • Anything else you feel I should know.

OR if you’d don’t have time to provide detailed feedback but would like to read it and provide general thoughts, I’d be happy for that too.

What are the timeframes?

  • I hope to have the first part ready by 15 September (it will be about 40K if my current reduction rate continues).
  • I’d like to receive feedback by mid-November. By this point, I hope to have finished editing part two. But before I send out part two to my beta readers, I will consider the feedback provided for part one. Depending on what feedback I get, I may need to revise part one and make subsequent changes to part two before I send out a second round.
  • My overall deadline to have the manuscript 100% complete is mid-February next year. Time will tell whether this is achievable!

Your turn

  • Would you like to be a beta reader? If so, please comment on this post or email me at callyjackson at gmail dot com.
  • I’m new to this beta-reading request caper, so if there’s anything here that stands out as a bad idea, please let me know. 🙂

16 Comments

Filed under Editing, Progress update, Revising, Tangled, Writing, YA fiction