Below I ramble a bit about beta-reading. If you found this article by googling Holy Sister and were hoping to read about what happens in the last book you’ll be disappointed. I promise I’ll post the blurb on ThatThornGuy.com as soon as it’s written and I’m allowed. But I imagine the below might be more interesting to writers and beta-readers, if anyone, at all.
Someone last year asked me how anyone becomes a beta-reader. Is there a course? In my somewhat limited experience this happens when an author asks you. You can occasionally see them posting an open request on the internet, on forums or in discussion groups, so keep an eye out for opportunities. Most often it’s a private thing though, because for many writers it’s important that they sufficiently know you and trust you. I don’t often see posts from other beta-readers though, so the confusion is understandable. In fact, for many readers I shall undoubtedly remain the woman who sends Mark wine and chocolate, gets to read his books early and has nothing but praise for him. In reality there is a little more to it though, which I’ll be talking about here to anyone interested.
I spent the beginning of April going through Holy Sister with a focus on a few things that had been slightly changed since the publisher’s edit. Re-reading a book two years after the first time, but one year before it gets published is pretty much like walking on no man’s land. There’s no one in sight but the author to discuss my findings with and we have very different perspectives.
I write, too, and can call myself lucky to have a few great beta readers who give feedback on my chapters. In theory I know how beta-reading goes from both sides of the process. You tell the author what works, what doesn’t work, what you like, what you don’t like, what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense, what intrigues you, what bores you. You point out any inconsistencies you spot. Maybe even any typos you spot. If you’re very dedicated you might even come up with some suggestions on how to make improvements. Then that’s it. Your work is finished, thank you very much. The author takes a look at your notes and decides what to action and what not. If they work closely with you they might even show you later how they implemented some of your suggestions.
As a writer this is pretty much what I’m hoping for from my betas and anything more would likely make the relationship awkward. Luckily beta-readers are usually not fanatics though and won’t pursue things further than reasonably expected. They have already spent a good amount of time and energy on your work, the rest is up to you. In turn, they learned from the process, which should benefit their own writing.
So anyhow. I have enough experience to know how it should work and how it shouldn’t. The way we run this ship with Mark is strongly in the second category. It really shouldn’t work. But somehow it does.
‘So, what poses the difficulties?’ you might ask. Well, first of all, as you can probably guess, someone who runs a fansite all alone (despite several people believing it a whole team), is pretty passionate about these books. Mark’s books always meant a lot to me and since I have the opportunity to help with making them even better if I can (which is for the last three-four years or so), I take these duties very seriously.
Then, if you follow Mark’s interviews and blogposts you might already know that he doesn’t really like making changes. His view is once it’s written it’s done and unless something is very clearly an error his preference is to leave it as it is. (He can also be a little lazy. Shhhh! You didn’t hear that from me!). Whereas unfortunately I’m a perfectionist. I’m sure you can already see where this all leaves us. ‘Again’, ‘I told you’, and ‘honestly’ are just some of the most common phrases popping up here and there.
Luckily, we had a little practice to adjust to these ‘extreme’ parameters before starting on Red Sister. I read The Liar’s Key before it was published and pointed out a few things to him that I felt could have been better, or thought were inconsistent. It was too late to make changes on the manuscript by then in any case, but still it was good practice. I read The Wheel of Osheim straight after and provided feedback on it in a similar manner. We also discussed most of his short stories within a few days they were written. By this time I believe he had more trust in my opinion, while I learned to let some things go and only put up a fight where I felt changing something was absolutely necessary. At times we both compromised.
Even so. During writing The Book of the Ancestor trilogy there were a few instances where arguments got a little out of hand and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had stopped asking for my opinion altogether. Instead, we managed to work through them and come up with something in each instance that eventually received a positive feedback later, most often from readers, but sometimes even from the publishers themselves.
More pleasant time was had when it came to brainstorming, albeit these happened less frequently. Mark is usually quite good at coming up with ideas on his own (as you’d expect from someone who earns a living from making things up). My biggest claim can most likely be to be “the one who sent Nona into the caves”. In fact, she became quite the explorer as the story went on, not unlike her dad. I also remember insisting that there absolutely had to be a library at the convent. And despite having worked at a wine company for years, as those who know me might remember, no, the winery wasn’t my idea. *Points.*
All in all though, now that my little part in the creation of this amazing trilogy has come to an end I feel proud and satisfied. The first book, Red Sister was for me the most work. And perhaps for that reason, feels the most important. The next two installments went much easier. I won’t spoil what is yet to come for you, but know this. The way the first two books tie together in the last one is truly special. Mark has always been a master of timelines, but I believe the way the prologues connect and flow into the conclusion in the third book is an art in its own right.
Next year war is coming. “There is in every delicate thing, no matter how precious, nor how beautiful, a challenge. Break me.” It’s time to face that challenge. Be strong. Be ready.
Photo by Raulla Merhej