This interview ran in December of last year. I chatted a bit with Terry this weekend at StellarCon and wanted to re-run this. Read her Vampire Folklore interview, too.
We started this interview with Terry Bane last month, with Part 1 on Vampire Folklore, and Part 2 on Audio Production. Bane is a professional beta-reader for Jim Butcher, a scholar on myths and legends (and Vampires!) and works on audio book production for Buzzy Multi-Media (the producers of much of Jim Butcher’s books in audio).
Today we learn about the process of beta reading, and how this critical process makes for a more satisfying, sellable final product.
What is Beta-Reading?
For those who may not know what a beta-reading is, let me take a moment to explain…The author hands his finished unpublished piece to me, his beta reader, for something like an edit. I read over the work and in addition to noting any spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors I also make notes on the content, subject, and readability of the work. I keep track of how he spelt the characters names so that they are consistent throughout, what the characters are wearing, where they are in relation to everything else the author described being present, that dialogue reads naturally, characters remain consistent, pacing is on track, and a million other little things like that. I also fact check: say that in a book a town located at the base of a volcano is noted for its sapphires, I would make a note to the author that rubies come from volcanoes, not sapphires. things I not do is suggest are plot changes, altering character descriptions, settings, or anything that would require a re-write. I am looking to help the story not make it my own. Naturally, everything I make note of and suggest is just that – a suggestion; it is ultimately up to the author if there will be changes or not.
How does the role of Beta-reader change the experience of the final product for the final customer, the reader?
To me, beta-reading is a critical part of the process and I feel that every author should go it because the goal is to make the story more enjoyable for the reader. I have been providing this service for seven years now. An author myself I primarily write historical non-fiction reference books but have recently delved into the realm of fiction. My husband, T. Glenn Bane, and I wrote a novella together for Buzzy Multimedia entitled “Marko Jaks: The Prince of Lies,” set to publish in 2012. This was the first time that I was on the receiving end of the beta process and it was a bit scary even knowing what to expect. I have to honestly admit that having a team of beta reader go over the work and utilize many of their suggestions before it went to the editor made the story 100% better.
What non-authors don’t realize is now much stuff is written for a story that never makes it to print, how many ideas are worked up in our heads or on paper that are never used, or used and altered. Or used and then deleted altogether. There is also all the stuff that as an author you know about the character or setting that you allude to but never spell out for the reader. Sometimes dropping hints works but sometimes it comes across as confusing—if it’s even noticed. When the author re-reads the story it makes sense because its his story, he knows all the stuff that never got out of his head and onto paper. Beta-readers are not privy to that information, they are reading a story looking for ways to improve it by finding all the little places that need tweaking, explanation, or outright deletion.
Where does the beta-reading process fit in to the lifecycle of a novel?
When the author has finished his story and polished it up as much as he can, he then sends it off to his team beta-readers. With very rare exceptions, this is not a rough draft but an otherwise finished product that except for this step he would have otherwise sent to his editor. After the beta-reading, it goes back to the author who then looks it over and decides what if any of the changes to make. Normally these would be easy fixes, adding a sentence here or there, deleting some erroneous info, or tweaking a word.
How does a writer find a good beta-reader?
Ah yes, that is the million dollar question because it’s not easy. You would think that being a big name author you could just get some of your fans to help out, but being a fan does not a good beta-reader make. You need people who can be perfectly frank and honest without being ugly and hurtful about it and—here is the most important part—is willing to tell you what they honestly think. A beta-reader is someone who will take your work seriously, even if you write in a style or genera they do not themselves prefer. Lastly, these folks must also be willing to commit his time and full attention to the project. I was very lucky with my beta-team in that I work with a circle of other beta-readers for Jim Butcher, a New York Times bestselling author, and was able to solicit their help for my novella. Other beta-readers were a retired copy-editor and a wonderful individual I met at a convention.
What has been some of your most rewarding experiences as a beta-reader?
It is always a bit of a thrill to see your idea or suggestions get used in a book, even if it’s a small one. Without going into specifics, I remember once a few years back I was speaking with an author about a character in his series. I teased him because the character’s dog that had been struck by a van had not been taken to a vet by the end of the novel. The author said that the dog was fine and went on to run the bad guys down and do other things after that as well. I agreed, but said that large breed dogs, especially those of the guard variety, will often hide an injury form their owner and that he was making his character out to be a bad doggie-daddy. The next book while I am beta-ing it I come to a paragraph where the character explains in no uncertain terms that he was currently short of cash because he had taken his perfectly healthy dog to the vet for a complete and thorough examination even though he knew it was fine but did it anyway because that is what a good doggie-daddy would do. It made my day.
What do you like to read for fun?
Normally I read dusty old books and encyclopedic tomes that have been out of print for years for the sake of my research, but I do make time to read for pleasure once in a while. Once a year I re-read Stella Gibbon’s “Cold Comfort Farm,” I adore this book and cannot recommend it enough. I also love Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” I have recently committed myself to reading the classics that I somehow missed growing up such as “Tarzan” and “Frankenstein” two books the movies just can’t touch. I am a fan of Shannon Butcher’s “The Sentinel Wars” and I am passionate about the “Vampire Empire” series by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith.