Beta Readers. Hate my book? Thank you!

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It sounds sarcastic, but it’s not. For those of you following along on my fiction-writing journey, I’ve made quite a bit of progress since the last update. I did finish the book and even found (or more accurately, was found by) a fabulous beta-reading group, whose members just finished giving me feedback.

Side note, I was tempted to do a big “I finished the book!” blog post, that somehow seemed weird since…what is “finished” anyway? Sold? Edited? Printed? Abandoned?

At the risk of getting gushy, I’ll say that I could not be happier with these beta readers. They are all fellow-writers and they all know how to tell a story. But even better, they all know how to critique. I knew that these people would be helpful, but I had no idea just how helpful. Everyone had good things to say. Everyone had good ideas on what needed work. Except for…one person.

She hated it. She hated it with a passion that burned. In fact, she said that she got angrier and angrier as she read and could not bring herself to finish it. Wow. Shit. Ouch.

Now, this could have gone somewhere negative with hard feelings and harsh words. But luckily, our group is run by a clever lady who encouraged this reader to summarize her feelings on the book and relate them to me constructively. And so she did.

The fact is, this book has some awful people in it. Underneath the story about an assassination and coup attempt, it’s about a broken man who collects broken people. The subtext to the story is about clinging to the devil you know and about putting up with abuse in order to be safe. When my reader demanded to know, “he treats them like that and they’re supposed to thank him for it??” the answer is…well…ummm, yeah. That’s the society that they live in. It’s not a book about a great place we’d all like to live. It’s about a bloodthirsty society where you’ll let someone kick your ass and thank them for it if it means they won’t give you to someone who will eat you (figuratively in general, but for one character, kind of literally).

So my first instinct was to chalk it up to this reader not getting it. But as I spent a few days intermittently pacing around my house, staring off into space while her complaints tumbled around in my head, I realized that the things she had said were the solution to a plot problem I was having. My book has a traitor, and I’ve been having trouble filling out that traitor’s motivations with anything other than simple fear. I knew this character needed development, but my instinct was to give it to the beta group as it was to see what reactions came back to me. And it turned out that this one reader’s complaints were exactly the sort of thing that my traitor would feel. It’s exactly the sort of thing that the traitor has been missing. Ah hah! Eureka! Thanks, book hater!!

Mind you, she’ll still probably hate the book…but that’s okay. It’s still great practice for dealing with all the other people who will hate it. And I’ll thank her for that too.

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