The Beta Reader

by Betty Kuffel

Writing “The End” at the finale of a work of fiction is a great achievement. You can sit back and take a break. Let the novel sit for a while. Do something else. Maybe think about your next book or take a few days off to clear your thoughts before beginning rewrites and self-editing.

For most writers, edits are numerous and tedious. Check for repeated words, sentence structure, believable dialogue and make sure subplots enhanced the storyline. When you are satisfied, only then is it time to share the manuscript with a beta reader.

What exactly is a beta reader? A manuscript reader poised to provide the specific feedback you request. They are usually non-professionals who critique a completed manuscript. If you are in a critique group, your writing has been repeatedly evaluated so you may be accustomed to some negative input, but inexperienced writers are often sensitive and intolerant to changing words or even altering dialogue. This is the time to be openminded and listen carefully to the reader’s opinions.

Who you choose matters. You might ask friends, family, or co-workers. However, your mother may love it the way it is and provide no meaningful feedback. Co-workers and friends are not a good choice, either. Offending you or hurting your feelings by pointing out negative aspects can harm personal or workplace relationships.

Timing and purpose for beta readers varies. The beta reader request should specify the type of feedback you want. An essential beta read should be timed to incorporate accepted suggestions into the manuscript before proceeding to hire a professional editor. If you have published, during the pre-release period, you might ask a beta reader to provide an online book review in exchange for an autographed copy. Some professional editors will also beta read for a fee.

The best beta reader is a prolific reader in your genre. Someone able to evaluate and analyze your work with a thoughtful critical eye and able to provide feedback before you pay for a professional edit.

When you have chosen a beta reader be sure to prepare a list of questions you would like addressed in the critique. Here are a few examples:

Please suggest word changes and sentence structure clarification.

Did you relate to the characters? Were they believable? Is the dialogue natural?

Did you notice confusing parts or areas that lagged or didn’t move the story forward?

In the beginning, did you learn the setting, story and meet the main character soon enough?

Is there enough intrigue, conflict and tension to keep you interested.?

Was the ending satisfying?

Any general comments would be appreciated.

After you have read the critique, remember, you don’t have to follow any of the suggestions. It is your book, your story, and sometimes a critique can be brutal, changing your storyline and incompatible with your thoughts on the book. If you trust this person, once you recover from the body blows, be sure to look at the manuscript with a critical eye. There may be a glaring hole in the story that you missed.

Completing a beta read critique and manuscript adjustments are giant steps toward publication.

Best wishes and happy writing in the New Year.

Betty Kuffel

A Christmas Mouse

by Laura Thomas

Early on Christmas morning, as my husband and I lay in bed, talking, I heard a rustling sound. I thought of our presents under the tree, but it was just the two of us at home this year. So, no kids were trying to sneak a peek. And no dogs trying to chew open the tempting presents. So, I settled back down under the covers, snuggling under their warmth from the chill of the early winter morning. Soon, however I heard the rustling again!   

“What am I hearing?” I asked. And again went through my list of possibilities and still the answer was the same, nobody but us, and yet I kept hearing the noise. The sound was definitely one of paper rustling and something was moving around. But the noise wasn’t loud, wasn’t persistent, just coming every once in a while.

“Well, I’m sure there’s no burglar in the house, so go back to sleep”, my husband said to me. So, once again I snuggle down. There, there’s that sound again! This time we both got out of bed to find the source of the noise. My hubby went over to the Christmas tree to inspect around. I suspected he thought, she’s hearing things, when he announced, “All is well”.

But as I was standing near the warm woodstove, I again heard the noise, so I went to do some investigation in the kitchen; sure enough the noise was louder. And as I approached the trash container, I realized the sound was coming from there. I looked around the container and then something caught my eye.  And what do I see?  It’s a small mouse sitting at the bottom of the container looking up at me. I started laughing out loud, and my hubby came to see what was so funny.  All I could do was point at the cause of our noise.

He looked and said “What?”

And through fits of laughter, I said, “It’s a mouse in the trash!”

He smiled, and said “Ok honey, I’ll deal with it later.”

“Honey”, I said “It’s Christmas, please don’t kill it”. “Ok”, he said as he gave me a hug. And with a merry twinkle in his eye, he took the container outside and set the mouse free.

A New Year, We Hope

By Mary Frances Erler

A new year has finally arrived!  I’m sure almost everyone is glad to see 2020 go away. Old Father Time, known as Chronos (the source of words like chronology and chronometer) to the Greeks, and Saturn to the Romans, is still a feature of our new year celebrations.  You know, the old bearded man with the scythe, who hobbles away as the old year passes.

When I took high school Latin, we were told “Io Saturnalia” meant Merry Christmas, sort of.  Most of Roman history was pre-Christianity, so Saturnalia was actually a pagan holiday celebrating the arrival of the New Year, as well as the Winter Solstice.

Saturn was the “grandfather” of the Gods, the father of Jupiter (Zeus in Greek) who was, in turn, father of most of the rest of the gods in mythology. I find it interesting that old Saturn still shows up this time of year as Father Time, the thing we cannot control, because it just marches on.  

The planet Saturn was in the news this year, too, because Saturn and Jupiter were closer together from our viewpoint here on earth than they’ve been for over 600 years.  I sure hope this is a good omen for the year 2021.  We need all the hope we can get!

February Book News

Montana Women Writers

LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Thank goodness for books, right? In this strange season, at least we have books! And thanks to the magic of Zoom and other online platforms, we still have book events! Join Flathead Valley mystery writers Christine Carbo, Debbie Burke, and me for an online event sponsored by the Buffalo Hill Terrace Senior Living Community on Wednesday, Feb 24 at 3:00 Mtn time. The event is open to the public via Zoom; call the community at 406-752-9624 or email me for the Zoom link. We’ll talk books, plots, inspiration, writing process and more, and take readers’ questions. Heck, I might even talk about this new writer, Alicia Beckman, and her suspense debut coming in April! (Okay, okay, Alicia’s my new pen name. Join us and I’ll tell you more about it!)

A book for kids about Glacier is getting lots of notice! By Janet Montana aka. Janet Smith.

Are there monkeys in Montana? Well there are NOW!

In this comic-book crossed with a scenic photo guidance book, our little TALKING plush monkey friends, along with two REAL KIDS (my grandkids), help us observe real-life wild animals in their natural habitat without interfering with them, teaching the first  valuable lesson: leave wildlife alone!

Flight to Forever, the sixth book in Debbie Burke’s thriller series, has just been published. The ebook is available at this link: 

The paperback will soon be available and can be ordered by your favorite independent bookstore. 

Way to go, Debbie!

Susan Purvis continues to receive accolades for her memoir, GO FIND. She was featured in a new neighborhood magazine, Whitefish Living.

She also received a Notable Book Award in 2020. Congratulations, Susan!