Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

We got the beta


Not long after my post reminding everyone that my editorial service, Indie-Scribable, now does beta reading, I got a nice surprise. Friend-of-the-blog, and friend friend, Cinthia Ritchie, invited me to beta read her second novel, Waiting For My Daughter’s Ghost.

I wrapped up the read over the weekend and sent Cinthia my notes earlier this week.

Cinthia, as many readers of What The Hell know, is the author of Dolls Behaving Badly, her 2013 debut novel about an Alaskan woman who makes anatomically correct Barbie dolls. (She had me at “anatomically correct”!) If you read Cinthia’s blog, you won’t be surprised to learn that the book is at turns funny, touching, sad, life-affirming, and charming. She does all those things almost effortlessly.

(And by the way, Dolls Behaving Badly has been optioned by Hollywood. She also had a piece in the New York Times Magazine a while back.)

What a pleasure it was for me to get an early look at her second novel. And, of course, I was honored that Cinthia thought enough of my writing and editing chops to give me a crack at it.

The bind she’s in is a familiar one to me. After she submitted the book to her editor last year, the decree came from the New York publishing heights that she needed to revise it. Between her editor and her agent, the advice was mixed, contradictory, and, in some ways, against her own ideas of what the book really is. Maybe a lot of published writers have found themselves in the same predicament. It’s hard. You want to make the publishing pros happy, but at the same time you want to stay true to your vision and give the world the book that you wanted to write.

As a beta reader, I didn’t want to know the details up front, so I tackled the book without knowing what Cinthia’s editor and agent had in mind for it. I read it cold and took it as it came. And in the end, it turned out that I was on the same page, more or less, as the editor, at least with respect to one major idea for revision.

What I wanted to do, above all, was provide Cinthia with an objective point of view, and so I made a special effort not to soft soap her. I told her what I honestly thought about the book and offered some possibilities for revision that I thought would help her get the manuscript ready to resubmit in the strongest condition it could possibly be. That’s what I think a beta reader is really for: to give the writer an unbiased opinion that will help to improve the book. Otherwise, you’re just a yes man (or woman) and you’ve weaseled your way into getting a free book.

When you hire me to beta read for you, I’ll offer you the same impartial advice I gave Cinthia. I’ll be kind and diplomatic, but I’ll tell you what I think. I’ll also propose ideas for solving whatever problems I see, though obviously you’re free to reject them. It’s your novel. It’s your calling. I’m just telling you what one reader (who also happens to be a writer) thinks about your book.

Incidentally, my rates for beta reading are genuinely affordable. A 100,000 word book will cost you $100, and you’ll get comments in the text plus detailed notes. I also throw in a little proofreading because I can’t help myself …

I hope writers who read this blog will consider hiring me to beta read, and possibly edit, their stuff too. I’ve worked with the author of Dolls Behaving Badly, after all!

I’ll keep you updated about the new book and the movie. Meanwhile, follow Cinthia’s Alaskan exploits at her blog, and read, if you can, everything she writes. She’s a gem.


9 comments on “We got the beta

  1. cinthiaritchie
    February 9, 2017


    Thanks so much for the mentioning me and my beta reader experiences in your blog. I appreciate your services so, so much. I received exactly what I wanted, and needed: honest advice that was kind and sensitive when it needed to be kind and sensitive and tough and to-the-point when it needed to be tough and to-the-point.

    I must say that I balked at changing the beginning but finally followed your suggestions and while it’s still in rough form, I can see how the changes open up the book. I just stayed up all night (it’s morning now, and I’m a wreck, lol), because by simply changing the beginning, the rest flowed into place. The changes suddenly made sense.

    I omitted quite a few scenes, shuffled scenes from the middle up closer to the front and wrote transitional paragraphs to connect everything together. I’m on Page 70 right now and still going strong.

    Thanks so, so much and I’ll keep you updated.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 9, 2017

      Wow, you work fast, Cinthia!

      I hope the whole experience wasn’t too terribly traumatic. 😉 But don’t forget, suggestions are always just suggestions, and if you can’t make something work, always rely on your vision.

      Good luck!

  2. pinklightsabre
    February 9, 2017

    That’s a great service, “kind and diplomatic,” good stuff. Can’t imagine it being any different.

  3. islandeditions
    February 9, 2017

    “to give the writer an unbiased opinion that will help to improve the book” … absolutely bang-on!

  4. John W. Howell
    February 9, 2017

    Good job.

  5. S.K. Nicholls
    February 9, 2017

    Makin’ dreams happen 🙂

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This entry was posted on February 9, 2017 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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