Today I have that feeling of heavy sighs that I used to get at the end of a semester at BYU. Finals are done, apartment cleaning and checkout are done, and packing to head back home is all done. Done, but not over. Because the cycle will soon begin again with a new, exciting chapter.
Why am I feeling this now?
Because, for the last week and a half I’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool, learning to swim as a brand new beta reader for author Boo Walker.
Some background: I first discovered Boo’s books early last year when I read an advanced copy of A Spanish Sunrise on NetGalley. I instantly knew I wanted more of this author’s books. A Spanish Sunrise quickly became a 10-Star book on this blog and I raced to find more. I discovered and read An Unfinished Story and The Singing Trees and loved those too. All three have wonderfully layered characters who go on unique life journeys. I highly recommend ALL of them.
Next was signing up for his author newsletter, something I tell fellow readers to do if they want to connect with a favorite writer. Most well-known authors have websites and newsletters. Many also reach out to their readers on Facebook and Instagram. These are great ways to get publishing updates, participate in giveaways, learn about book tours, hear about movie adaptations, and discover fun little bookish products. Gone are the days of the reclusive writer stereotype. Today is about connection and authors are no different. Many are very personable and love hearing from their readers.
But as you would expect, some authors are more responsive than others. Of the ones I subscribe to, which is 10-15, Boo makes the most effort to interact with his readers. (Mimi Matthews and Wade Rouse aka Viola Shipman are both in second place.) He sometimes offers to send advanced copies and audio versions of his books at his own expense, often signed, and will throw out fun questions like “I need two cat names for this certain character. Suggestions?”
I “kind of” had an idea what a beta reader was (I thought) and last August I emailed Boo and asked him if he would consider bringing me on board. His reply was that his team was full, but I would go on a wait list. In December, I was recruited for his 2024 book. What a thrill!
Then five months went by. I had no idea what to expect or when to expect it. Until Monday of last week. “Attn: Beta Readers!” shouted an email from my inbox. We were off to the races.
We were sent the book’s first half and we had eight days to get our notes back to him. It took me nearly three days to find my footing with logistics, i.e. learning HOW to beta read and using the Track Changes feature in Apple Pages. A new skill for me. So I felt pretty behind at first, but I caught up. I am very grateful to Boo for his guidance, patience, and quick responses to my questions. Any help I asked for, he gave.
I had so much fun! It wasn’t easy, but I loved it. Looking at content, finding inconsistencies, commenting on what does/doesn’t work, suggesting character qualities, pointing out anachronisms, making word suggestions, asking for more of this or less of that, etc. It tapped into my favorite skill set. My biggest challenge was figuring out when to put things under a microscope (my default) and when to pull back and look at everything as a whole. Also to be tactful in my suggestions. I learned so much, mostly to trust the author and the process.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is an unpaid gig. And it isn’t about getting advanced copies of a book. This is about an author getting early feedback from readers he trusts. I’ve received some terrific comments from Boo on my notes (which I sent back one day early, thank you very much) but the story belongs to him. He is the one who thought of it, who researched it, who has to deal with deadlines and marketing, who has to sift through suggestions from beta readers and editors, who must endure reviews, and who takes ultimate responsibility for the finished product. And you know what? He can have it. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of work.
My compensation is the satisfaction of knowing that the story is evolving using suggestions I contributed. It’s a terrific high knowing an author I respect wants my opinions and will be implementing some of my ideas. And yes, that is enough. I am very excited to see the next draft!
I expect to receive the second half of the book some time next month and will probably see later drafts as well. In the meantime, check out Boo Walker’s other books! And keep an eye out for this year’s book, The Stars Don’t Lie, available on August 22nd! It’s excellent! A tribute to teachers everywhere.
You can also read this terrific article on the concept of beta reading HERE. It’s an invaluable resource for authors.
And you can see Boo talk about his growth as a writer and the upcoming book in this recent 11 min video: