Alpha Readers, Beta Readers, Reviewers, and Editors in the Writing Process. - By Sean Michael Paquet
Hello everyone! So I just wanted to take a minute and give you some insight into what it took to get "A Game of Gods" from raw free writing to submission copy.
This is by no means an easy process, and I will try to explain step by step how I did it.
Ok, so maybe I am unique in this concept, but I do ALL of my raw freewriting on my phone. The notepad on my phone lets me roll with ideas as they come, instead of being tied to my computer.
So what do I do with all of that material as I finish it? Well, I usually do the raw free writing throughout the day and send it in the evening to my Alpha Reader.
Now some of you may laugh at this, but my Alpha Reader is my Mom, Dianne Paquet. Why did I choose her? Well, for me, it was elementary. I am weird; my writing is weird, and so are a lot of my concepts. My Mom gets me. She understands where I am coming from and the direction I want to take with my stories. Furthermore, she is a meticulous reader with an eye for perfection when it comes to writing. She has read thousands of books, and I value her opinion highly in regards to what makes a good story.
So my Mom gets my work in snippets. Once she has read it, and we have discussed it, I transfer the material from my phone into an MS Word document on my PC. This is my running copy, or as others call it, my first draft. Once I get to the finish line, its time for me to get some real work out of the way.
The raw free writing is fun for me.
Freewriting is an entirely unfettered expression of the world in my mind. The real work for me comes when I am looking at the completed first draft. It looks like shit. Trust me on this; it seems like total Poo Poo! I say this because I use Grammarly Premium as my editing software, and it happily tells me that my first draft has over 10,000 errors. OMG! There is so much red and blue on that document; it could be a chain of Christmas lights!
Ok, so time to really read the story. I go through it line by line. I fix all the grammar and punctuation errors, and add material if the story lags, or is too dialogue-heavy. I dummy down a lot of words to make sure my audience finds the story easy to read. During this phase for me, I am also taking a hard look at world-building and character development.
First draft editing for me takes about a week.
Then, I give it back to Mom for a second look.
Now she becomes my Beta Reader. She becomes my Quality Assurance to make sure I didn't miss anything or mess up the plot, world-building and/or character development.
She always finds things. Beta Readers will ALWAYS find something to fix.
Her Beta Reading takes about another week.
Once she sends it back to me, I start my own editing process. I use a method called Three Pass Editing.
I will explain the concept of Three Pass Editing.
First Pass: Clarity. I go through and do even more word replacement, cut words altogether, or add explanatory material to make the wording more clear. I look to explain that which has not been well defined or implied. I remove clutter. If you don't need it to tell what you are trying to say, then consider removing it. Remove the jargon. Unless you plan to add a glossary or the jargon is well known enough by your target demographic (your faithful readers), find a better word.
Ask yourself these questions:
Is this needed to make the story clear?
Is there a better word I can use?
Can I make this easier to understand?
Have I already said this, and does it make sense to repeat it?
Is this too wordy? Can I use fewer words? Do I need more words?
Second Pass: Density. Do not worry so much about the length of your story. "A Game of Gods" ended up being 400 pages at final submission. What you want to look at is "Interesting vs. Boring." You want your reader to come across the material in your story that makes them stop, re-read, and think. You want the material to stand out. At the same time, you want such material to be interspersed enough throughout the story to give readers a chance to breathe and digest your story properly. Think of the difference between a bolt action rifle and a machine gun. A bolt action rifle will fire a bullet that most assuredly gets your attention. A machine gun will do the same, but it's overkill and overwhelming.
Do not be afraid to use borrowed insight or known themes. For reference, insights are "the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing." (lexico.com).
If your story is so weird and off the chain that no one has heard any of the ideas before, you might lose part of your audience. I like to use concepts, themes, and insights, that people may have heard of, or at least can identify with.
So with insights, you want to do the following:
If the insight feels incomplete, then fix it.
Look at the density and flavor of your story.
Are you happy with it?
Did you explain your ideas enough?
Are you attempting to force a personal belief on the reader, or are you providing compelling insight?
Third Pass: Solidity. What you are doing in this pass is making your story, "Hate Proof." You want to create an unbroken line of thinking that pulls the reader regardless of genre. Yeah, maybe they will still hate the story. Perhaps they will love it, but either way, you have to present them with solid material to make an informed opinion. In short, don't screw it up now by having a reader raise their eyebrows at some half-assed idea, or a lame fight sequence, or even a romantic encounter that isn't well set up.
In this final pass, you want to look for such things as:
Statements that have no purpose. Think "Filler."
NEVER use filler material.
Filler is bullshit.
Filler is annoying.
Filler makes readers skip pages.
Filler will make a reader never buy your material again.
Filler is like the "Bondo" of writing.
So in the third pass, you want to:
Make sure your borrowed insights have valid arguments. Make your insight believable by backing it up.
Why did I put this section here? What is the core message? Is there a core message? Does the core message hold on its own, or does it need more validation? Id the section does not belong here, where should I put it? Do I even need it?
How stable are your arguments to validate your insights? If you created a world from nothing and everything is unheard of, can you provide enough argument to make that world believable?
Which of your statements are self-evident to you and should also be to the reader? I am talking about your implications. Certain things are often implied in a story. Do you get your implication? Will your reader understand what you are implying?
Ok so…. Once I have done my Three Pass Edit, what do I do? I am going to re-read the whole thing. OMG! AGAIN?!? Yes, again! I will tell you why I do this. In this part, I step back from the story and put myself in the mind of the reader. I read the story just as if I had just bought it from another writer. I do this for two reasons. One, I am getting close to final submission, and I want a piss perfect product, and two, I think my world is pretty damned cool! I just had an adventure, and I want to read about it again! This last pass through also allows me to do a final check for grammar and punctuation errors. Yes, I guarantee I will find them.
My Three Pass Edit took me two weeks to complete.
So….BOOM! my part is good as the writer…for now. Because now, I send the story to my final stage editor. Now just as I am blessed to have a Mom who gets my writing and me, I also am blessed to have an excellent friend named Jacob Fennel, who does my final editing. Jacob is a college-level English teacher with a Master's Degree in English Studies. He has taught English all over the world. Jacob has also worked professionally as a proofreader and content editor. I am very blessed to have Jacob as my friend.
So Jacob goes through and does his thing. He also gets where I am going with my work, so he changes a few words or phrases to make the story sound more in the setting I am trying to portray. Once he is done, I do a skim pass over the whole thing just to make sure I didn't miss anything anywhere.
Jacob's Final Edit took him about a week.
Then AND ONLY THEN, do I ask for reviewers to read my story. I do not waste other writer's time on half-assed material. That is an insult to them and lowers my credibility.
I picked two from the many fellow authors I collaborate with, both of whom decided to write pre-publish reviews of my work. I did the same for them.
Their reviews took them about ten days to complete.
Once I got the thumbs up from them as professional writers, the last step happens.
Ok….DEEP BREATH…Butterflies in the stomach….I click send, and my story goes forward to the publisher for final submission.
So that's it. That's how I do my thing. I hope this will provide you some insight into the steps to take before submitting your work to a publisher.
Now even if you are a total independent author, you should try to take all of these steps. Remember, your story is part of a brand. You are part of your brand. Your idea is part of your brand. What people read that you have written is a direct reflection of your level of commitment to writing. Your product is a direct reflection of your level of quality assurance and pride in your work. Your stories are the product. Your ideas are the product. Present your customers with a quality product, and they will return to you to do business when more of your product becomes available.