NaNoWriMo 2019 was an absolute success, and with almost a week to spare, I finished the third novel of the Sword of Dragons series!
Finishing was a massive rush of satisfaction and relief – I’ve stalled on book 3 almost as much as I stalled on book 1 back in the day, mostly due to life events. NaNoWriMo came at the perfect time, and I was able to buckle down and power through the second half of the novel.
Additionally, I’ve gone through an immediate first edit! However, this served more than just a single read-through for prose or grammar or anything like that – I changed course in several ways on this book since I first started writing it, and that meant I had to go back and retroactively correct incontinuities in the first half.
This time, however, now that the second draft is complete, I’m doing something I’ve never done before – allowing beta readers to read it before the third draft.
Why Early Beta Readers are Important
To be honest, I should have allowed people to read books 1 and 2, and The Orc War Campaigns, long before I did. Especially Burning Skies, however, because it was only after it was published that I received a valuable piece of feedback about the ending.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to have read the 1st edition of Burning Skies (the old cover can be seen on the right,) you may remember the final battle against Nuuldan ending with Cardin basically watching someone else defeat the villain. In many respects, it was a Deus Ex Machina conclusion.
So for the 2nd edition, I made Cardin more directly responsible for overcoming the villain, without sacrificing the inclusion of those who came to help him (I’m trying not to spoil the book too much, in case you came to my blog having never read my books :) )
If I had given this book over to beta readers earlier and asked for plot and character feedback, someone might have caught that plot point and the 1st edition might never have had that blemish.
This is why I encourage any and all writers to allow at least one person to beta read very early. Either after a first or second draft. In that case, I would recommend asking them not to focus as much on grammar and sentence structure (you can fix that in your next draft and ask an editor to focus on that, or at least subsequent beta readers, if you’re like me and can’t afford to hire an editor.)
Which brings me to another point…
Writers and Egos
One thing I had to learn very early on as a writer, and sometimes is a lesson I have to be re-taught – if you have an ego about your writing, it’s going to get bruised or even shattered at some point. This could be in a writer’s critique group, or it could be reviews of your published works.
But in my opinion, it is vital to drop any ego when it comes to beta reading and early feedback. You may think you’ve come up with the absolute best story, or the greatest characters, or the most engaging plot, but it is entirely possible that a beta reader will come back and say, “Um, this didn’t work. I think you need to find a way to fix the plot.” Or “This character is exceedingly boring.”
In fact, I received that last bit of feedback from an agent for another book series I’ve been working on in the background, and while at first I felt a little ego bruising, I realized she was right. I’ve started working on fixing that while I let Sword of Dragons book 3 simmer for a while and wait for beta reader feedback :)
If, after setting aside your ego, you feel like the beta reader may still be incorrect, get a second and third opinion. If everyone you let beta read agrees that something doesn’t work, do your best to fix it. Ask them why they think something doesn’t work, and if you’re stuck on how to make it better, ask them their opinions.
Ultimately, however, this is your story to tell. The final decision will always be yours, and the advice I’m giving today is with the assumption that your goal is to write something that a lot of people will want to read. If your goal is instead to just write your story your way and you’re not as concerned about how well your book sells, that is perfectly legitimate.
If there is one universal advice about writing, it’s that we should all do it for the reasons we want to, not for the reasons others tell us we should be doing it.
Thanks for reading, everyone! Happy holidays!