Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A new breed of readers: beta readers

Online narrative writing practices, especially those associated with fanfic writing have spawned a reading and peer editing process generally referred to as 'beta reading'. Basically, the process involves the author posting a narrative, or a chapter from a more extended narrative, to a relatively private public space like a blog before publishing it in a wider or more formal venue, including as meatspace novels, and asks for reader feedback on work done so far (e.g., the novel, Four and Twenty Blackbirds was written this way). [Edit: This has nothing to do with Diane Duane's latest book describe below--I got it wrong--but the beta reader phenomenon is nonetheless interesting, and we'll follow up at some later stage about this pactice].

Diane Duane, a writer of young adult fiction, is posting online installments of her latest novel, Feline Wizards 3: The Big Meow for readers to review and provide feedback on [For more on the process, see Diane's gracious explanation in the comments section]. Her approach is distinctive in that readers can subscribe to the book itself, and receive new installments before the general public does, and then also receive a copy of the published book when it's done. Duane's approach is a sign of the times, too. She had been contracted to write a trilogy, but the publisher cited poor book sales as the reason for not going ahead with the third and final book, despite fan letters asking for the trilogy to be completed. So after using her blog to poll fans of her Feline Wizards Books 1 and 2, Duane decided to go ahead and publish the book herself, using 'publish on demand' methods. This might well herald a significant sea-change for book publishers in terms of people making more and more use of DIY approaches to publishing that are driven principally by interest and having a story to tell, rather than by profits and sales figures (via BoingBoing).

Hi there!

Thanks much for your posting on the Big Meow project -- it's much appreciated!

One note, though, in passing. I'm not posting the chapters "for readers to review and provide feedback on." I'm publishing them to publish
them. :)

...Oh, doubtless there'll be some critique and comment here and there; but that was never the point of putting the chapters up. (Nor would I dream of trying to blanket-pressgang beta readers in such a manner: it'd smack too much of trying to get other people to do my work for me.) The idea has been (a) to let people see the material as it would go to an editor in first-draft form: (b) and just plain to let them read and enjoy it, since a lot of folks plainly really want access to it the minute each chapter is ready. (BTW, editorial is handled: I've already hired a professional editor -- one I've worked with before on more conventionally published books -- to assist me in going over the material when the book is done.)

If there was something in the pages on the Big Meow website that suggests I was looking for critique on the material, or soliciting beta-readers, please let me know where it is so that I can get it out of there. I don't want people to get the wrong idea of what's going on.

And thanks again!
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