Beta Wisdom: Noel Fudge

Continuing our series interviewing people who have seen a *lot* of betas, today we're pleased to share an interview with Noel Fudge. Noel is a seasoned world-traveler and beta coordinator extraordinaire, and we're so glad she chose to share her experience with us.

Who are you and what do you do? (Andrew wants to know how you get to travel to so many cool places.)

Currently I am an Educational Director for a company called JD International. We go to Taiwan, China, and Japan to do promotions and lecture series on space exploration. Then we bring applicants to America and offer two and three week educational experiences at Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, Orlando Science Center, Space Walk of Fame Museum, Lone Star College, several aviation facilities, and nearby theme parks like Disney, Universal, etc. Most of our Students are from Taiwan but we always welcome students from any country including America.

Do you have any pet peeves, either writing based or just in general?

Saying “no” to me. Why would people say “no” when “yes” falls off the tongue so much smoother? 

I can’t stand when people are mean to each other. My hackles go straight up. People can be honest without being cruel, demeaning, or condescending. Sure it takes more effort, but people are worth the time.     

How many of your own books have you put through the beta process?

I have had four books read now and two read more than twice. Beta reading is incredibly important. Having someone test read your book will determine if you should publish it, keep improving on it, or throw it in the darkest hole and never return to it. All helpful to health and wellbeing.

It is far better to torture a few with your rough draft of Alien Hyper Love than inflict devastation on thousands. 

Why did you start organizing betas? How many have you run now? How do you organize them?

I started on Goodreads. They have a beta section but it didn’t work for me. Too many people didn’t care to read mine and were more interested in telling me how much my rough draft stunk (an observation that was so true) and how far better their story was compared to mine. Not helpful.

On Scribophile I found more gullible, I mean kinder, people. A man approached a few of us and first suggested a circle of four people to read each other’s books. Genius!

No one else was doing it and I wanted more. So The Novel Exchange group lead by Elise Edmonds sponsored our first Big Beta Read. We have them every three to four months and the turnout is approximately 50 to 75 people each time. The people are separated into teams of 3 to 4 books and allowed to choose their style. Books are swapped off line or on sites like Betabook.co. The teams meet weekly to discuss their book of that week. Every time we have Big Swap Read, we work on improving how we do things, so we are a work in progress.

I am really excited for the BetaBooks website. We had a couple groups try the site. As a new site it is growing as we grow. My readers have liked it, and I can’t wait to see what new improvements are coming.

Why do you think people should beta their books? 

Because, even though we think of ourselves as writing gods who have such a wonderful story to tell that will revolutionize life as we know it, we still make mistakes.

We may think the chapter where the princess falls madly for the beggar is revolutionary, but may miss that we killed the beggar three chapters back. We think that our climactic conversation between the hero and his best friend will bring the world to tears, only to discover, we wrote the same conversations in the first fifty pages. Betas read over the whole book and point out big issues, flow, inconsistency, repetition, character development, overall concept. We may get our concept, but does the reader see our vision? That is what the beta is for. And if they love it? Well, what’s not to love about our awesomely crafted manuscripts? 

You are in a rare position having been a part of hundreds of betas. Is there anything that has surprised you about how different authors give and receive betas? Are there any patterns that you have begun to see that only someone in your position might notice? Anything that you think people should know about the process that only someone who has seen the number and variety that you have might know?

Every beta reader is different. Where one person will scream “Good gracious! This is trash!” another will say “Oh, how revolutionary, and moving.” Even amongst people in the same genre reading tastes differ. You want readers who fit your audience. In our reads, we try to match the readers, but that may not always happen. This is why you need more than one reader!!!

So if you find your book being read by a moron who thinks your mind reading protagonist is a physical impossibility, they still may be able to offer some insight on flow of conversation. Take what helps you! And be gracious and thank them for the time they took to read your book.

Now, if three people reading your period romance book, all say the gun toting heroine has no business assassinating people in Mesoamerica, you might want to swallow your pride and listen. You don’t have to like what they say to show gratitude for their time.

They are your eyes into your future readers, respect them, love them, and appreciate them. 

What are the big mistakes you see writers make in their betas and what are the biggest/frequent misconceptions authors have? 

Expectations! 

Many beta readers think that they should get a critical review. A critical review “a crit” goes into in-depth detail. Critiques are AWESOME. They thrash into your baby manuscript like hungry wolves, looking at it under a microscope and picking apart the minute problems. Are you imagining wolves looking through microscopes? Good! Because that is what a critique is like.

Beta reading is different but just as essential.

Imagine sitting on your bed, engrossed in a book, and stopping every chapter to express the multitude of thoughts the book has churned up in your head. That is what a beta read should be. If the chapter is good and you see nothing that pulls you from the story, a “good chapter” is a high compliment. 

There are four types of beta reads:

In line. At first glance it looks like a critique. As the reader goes through they put in their thought. “My word, this scene is awesome!” “This paragraph is unreadable.” “How could you kill Sedrick?” It doesn’t fix or pick, it just expresses how you are feeling as you go.

The second is chapter summaries. At the end of a chapter, the reader makes a note. Easy. They put “Good chapter” if it is fine.

Whole book summaries. Thoughts on the whole book and no other comments throughout. 

The Q&A. The writer gives questions that the reader addresses as they do. Like a book report.

All of these have benefits and drawbacks. A good combination is healthy. Make sure BEFORE you start a read that you and your reader are on the same page. Otherwise there will be blood and tears. It is not a pretty sight. Remember: wolves and your baby under a microscope.

What are the big mistakes you see readers make during betas and what are the biggest/frequent misconceptions they have?

They forget that they are readers. They know that their comments are sought after golden eggs. They are praised, and rightly so, by the writers who lap up and thoroughly chew on everything out of their pen. WE LOVE YOU READERS. Readers can do no wrong!

Except when… they think that they are now the author. This is VERY RARE. But it happens enough that all authors will eventually come across a reader who thinks that they can rewrite your book. Now I don’t mean the awesome suggestions of where things definitely need fixing. I am talking about comments like “I know this is a children’s chapter book, BUT if your book ended with everyone dead in a horrific earthquake and your main character makes love to Greg and this is how…” …Well, you get the picture. Don’t rewrite the story for them. 

Have you noticed any similarities/patterns to how people get the most out of their betas?

Expectations!

Choose before anyone reads the first word, what type of beta read will be done. If you trade your 200K manuscript and they give you one paragraph saying that it confused them, and then you gave them a summery after every chapter for their 12K novella, someone is going to be pissed and feel cheated. If you have a light hearted YA fantasy and swap with a dark, fantasy erotica with triggering events and extreme violence, someone is going to be pissed and feel cheated.

Know before what you are getting into! Clearly decide which style or combinations of styles you will use in the read. Know the length and time allotted for the read. Clearly state if any of your work could be seen as unreadable to more sensitive audiences, or if there is material that you are sensitive about.

Don’t be pissed and feel cheated, especially if you didn’t decide on these things right up front.

Are there any particular stories that stand out to you, successes/failures, that you would be willing to share?

My first beta swap I knew none of this and swapped with a stranger on a reading site. Both of us were desperate to know if our books were readable. We asked no questions and swapped. I opened his email, a gay romance. I have never read any LBGT books and hated romances. But I read it. A few days later he calls me, and is shocked that my book is science fiction. He had never read a science fiction before and hated the genre. After we laughed and teased each other for several minutes, we agreed to finish. His book was very enjoyable and he gave me great feedback. So you never know till you try. But you have to try.

Last year I tried to write in a genre out of my comfort zone, and drafted a new experimental book. I spent two weeks feverishly writing it and at the end, I hated it. Although not horrible, the humor read flat, the drama too severe, and the romantic scenes read like a science experiments on hormones. But that is how I felt about any book in that genre. Who was I to judge? It might have been a hidden masterpiece. (NOT!) But since it was short, I hoped that my readers wouldn’t die of repulsion before they got to the end. Boy, was I wrong! 

I left it up to them how they wanted to read and asked one question. Do you like it?

I see myself as scientifically minded and attack these reads as from an experimental perspective. A test book needs all the data points you can get. Some of the data will be low, others will be high. When you see your book fitting right in the mean lane, then it is ready for publishing, but you need a lot of points and several revisions and tests to determine that result.

I got the book back from three readers. None answered my question. That should have told me all that I needed to know. But no! I was not satisfied. I needed data points. I pressed for more info. Asked in several different ways. One reader went off on a long tangent, basically rewriting the characters whole back story. Others offered vague suggestions that I got absolutely nothing from, or so I thought. My spouse read the comments and told me, “They hate it and are being nice.”

So I did what most authors of badly reviewed pieces do, I sulked. Hid in my room and went off line for several days. All over a crap piece I’d only spent two weeks on and already hated. Wow. How pathetic. 

So sometimes beta reading hurts, but now that I’ve had time to ponder on my shelved attempt at romance, I see that those readers saved me. I could see where my story failed and how to fix it. I could have wasted more time on things that weren’t me. I’d gained experience and learned from my mistakes. My next attempt will be way better, all because now I know my strengths and weaknesses.

No book should ever be published without several thorough beta reads.

What was the last book you thought was awesome?

There have been so many. Immy Keeper’s Red Gardens really impressed me. I normally don’t like romances but hers surprised me. I loved Kathy Steinemann’s Nag, Nag, Nag. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, Jack Campbell’s Stark series. Brandon Sanderson is always on my reading list. I just read Far From the Madding Crowd, so different from the movie. Unlike the movie, it was hilarious. 

Do you have a favorite food and what is it?

Bacon. Every ones favorite food should be bacon. It should be its own food group. 

Is there anything else you want people to know about you, betas, or writing?

Do it! If you never try, you will never succeed. There is a quote from Theodor Roosevelt that I love, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” (Theodor Roosevelt excerpt from “Citizen in a Republic” 1910)

People are afraid if they try they might fail. But the real failure is never to try. If you try and do not succeed, that is not failure. It is practice. And practice is the only way to master anything. Master your writing. (N. Noel Fudge “An interview with Paul” 2016) ;)