Beta Me This: Adventures in Editing

“Another telling word!” my beta cries, or so I imagine, as I read their 64th comment on my 5,500 word story, The Lady Koi. “And here, this is unnecessary! Cut it.”

Snip, snip, cut, cut.

Usually, when I go looking for beta readers, I keep in mind the old adage, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. I rarely request more than two people to look over my work. However, I decided to cast a wider net of opinion for this story, because it is one I am particularly proud of, and I was also a little worried that some of the foreign (Japan) elements weren’t translating well to the page.

I had nine different beta readers for The Lady Koi.

And let me tell you something: if you give a fish to nine different cooks, you’re going to get nine different meals.

It was a really great experience, to see all of the different reactions, though there was that moment of panic when I opened up the file and was greeted by a column of notes:

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And, because I made the mistake of letting myself get attached to this story on an emotional level, there were a few minutes of tears when I inevitably got comments like “Cut this.” or “Totally unnecessary.” But, in all of that, I did see something clear: my story was eliciting a reaction in people, which is the most important part of writing, in my opinion.

Also, some passages that got the red “rework” from some readers, received a “Love this!” from others. A good case in point is the prologue for the story. These days, prologues are considered one of the “sins” of fantasy writing. But for The Lady Koi, which is written as a dark fairy tale, I felt the prologue was important to set the tone of the story. It even begins with “Long, long ago…”

Another passage, in which my main character, Sairyu, is attacked by demons had a single sentence (in yellow) that made a bunch of readers laugh. However, comments from others made me decide to edit it, in the end.

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Having so many beta readers made the final editing process of The Lady Koi difficult, but ultimately, I think the story improved greatly from it. It was also really fun to see all the different ways people beta. I had cheerleaders, “perfectly frank” readers, readers who encouraged me with comments like “Come on, kid, I know you can do better than this.” I think if you can approach a beta’s comments with an open mind, you can really discover a lot about your story, and how readers will see your story. You just have to be prepared to also hear something like “Yawn.”

The Lady Koi will be featured in an upcoming charity anthology, Darkly Never After, of which I have designed both the cover and written the back blurb. This anthology is set to be released before the end of the year, and will benefit a children’s charity.

Here is the cover, and an excerpt of the beginning of The Lady Koi. I hope you enjoy it.

Darkly Never After Full Cover

LONG, LONG AGO there lived a demon hunter by the name of Sairyu. To the evil forces of the world he was well known, for there was not a demon alive who could stand up to his might. In fact, Sairyu was so well known that mother demons and father demons would tell their demon children that if they did not behave, Demon-Queller Sairyu would visit them in the night to lop off all their toes.

 

This was not far from the truth. When Sairyu was only three years old, a shoe-dwelling akuma bit off his little toe. They say that Sairyu grabbed the little creature so forcefully that he ripped its head from its body. He made hair ornaments from its bones, and a magical belt from its hide, until all that was left was fat and muscle, forcing the akuma to tie its severed head under an armpit. Afterward, Sairyu decided to keep the demon as a wretched pet, and after removing all of the poor demon’s toes for good measure, gave it the undignified name of Worm.

 

Of course, Sairyu’s own toe could not be recovered, and so he grew up with a limp which in turn cultivated in him an intense hatred of demons. He trained until he was peerless in the art of slaying their kind. However, killing was not enough for him. After he disposed of one, he would poach its corpse to ensure it could not pass on to the next life, or reincarnate on any plane.

 

Despite his great violence, in the human world Sairyu was considered noble. After all, is it not a noble deed to kill a demon? Sairyu, of course, relished his notoriety, and not long after his hundredth slaying, began to charge obscene amounts for his services, until he catered to no one but those whose pockets ran as deep as the roots of the oldest trees in the forest. Money was all that mattered, and since there was no hunter better than Sairyu, the princes and emperors who appointed him were more than happy to pay his sums––so long as the demons that plagued them were eradicated.

 

But our story is not about the noble deeds of the great Demon-Queller Sairyu, nor is it about the thousand demons he slayed in his profitable career. Our story is about the day Sairyu killed the demon King Himoji, and the ruination of his fortunes thereafter.

Look for Darkly Never After in the latter half of this year. Do any of you have any fun beta stories to share?

7 thoughts on “Beta Me This: Adventures in Editing

  1. .One of the reasons that I like to have several beta readers is because I do find that different people’s perceptions can vary widely. I’ve had that situation, too, where tells me “cut this” and another person tells me “I love this,” or — more commonly — one person is confused by something and another person isn’t. I try to form long-term relationships with a few people who can beta for me regularly, so that way I know whose opinion I can trust to be objective or valueable on certain parts.

    Also, for anything you might have to cut: I have a “cutting floor” section on my tumblr account where I often post bits of writing that I had to cut but really loved. I’ve been thinking I might move it over to WordPress, actually, or have a separate one here for my fiction.

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    1. That Tumblr idea is a really good one! I only have a private forum to put my “not fit for the light of day” writing, since it may be recycled later for co-authored material.

      I like to switch up my beta readers every now and then, because I run the risk of someone getting to the point of just “liking” everything, haha. Biases as friends and the like. But, I had really good objectivity for this round. I was happy with the outcome.

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      1. That’s a good idea too, though considering some of the stream of consciousness I’ve actually posted on my blog, I may not be a good judge of what’s fit for the light of day anymore.

        Anyway, yes, I’ve had that happen too, so I usually ask some new folks and some folks I’ve known for a while.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this excerpt, Alex! You are definitely in your element when writing this type of story. And good for you for reaching out to so many beta readers (and good for them for offering helpful feedback–good betas are hard to find). I don’t generally use beta readers, but I know that when I’ve submitted work in the past, one editor will respond with a rejection outlining just what he or she didn’t like about the story, while another editor will offer an acceptance and let me know how enjoyable the story was to read. Some aspects of a story truly are subjective. Some readers will love it; others will hate it.

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