Revisions, Writing Craft

What can a Beta Reading service offer you?

I first met my wonderful Beta Reader, Marion, when His Brand Of Beautiful, published by Escape Publishing, was released in March 2013. At the time, I approached Marion (who reviews for the US website, Ravishing Romances, as Musing Maddie) to review His Brand Of Beautiful for me.

That review sparked one of those ‘online’ friendships you sometimes get where two people just click. One of the most interesting things is, Marion didn’t 4 or 5-star rate my book. She gave it 3 stars and a very honest, tactful review that included the things she loved about my book, and what she felt I needed to “unpack” more. I continue to love that phrase!

I remember Marion saying in an email to me after the review that she hoped her review hadn’t “discouraged” me. Why would it? 3 stars meant she liked it. Her review included this section:

“From the outset, their interactions were snarky, heated and volatile. Their attraction 978085799030311.jpg– instantaneous and sizzling. His Brand of Beautiful had a little bit of drama, witty humor and entertaining interaction between characters. Lily Malone’s descriptive prose was enchanting.”

How could any debut author not take positives out of a review like that?

Marion and I became Facebook friends and she offered at the time to Beta Read for me at a later date and I’ve just taken that offer up with my new novella, The Goodbye Ride. This time I’m self-publishing, mostly because my book is set over the June Queen’s Birthday long weekend and it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity to publish it in time for May/June.

The way I see it, there is a step between Critique Partner and book Publisher/Editor – and Marion’s Beta Reading & Proof Reading services sit right in that pocket. If you’re self-publishing, the opportunity for your book to be seen through such qualified eyes is gold.

Marion says:

“In the past, authors turned to editors at publishing houses and fellow authors for storyline advice. The self-publishing generation realises the value of cutting out the middle-man and hearing directly from the readers.  I’m an avid reader and I know there’s nothing more frustrating than stumbling over errors that detract from a story. It’s very easy to miss simple spelling errors, punctuation or timeline errors when you’re familiar with your own writing.

“I like books with meat, that are not completely predictable and that keep their readers invested. I’m not good at accepting mediocre, so I challenge authors to dig a little deeper. I take time to consider what an author needs from me to help them create the best they’re capable of creating.”

I would add right here: Editors/Publishers read and reject a lot of books and read and accept a fair share too. Generally in this day and age, I think it’s fair to say Publishers/Editors don’t have a lot of time to spend tweaking a manuscript so it’s important it is in the best place it can be when you either provide it to a publisher, or self-publish it. I’ve been impatient before, and I’ve learned the hard way that impatience prior to making submissions isn’t a good mix! Note to self, Lily Malone, DO send your manuscript to Critique Partners/Beta Readers first!

Marion says:

“A Beta reader can provide the author with feedback such as strengths and weaknesses, timeline, character and plot inconsistencies, whether any laws of physics were broken, and whether or not they liked the story. Which scenes did they love? Did they laugh, cry, sigh etc. Was the story believable and was it credible.

“A proof reader can go a step further providing light copy-edits, and highlight text that might require re-phrasing, deletion or inclusion. Often, as authors become familiar with their work, it is easy to fall in love with a scene, thus becoming blind to its shortcomings. A proof reader can lend the scene a new set of eyes and give options for the author to consider, if it is not working in their eyes.”

In her Beta reading of The Goodbye Ride, Marion gave me what I like to term, “a lightbulb moment’. I like writing dialogue and while people tend to say that dialogue is one of my strengths, I can also be guilty of ‘telling’ my story through dialogue.

Cover design by Wendy Johnston of Bright Eyed Owl.
Cover design by Wendy Johnston of Bright Eyed Owl.

To illustrate, let me show you the version Marion read as Beta Reader, with where this scene is now.

Scene 1: (and the ‘chunk’ he refers to is a chunk of hair, for your context). The comments in bold are Marion’s.

Owen moved closer, trapping Liv between his big body and the Hyundai’s back wheel. “This damn chunk falls across your eye all the time. I can’t look at it without wanting to do…this.” He picked it up, tucked it behind her ear, and turned her insides into butterfly jelly.

“We’re going out tonight.” Owen scorched a kiss across her temple, so that it felt like a circle of flame branded her skin. “I’ll see you at your place about seven.”

“Where are we going?” I was expecting a ‘she breathed’

“It’s a surprise.”

She could feel pink flushing up her throat. “Do I need riding leathers?”

“Wear them if you want, but we’re not going riding tonight.” His mouth feathered from her temple, down her jaw, each breath hot with promise.

Liv shivered. “I never really liked surprises.”

“You’ll love this one.” I haven’t read the next bit to this yet, but what is happening for Liv at this point? What is her response to his proclamation of a surprise? I don’t know if it really matters, but you want to avoid letting the dialogue do all the talking if that makes sense. 

Did it make sense? I thought dialogue was showing not telling… but when Marion picked this particular point up a few more times in the manuscript, that’s when it clicked. I also kept remembering that keyword from her review of His Brand Of Beautiful. ‘Unpack more’. So here is this scene now. No doubt about it, when Lily Malone unpacks… she shakes out the whole dang suitcase!

Revised scene: 

Owen moved closer and Liv lost sight of his aunt’s retreating back and the camellia trees flanking the front steps. She couldn’t see anything but the solid wall of his chest and the mesmerising rise of his hand as he lifted it toward her face. “How can I think about transfer papers when this damn chunk of hair falls across your eye like that? How can I look at it without wanting to do…this.”

He tucked the stray hairs behind her ear. Roughened fingertips skimmed her earlobe, caressed the skin of her neck, and Liv felt all the breath squeeze from her lungs. Could Owen feel her pulse? Surely he could hear it?

“How should we celebrate all our hard work, Liv?”

“I don’t care,” she said. And she didn’t. Anywhere with him was fine.

“Should I surprise you?”

Liv had three pairs of jeans in her wardrobe, including the pair she now wore. She hoped he wasn’t thinking of anywhere too ritzy. “I never really liked surprises.”

Owen’s eyebrows arched. “You’ll ride the flying fox in the school playground but you don’t like surprises?”

“At least give me a clue about what to wear. I can hardly drag out the party heels if we’re riding the bike again.” That’s if I owned party heels.

“You’d look good in anything,” Owen said, banishing all thought of footwear from her brain as his mouth brushed her temple. “You’d look incredible in nothing.”

The husky promise in his voice—his hot breath on her skin—it turned her knees to jelly.

Owen breathed her scent, his nose in her hair. He nibbled a path around her ear. A shudder racked her body and she surrendered to the delicious things he was doing with his lips. Liv closed her eyes, slid her hands up his bare arms, great arms, shaping the muscles she felt there, loving the underlying strength.

It took a raucous whistle from the house to break through Liv’s trance.

“Bloody Mark,” Owen muttered against her jaw, lifting his head.

She took the chance to sidle sideways and hook her fingers under the door handle, her face flushed from a hot mix of embarrassment and desire. Owen held the door for her while she settled behind the wheel, glad to be sitting so he wouldn’t see her legs shake.

“Drag out the party heels if you like, Lovely. We’re not going riding tonight,” he said, big fingers splayed loosely against the window. “Tonight I want to end up somewhere with you that’s much more comfortable than the back of a bike.”

Another up and coming Aussie author, who is a great proponent for self-publishing and for self-promotion is the author of A Beautiful Struggle, A Beautiful Forever (with a new book, Alter, about to be published) Lilliana Anderson.

Lilliana also has Marion on her team of Beta readers, and this is her take on what Marion can provide:Lilliana

“I need someone to pull apart my work and ask lots of questions. While it’s great having someone take a look at it and shout ‘Yay! Awesome!’ it’s not really conducive to the type of work I am trying to put out there. Some may have been happy with me releasing the book on the first draft and I’m not happy enough with that. That’s why I need Marion! I NEED her.”

Marion has now made her services more ‘official’ and has set up a new website with more information. She says her aim is: To provide authors with an affordable proof or beta reading service, which helps produce a clean manuscript, enabling readers to remain engrossed in the story – rather than distracted by avoidable editing blips. I offer kind, honest comments laced with good humor and integrity.”

While she can tailor her services to each author, she identifies three levels of service:

  • Developmental Editing
  • Beta Read with in-manuscript commentary
  • Beta Reading

If you’re interested, please visit her website

Now get ready Marion. You have one final read of The Goodbye Ride to get through!

Left Field With Lily

Left Field With Lily: Lilliana Anderson

Lilliana Anderson self-published two books in what she’s called, The Beautiful series. A Beautiful Struggle and A Beautiful Forever. A Beautiful Forever is her current release and she’s head down, backside up, on a new novel, Alter, due out next month.Lilliana

Lilliana and I clicked from the start. How can you not click when two people called Lily and Lilliana each release books with ‘beautiful’ in the title in the same launch month?

When I first ‘met’ Lilliana, A Beautiful Forever was ranking in the double digits for sales on Kindle, and it’s still sitting in the top 50 in the category ‘Coming Of Age’. Consider me uber-impressed! Did I mention she is a mum to four (yes, four) and wife?
Make that: Super-uber-impressed!

She is a fun personality who promotes author-love and ethics within self-publishing wherever she goes. Plus she is the first person I can turn to when I have a Facebook question, such as: How do you get a heart symbol? Answer < and the 3.

In short. Lilliana inspires me and it’s wonderful to have her as my guest today on my infrequent interview post: Left Field With Lily.

LM: Would you please share with us the opening paragraph of your current book or WIP, in at least two stages? 

First draft:

I’m standing in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, training one of my regular clients when I look up and see her, her movement is unmistakable. The two years I spent trying to get over her just fell away and I’m taken right back to where I was, wanting her, wishing I could touch her. There’s a pain in my chest when she looks at me and I see the recognition dawn on her.

Final version

Encouraging the sweaty, grunting man in front of me to tuck his knees closer to his chest as he does mountain climbers, I distractedly scan the people and the scenery in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, as I do every time I bring a client here.

LM: What is your greatest ‘lightbulb moment’ in terms of Writing Craft. 

LA: I had a big problem with show vs tell. I didn’t quite understand what it was I was doing wrong. Eventually one of my beta readers highlighted a section in the draft for this book and said – ‘Look! Right here. You’re telling me this – I want to see it’ and then it clicked. Hopefully I have the hang of it a bit better now!

LM: What keeps you awake at night?

LA: My three year old! LOL.

LM: If you could choose three items on the list below to take for a week camping in the Australian outback, which three would you pick? (You can assume there are magical batteries for anything requiring power).

  • ipod
  • kindle
  • your favourite paperback
  • your significant other
  • I will take my chances on there being a gorgeous girl, or gorgeous man (whichever the case may be) to help me pitch my tent
  • food I don’t have to catch first
  • wine
  • battery-powered Nespresso & endless supply of Pods (and George Clooney – no, that’s cheating – no George)
  • a torch in case the candles go out
  • moisturiser/cosmetics/hairbrush
  • change of clothes
  • mobile phone/internet connection for twitter & FB (definitely my mobile, because it has music, books, facebook, email, twitter – everything I’d want to stay entertained and connected)

LM: So food, wine & communication. You might be a bit ON the nose, but you’ll be IN the know… (baaad joke).

LM: My book (released in March with Escape Publishing) is called His Brand Of Beautiful. Can you tell me what you would describe as ‘your brand of beautiful’ – in terms of your current partner? 

LA: He’s actually sitting right next to me – so I’d better make this good in case he looks over! One thing I find beautiful about my husband is his thoughtfulness. He works in hospitality, and every Sunday he finishes work early and stops off at my favourite coffee shop to bring me a coffee so we can sit and talk for the afternoon.

A lot of the time he produces a piece of paper for me to read. He cuts out articles from the paper that I might like and sometimes he has an idea for a future book that he writes down for me.

For my birthday, he filled a book with story ideas for me to show me how supportive he was of my work.

So that’s what I find beautiful, he doesn’t do grand gestures, because he knows I don’t want that – it’s the little thoughtful things that really matter for me and keep me smiling.

LM: Awww…. he sounds wonderful!

booktitleLM: Can you tell me the best thing about A Beautiful Forever? Who would absolutely love it?

LA: Originally I wanted to call this book A Beautiful Redemption (I came across another book with the same name so I changed it) because Elliot, who is the character that I carried over from A Beautiful Struggle, really redeems himself in this one.

We see him come into his own in this book and fight for what he really wants.

Everyone who loved Elliot in A Beautiful Struggle will love this book and so will anyone who loves a good romance about a couple who won’t let anything get in their way. I wrote this book so it could be read on its own, you don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy this one.

LM: Can you share your favourite 250 words from A Beautiful Forever and tell us why they’re your favourite part?

LA: I have a couple of parts that I’d love to share, but they’d really ruin the story line. This is the ‘safest’ of my favourite parts in Elliot and Paige’s story. They are at a bed and breakfast on their last weekend together before Elliot has to fly back to Australia.

A Beautiful Forever is written in a dual point of view – this section is in Paige’s voice.

“I just want you to know that I’ve never been happier than when I’m with you. I want you to know that I – ”

“Don’t Elliot,” I say quickly, cutting him off. “Don’t say anything to make this harder. I’m staying and you’re going. Please don’t try and change that.”

“It doesn’t have to end when I go Paige, you could come with me – or I could come back – or you could come with me and then we both come back,” he argues regardless. “Don’t end this Paige, you know how I feel about you, even if you don’t want to hear it, and I’m pretty sure you feel the same way about me. We can do this Paige; we can do this anywhere you want, any country you want. I just want you.”

Tears are threatening to spill from my eyes as I pull my robe back over my shoulders and close it tightly around me. “Elliot, you can do so much better than me. Why are you pushing this?”

“Because I love you damn it!” he yells suddenly, his outburst scaring the shit out of me as he jumps off the bed and starts to pace the room. I sit there, trying not to cry as I watch him work through his emotions. When he stops and looks at me his eyes are shining as well. “Why won’t you tell me what makes you so sad? Why don’t you trust me enough to love you no matter what you may have done?”

If you’d like to find out more about Lilliana and her books, it’s easy.

Visit her website and blog

Find her on facebook or Goodreads or Twitter

Buy A Beautiful Forever at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Kobo

A Beautiful Forever comes with a Mature Content Warning.

After ruining the best relationship he has ever had, Elliot’s life takes a turn for the worse and he isn’t happy with who he’s become.

Deciding to spend three months in the UK on a working visa, in a bid to find himself again, he boards a plane to London. During the flight he meets Paige, a fellow Aussie with a closed heart and a lot to hide.

The closer he gets to Paige the more he’s sure that she’s hiding something. Will it be enough to send him running? Or does he love her enough to fight this time?

This is Elliot’s story after A Beautiful Struggle, it can be read on it own but Lilliana says you will have better understanding of Elliot’s character if you meet him in book one first.