How Beta Readers Helped My Book

I sent my latest manuscript to a couple of beta readers. I’ve found them helpful in the past. I tend to experiment a little with the linear structure of novels. I’m never sure, though, if doing so would confuse readers. In cases like this I think beta readers can give good feedback. Maybe, better than editors distracted by grammatical and stylistic issues. But betas are useful only if they’re like the audience a story would appeal to.

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Agnieszka is a combined sequel/prequel and that can be a problem. Usually, a reader gets either, not both, in one book. But I wanted a fairly realistic representation of how we sometimes learn about things. Many times, it’s only when something else has happened that we look back on an experience. Looking back on it, we finally realize it’s important. So, I decided to write a sequel/prequel novel. I chose to separate those sections into different chapters to preserve the distinction between them. The sequel parts went into two prologue chapters and in an epilogue. Mais, non.

My chapters successfully separated the prequel from the sequel but they also toned down the themes that drove me to write the story in the first place. Themes introduced in the prologues. Not at all my intention.

Problems arose mainly from relegating the sequel to chapters which I titled Prologue. Readers, I think, assume prologues are like adjuncts to the main story.

Maybe, I merely misunderstood the purpose of a prologue. But I’ve found that it’s actually been used in many different ways. And, it seems, it’s also subject to fads. Right now, it’s not trendy to use them. Just who originated that mindset, I can’t say.

So, I’ve revised the book and much as I liked my originally less linear storyline, I’ve also reorganized. The novel now follows conventional timelines, which are more suitable for plot-driven genre novels.

I have another problem relating to genre. Because I was a psychology major, I can’t help delving deeper into characters’ psyches. In other words, although I like novels to have engaging storylines (the lack of which made Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady a little more tedious to read), I prefer those that are also strong on character development (which motivated me to finish the aforementioned novel despite my exasperation with Isabel, The Lady).

Exploring a character’s inner life is a rather scarce literary commodity nowadays. We love action and anything else that gets our adrenaline going. A character’s musings on what she’s witnessing or her brooding about feelings slows action down. Maybe, it’s the downside (or upside, depending on your values) of our high-tech society of fast and vast information.

Anyway, I’ve eliminated “Prologue” in the titles of the first two chapters, to give them—at least in the mind of prologue-phobic readers—equal weight as the other chapters. It’s amazing what that one word in a title can do to direct, or shape, or bias (take your pick) a reader.

Thanks to my beta readers, reorganizing parts did help the flow and alerted me to a problem I wasn’t aware I had. If you’re interested in a taste of Hello Agnieszka, click here.

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