Lightening strikes and hoards: the critical role of beta readers

I want to start this by insisting that, although I am a novice author, I am not a novice writer. During the decades in which I pined to be a published author of fiction I had no choice, as an Intelligence officer in the Air Force, but to become somewhat proficient with writing. That being said, we all know how hard it is to jump from technical writing to creative writing, as the two are so very different. But still, I have always been (in my own mind, if nowhere else) a fairly strong writer.

Now, you might be thinking “Why is this guy so defensive all of a sudden? Chill out.” Well,

Who is your editor?

the reason I’m suddenly insecure is I’ve started receiving feedback from my beta readers on my novella, THE PRINCE OF GRAVES. And WOW, I cannot believe the mistakes they’re catching. When I sent my manuscript off to my beta readers, I warned them that there were still some “soft spots” that I would be working on while they had my story. And sure enough, these have been identified by the readers that have responded so far. That was expected.

Not expected were the bone-headed mistakes I made consistently through the manuscript. I’m embarrassed even to say this, but I need to make a point, so here goes: at least 17 times, instead of using the word “lightning”, I wrote “lightening.” On two occasions, I used the word “hoard” (you know, as in a treasure trove), instead of the word “horde”, as in a group of lots of people. Seriously.

Now, I am fully aware of the proper spelling and use of lightning, lightening, hoard, and horde. I have no problem whatsoever in wielding these staple words of the fantasy genre. Yet somehow my eyes never noticed what I had done, and as I read the feedback of Steve Umstead (the writer of the most excellent Gabriel’s Journey scifi triliogy), shock and embarrassment vied together for supremacy.

As my rage (which trumped both shock and embarrassment) subsided, I decided I needed to capture this lesson and share it. As a writer, particularly as an indie writer, I absolutely need more sets of eyes than just mine on my manuscript. I’m simply too close to the story, and clearly my brain skimmed right by these egregious mistakes. I’ve been so eager to publish THE PRINCE OF GRAVES that I expected to do a quick turn edit with my beta reader responses and then debut the novella at the end of the month. Now instead, I’m taking a cautious step back.

I know my story is a good one. If I didn’t think this, I wouldn’t be publishing it. So instead of rushing to market, once I get my beta-reader edits in I’m going to ship it to a copy editor to help me make sure the novella is devoid of amateur mistakes. I am thrilled to be a writer, and I do not want the mistakes that are lingering in my editorial blind spot to convince readers that I am in fact a poor writer. My advice echoes the words of countless more experienced indie writers: get help with the edits. You can only come out ahead.

And thank you, beta readers. You’re awesome.



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6 Responses to Lightening strikes and hoards: the critical role of beta readers

  1. Terrific article. For another view on homonym errors, look at the blog:

  2. Robin says:

    As I know you are an exceptional writer, I hardly think it is worth kicking yourself for the errors you have made. I would certainly watch out for any auto-spellchecker that you might be using. I had to turn Microsoft’s spellchecker off because of a battle of choice words it was trying to correct for my papers. I have people in my college courses that still confuse their, there, and they’re! It makes me so very sad.

  3. katkasia says:

    I agree! Mine is going through the editing and proofreading stages at the moment, and my proofreader had to stop to give me a lesson on the proper use of apostrophes! Oops.

  4. Pingback: Now this is embarrassing: the lightening that would have struck twice #writing #editing | The Weathered Journal

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