This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss different ways you can utilize beta readers to help with expert knowledge and the different processes involved in doing so.


Crys: Hello and welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m your host Crys Cain with my co-host, J Thorn.

J: Hi, Crys. What’s up?

Crys: Not much in the 30 seconds since we ended the last one and moved on to this one.

The question that popped into my head as we were talking last time because we had a really good conversation on Thursday that just kind of rambled around with our three-story method editors that like covered a bunch of weird topics. Actually, I don’t even know if this was during the editor conversation or later that night during the Publish in Six conversation– two of the smaller groups we have in the community. We just had really good conversations yesterday.

And I mentioned that this week I’d brought on beta readers, which I don’t normally, do while I was writing the book. Normally if I use beta readers at all, it’s after I finish writing the book. I can’t have somebody who isn’t a co-writer in the process with me, it generally freezes me up. But I did this time, for reasons.

And so the question we’re going to be talking about is: how can you use beta readers to help with expert knowledge?

Have you ever done this before? I know that you have done beta readers before, but I don’t know. I think you’ve used expert knowledge in different ways.

J: I have. There are two ways I’ve used it that I can remember that might be relevant to the conversation. Both on the same series, which is kinda strange. But this would’ve been five or six years ago, I sent a cold email to Hugh Howie and asked if he would read the first four chapters of a book I was writing because my protagonist lived on a boat and he was sailing around the world at the time. And surprisingly, he read it and gave me feedback.

So I think seeking out an expert for a particular situation, and they don’t even necessarily have to read the entire manuscript, it could be a portion or a particular scene if you’re looking for information. So he, in fact, did read part of it and then gave me feedback.

And then in another book in the series I wanted to — it’s not a spoiler because no one’s reading this book — but I had a character who escaped via hot air balloon. And so I was like, okay, but I don’t know anything about hot air balloons. So I went online and I found — I forget the guy’s name — but there’s some guy who’s like the best in America at hot air ballooning, and he’s got like all these records and stuff. So I was like, I’m just gonna send him an email and like, hey, can I ask you some questions about ballooning? And he was like, yeah, sure. And I had a 30-minute conversation, and that informed so much about that particular story. And having that expert perspective was not something I could get from like a Google search or YouTube video because we were talking in real time and as he was answering things, I was thinking of more questions.

And that’s another way I think you can use experts in the drafting phase, as opposed to waiting until your manuscript is done.

Crys: Yeah. The reason I ended up inviting some beta readers in on the drafting phase is because I’m writing a character who has OCD. It’s a romance story, so the story isn’t about their OCD, but I got about five chapters in and realized I’d gotten in over my head.

And I know a little bit more about OCD than the average bear, just because I love learning about weird brains. And so I was like, yeah, that’s one of my excitements is writing characters who have disabilities or different brains than like your average person and learning about them and finding out about them. But I realized that to do this right without immediate feedback from lived experience, I would have to go in a massive, deep dive that would slow down my production on this book to a point that I would not be able to write this book by the deadline.

So I went to my Facebook group– and actually what triggered me to do this is we had Evan Gough of Story Origin talk to the community about Story Origin. And one of the tools they have there is a beta reader process. And so I was like, wow, that sounds a lot easier than literally every other way I’ve seen and used for beta readers. So I sent a message to my group, and was like, hey, does anyone here have OCD? I am writing an OCD character and I really want to get it right, or at least get it not damaging. Like I don’t wanna damaging portrayal of an OCD character or a stereotypical, that’s not true for version.

So I had five people respond, three people with OCD, two people who are educators who work with people with OCD. And I invited them to be part of the beta hosted on story origin. And I really like that process there. They can’t see each other’s comments, so they can’t be influenced by each other’s comments. But story origin let’s you post each chapter as its own thing. They’re required to leave a comment before they go to the next chapter, so you’re not gonna just get to the end and be like, it was good. You’re gonna be getting like thoughts all along the way and.

Then once you get that feedback, you can upload a new version with changes that you’ve made and they can go back and view your new version, or they can ignore it. It’s totally up to them. But I’ve already made like some subtle changes to the order of how things happen or some specific wording based on their feedback. And now I feel a bit more confident moving forward because I’m not gonna go off in one direction and it be completely off the rails of reality without somebody very quickly checking me on it. I’m not gonna be seven chapters down the road and then have to rewrite half those chapters because what I’ve written is not realistic at all.

J: Yeah, that’s great service. Yeah. Very helpful.

Crys: So my question for our listeners today is: how do you solicit expert advice? Do you do a lot of pre-research before you get to the writing? Do you kind of do it just in time? Reach out for people? Do you use beta readers? We’d love to know what your process is in getting your books as right as you need them.

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