Back to the betas


At long last I’ve finished the sequel to Night Shift. Long-time readers of this blog will know it as my problem child novel; it’s taken years to get into any sort of shape, and has been through renames and remixes aplenty.

What I’d like to do now is to get it off to my editor and then hide under my desk for a few months until I get a response. I might do that anyway, but first I must take time and do my best to ensure the eventual response doesn’t draw out a guttural howl of agony. It is time to request beta-readers.

Beta-readers are saintly humans who are willing to give up their time – sometimes a lot of it – to help make your work better. They ask for no money (yet – they really should unionise), dealing only in favours; specifically, the expectation that you’ll read their blithering drivel works of undiscovered genius in return.


Beta-readers aren’t professionals; they’re not sensitivity readers and they often don’t have the experience of paid-up editors. But they’re spot-on 90% of the time. If they tell you your multi-time-frame-and-perspective-jolting climax isn’t working, they’re probably on the money.

It also helps that in many cases, these betas know you and know how to give criticism, coming as they do from that mythical group of people called ‘friends’. Sometimes payment is made in beer, wine and chocolates.

But this is the hardest time for me. I know the novel needs at least a good sanding down; there must be rough edges aplenty. There is work to be done.

But I just want to get on. On to the next one. Maybe do some real writing for once.


Schrodinger’s email

Disclaimer: This post was written about a month back but shelved as I had another idea that I thought was better. Unfortunately I’ve had a magnificently unproductive week, writing-wise, and so I’ve been unable to upload my unconscious urgencies unto my computer. So, rather than stall, prevaricate or panic – or, worse, to improvise – I’ve wheeled this out just for you.

Remember: your eyeballs and brain-cells will recover, but my reputation will never recover its sheen. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster have mercy on my soul, and may my readers have pity upon me.

Well. Another week. Another draft complete and Night Shift is back with the agent. Now I have to forget all about it as I await, anticipate and dread the response. For all we do this work – and it has been a hell of a lot of work – for these moments, nothing is quite as terrifying as receiving the E-Mail of Doom. Knowing intellectually that Yay or Nay doesn’t really mean all that much in the grand scheme of things, but still being terrified to open that email. Knowing that a no is much, much more likely and yet still fearing rejection and still feeling the pain in an almost visceral way.

Schrodinger’s email could sit in the inbox forever unopened. If it’s unread then it must contain both a yes and a no. Only the act of reading will collapse the waveform, let the phase-space disintegrate and leave you with a cold, hard, irrevocable Answer.

I suppose really I should take a little time off now – or, failing that, get back to work on Night Shift’s sequels. Or even look at a Plan B and consider self-publication or testing out other avenues of agency/publication. Nuts to that. I need a break. I desperately need to get out of Antarctica. So I’m going back to the world of dreams to actually write something new.

I’m a grafter. I am not given to genius, I’m stolid, persistent and dull. The actual act of creation doesn’t come along too often; maybe I’ll write something new and unique once every eighteen months. The rest of my time is spent nibbling away at editing and redrafting and agonising over the placement of individual commas and semi-colons. The chance to actually write doesn’t come along too often.

I don’t mind this: it’s the puzzler in me, the workhorse – and, for people like me, it’s what writing is. But still, there’s nothing to compare with the white-hot joy of creation, when you get far enough along the story that all the pieces fall into place and you’re writing downhill again…

It’s time to reboot. It’s time to use all the skills I’ve learnt over the last year – to focus on what I’ve found are my weaknesses and grow them into strengths. To realise that I have, in previous novels, failed to consider plot deeply enough and especially characterisation, and start again.

It’s time to write a new story.