Great interview with a writer you should be reading.
This post is brought to you by a random person’s ludicrous assumption that writers who swear (in their books or in any other medium in which they choose to write ‒ yes, even social media) are held to some imaginary higher standard because they should be “capable of being far more eloquent”.
Fuck that noise.
This was in relation to an opinion piece, and much “offence” was taken by the use of the ‘c-word’ (not actually used in the piece), and the ‘f-word’, and the further assertion that the use of those words was especially offensive to women.
She found them offensive, I did not. I am woman, hear me swear. This, somehow, makes me a bad feminist, writer, and woman? Not sure really. Because again, fuck that noise. You’re not my gatekeeper. You’re not the gatekeeper for all women, everywhere, at any given time. Like ever.
I swear. A lot. I use fuck as a noun, a verb, an adjective and have, on occasion, used it as an adverb. I use it to describe things, decry things, denounce and deny things. I use it to uplift, to cheer, to encourage without fear. I use it to heal, in solidarity, to proclaim and protest. I use it as a weapon, a shield; hell, I’ve used it in jest. Don’t tell me it’s only for characters who are villainous, don’t equate it with rape on your soapbox of innocence. I’ll use the word however I choose – my life, my story, my fucking muse.
And I’ll do it in goddamn rhyme.
I’m a writer – words are my playground. All of them. I can use any I like, any that fit the idea, the narrative, the exposition, voice, character, dialogue I’m wanting to convey. I write horror and grimdark, there’s going to be ‘the swears’. As an editor, it’s my business to know words, their context, their use as storytelling and character devices. This includes all the swears.
And all the swears includes the word ‘cunt’. Yes, I use it. And I own it when I use it. I use it in writing, in dialogue – for characters and in my own. I’ve been called it and called out for it; don’t wear it, don’t use it. It’s offensive, derogatory, demeaning and vulgar. It’s a word that I’ll use, and you need to get over it.
So don’t come at me with your holier-than-thou attitude when you clearly don’t want to debate.
There are those who boo-hoo writers who use curse words in their writing, that it shows classlessness, an inability to write and use words “they” find offensive. That a “true” writer would find other words to get their point across… because by all the gods, vanilla writing that all sounds the same is exactly what readers want. Yes, let’s censor our characters! Why say: “off you fuck” when the snark of “off you fudge” falls so much better from cursed lips. Let’s not be reflective of a character’s true nature, let’s not let natural dialogue flow, or be true to ourselves or our stories.
I’m not going to censor my characters, and I’m sure as shit not going to censor myself because someone else thinks I’m doing things “wrong.” Thing is, I understand that all the swears may not be for you, and that’s fine – you do you. But don’t tell me that I can’t call myself a feminist because I say ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ or any other manner of the swears I deem appropriate for me (or my characters). You don’t like it? Well, I’d say you can “fudge” right off.
So we’ve talked about editors and how to find them, now let’s chat about the unsung heroes and heroines of the publishing process: BETA READERS.
You’re damn right I put that in caps ‒ they deserve all the accolades they get.
For those unfamiliar with the term, beta readers are those who provide feedback on unpublished work before it goes to an editor. They are an essential cog in the machine that is publishing. Beta readers provide an objective overview from a reader’s perspective while giving insight into character(s) arc, plot, world-building, narrative style, and any inconsistencies.
So when should you engage betas?
You’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story, you’re probably sick of the sight of it, and you’re at that point where it needs another set of eyes (or three) to see how it’s holding up. Enter your beta readers. Now it’s imperative to point out that beta readers are not editors. You may be lucky enough that one of your betas is an editor, and may pick up spelling and grammar issues, but that’s not their role and it would be pretty uncool to ask them to do so while also providing story feedback.
There are a couple of ways to approach beta reading. You can make a list of things you’d like your betas to look for: eg. character agency and development, any plot holes, narrative style, and even something as simple as: does it make sense. Super-organised writers sometimes provide their beta readers with a checklist or a framework from which to work. Others just let their beta readers have at it, where they can provide feedback via electronic notes on the document, or just provide an overview at chapters’ end or at the completion of the tale.
The thing here is to be clear about what it is you’re looking for from your beta readers, and can they do so within a time-frame. Yes, a time-frame is necessary, especially if you’re working to a deadline. Just be realistic.
Art by BangBang Tshirts
So where do you find these mythical creatures?
I’m hoping you have a community you can tap into. This is a big ask of someone, and generally it’s an unpaid project. Reciprocity is your friend here – if you ask someone to beta read for you, don’t be a twat and decline if they ask it of you.
There are groups on Goodreads that offer beta reading, but like with anyone you engage to assist with your book, be discerning in your choices. Hit up your social media sites, ask for recommendations. There are also paid sites that have beta readers; again, be discerning.
You’ll have noticed that I’m using the plural here, because you’re going to need more than one beta reader. I’d suggest at least three, but no more than four. Having too many eyes go over your story and the waters may start to get muddy.
When it comes to choice, try to find those who read in your genre (or alongside it), and even one who doesn’t – mainstream readers will give you insight into readability across the spectrum. Don’t ask a relative unless you’re sure they’re going to give you honest feedback, not just what you want to hear.
And that leads into the next part of the beta reader process: YOU.
If you ask for honest feedback (which is a given, right? Right?) then don’t get all precious, don’t take it personally, and for the love of all things holy and unholy, don’t get angry at them or their feedback. They’ve given freely of their time, provided honest insight in a bid to help you with your book. Be professional. Should you not agree with some of the feedback, you don’t have to take it on. Although should more than one of your beta readers pick up the same thing, then you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed.
Again: don’t be precious.
In the end, it will be your decision what to take on, and what to let go. But you’re cultivating relationships here, be professional. And be thankful. Beta readers are helping you. Appreciate and respect that.
So we’ll end on some bullet points:
- Find at least three beta readers – some that read in your genre and, if you can, one that doesn’t. Tap your community (writer community, social media et al.) for beta readers or suggestions; check Goodreads, or websites that offer the service.
- Be discerning in your choices, clear in your decisions.
- Ask for honest feedback and mean it – don’t be precious.
- Provide guidelines for what you’re looking for with the beta read, and ask if it can be met within a realistic time-frame.
- Reciprocity is your friend – if someone you’ve approached is a writer, offer to beta read for them (and mean it).
- Be professional. You may not agree with/like the feedback you receive, but this isn’t about you, it’s about getting the best out of your story. Leave your ego behind.
- You don’t need to take on every point your beta reader makes; the decision to move forward with alterations or not, rests with you.
- If more than one of your beta readers points out the same issue – it’s an issue.
- Don’t be precious (yes, it needs reiteration).
Remember, beta readers are the heroines and heroes of your publishing journey, be respectful to and thankful for them – they’ve earned it.