Beta Testing A Novel

Posted by Doug Shidell, October 28th, 2020

Beta testing is the final round of testing before a product is released to a wide audience. It usually refers to software releases, but it can have a role in publishing a novel, especially one that hasn’t been locked into print.

I didn’t set out to do Beta testing. My goal was to get the novel in front of friends and family, and to get feedback. If the feedback was good, I would continue promoting it. If it was negative, or indifferent, I would call it a day and move on. Later, after getting feedback from half a dozen readers, I realized that a third option was possible.

On a scale of one to five, I was getting threes. “More good than bad,” as one reader put it. Three isn’t good enough to get enthusiastic about, but not bad enough to toss the whole thing into a digital dumpster.

I took a dive into the reasons behind the mixed reactions. For one reader, it was the distraction of grammatical errors and misuse of capitalization. Two readers, neither of them bicyclists, got bogged down with technical details about bike equipment, and all readers felt the book started out slowly, then picked up halfway through.

Hearing that the last half of the book read well was encouraging. Could the first half be improved to match it? The first step was to hire a copy editor to catch the grammatical mistakes. That was embarrassing. I notice grammatical errors, and couldn’t believe I had let so many get through.

Then I read the book from start to finish, but with a focus on the first half. The stumbling blocks jumped out. Those technical details about bike parts and lengthy descriptions of bike rides were jarring, especially when read from the perspective of a non-bicyclist. They were a rich vein to mine.

My writing is better when tightly edited, so reducing the page count became a goal, but removing words just to reduce the page count is haphazard and destructive. The sentence has to be read to make sure it still holds together, then the paragraph has to be evaluated, perhaps the whole page or even a chapter. If it all holds together, I forget what was removed and the scene flows smoothly. I repeated the process multiple times and reduced the first hundred pages to ninety. Those ninety pages more closely match the flow of the last half of the book.

“On His Own Terms” is being formatted into a digital file and will be updated on Amazon and other formats within a week. Then I have to wait again to get reader reactions. Those reactions will determine my next steps.

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