What the heck is a Beta Reader?

I’m taking a break. Mostly, because it took so long to get this story down, I struggled with the last half. Eventually, the beginning became a problem, too.

The first half was easy to write because I had a clear picture of what I wanted to happen with Nick and Meredith. The storyline was less important. Then, as you may have read months ago, I connected (on Facebook) with Mike Brown. Mike and I worked together at Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). Although my tenure was three short years (1991-1993), I remembered Mike Brown’s reputation as an experienced, educated and common sense-supervisor. When I asked him to take a look at my outline for authenticity, he was enthusiastic and helpful.

Be careful what you ask for.

FBI Profiles of Evil

Tactfully, Brown told me the story premise was all wrong. WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT (WMA)is set in northern Sonoma County, California. It’s a rural, sometimes remote region patrolled by the county sheriff. As a veteran of SCSO Violent Crimes Investigations (VCI) sergeant, Brown had responded to these hills for a homicide investigation just as my hero in this story, Nick Reyes, does.

So when Mike Brown said my story couldn’t happen, I listened. Enter the readers “suspension of disbelief.” To put it succinctly, a fiction author writes a situation that cannot happen in a way that makes the reader think, “This could happen.”

Lincoln 9“Suspension of disbelief” is very different from authenticity. Suspension refers mainly to situations, where authenticity is the real deal procedurally. For instance: CSI, the TV series, has frustrated so many law enforcement professionals because of their unbelievable situations.

The premise of my story just didn’t work. So I swallowed my pride, tossed the first third and set about re-structuring the story. It meant giving up carefully crafted scenes that any reader with a background in law enforcement would know weren’t the real deal. Knowing early enough to do a re-write was a blessing in disguise. WMA turned out better than I could have hoped. Still in need of polishing for authenticity, I’ve turned to my peers for their expert advice.

Above is a dramatic example of what Beta Readers can do for a story. I have chosen five retired law enforcement professionals to read my book for realism. Three were authors I met through Public Safety Writers Association—Pete Klismet, retired FBI Profiler and author of FBI DIARY-Portrait of Evil; Dave Freedland, retired Deputy Chief of Irvine Police Department and author of LINCOLN 9, and John Schembra, retired sergeant with Pleasant Hill Police Department and author of RETRIBUTION. All three men have something to offer both as writers and cops.

Retribution

My last two Beta Readers are not authors. Tim Miller, retired CHP Air Operations sergeant from Napa is reading for helicopter veracity and finally but not least, Mike Brown.

I’m on pins and needles until I hear from them.

For the next month, I’m not writing although I have already plotted out the next story in my mind. I’m catching up on closet organization, yard work and other things I’ve let lapse for writing.

When I get the first manuscript back from one of the Beta Readers, you can bet I’ll drop my trowel and get to work making changes.

–Thonie