Thursday, 9 July 2020

August 3 is my book launch party—and you’re ALL invited!

One of the only good things about your debut novel coming out in the midst of a global pandemic is that virtual events are more inclusive events. So, no matter where you live, I’m delighted to be able to invite you to the release event for Bronte’s Mistress, hosted by the famous Strand Book Store in NYC, but open to everyone via Zoom and Facebook Live!



What’s Bronte’s Mistress about?

Bronte’s Mistress explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family.


When is the event?

Aug 3rd—the night before the release of Bronte’s Mistress. The local time will be 7pm ET. However, my family in the UK is making it a midnight watch party. If you’re In Europe, I hope you will too!


How do I RSVP?

Click here to RSVP to the Facebook Event, and make sure you fill in the registration form to get access to the Zoom details.


What will happen during the event?

I’ll be in conversation with Joy Goodwin, American Representative of the Bronte Society, about the novel and the true history of the Lydia Robinson/Branwell Bronte affair. We’ll then open up to audience questions. These will be submitted via the Zoom chat feature, so make sure you’re watching there, rather than on the Facebook Live, if you want to participate.


How do I buy a copy of your book?

You can pre-order Bronte’s Mistress anywhere books are sold (list of suggestions here). However, if you want to support the Strand for graciously hosting the launch, please order via this link.


Can I get my book signed?

The pandemic has made this tricky, but I’m hoping to sign bookplates, which will be included with purchases made from the Strand. Keep an eye on the Facebook Event for more details on this in the next few weeks. If I know you in real life, I can of course sign your book whenever I’m next able to see you!


Will there be wine?

BYOB is strongly encouraged. ;)


Oh no! I have plans on Aug 3. Will there be any other events?

There sure will! Check out the Events page on my website for updates on events (some have yet to be announced). I’m even doing a Facebook Live reading of a passage of the novel on Jul 25, i.e. prior to the launch event. I’d love you all to join that event too!


Still have questions?

Comment below, tweet me @SVictorianist, or message me on Instagram or Facebook. I hope to see many of you on Aug 3!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

How Victorian Gothic is still inspiring writers today: a conversation with C.G. Twiles, author of The Best Man on the Planet

I can hardly believe it. The launch of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, is now only a month away! The book, as the title might suggest, is a work of historical fiction, inspired by the lives and works of the Bronte family. It’s based on a true episode in the great literary family’s history, and three of the four siblings who reached adulthood are major characters in my novel.

 

But there’s another important way in which the novels of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne continue to impact writers and bookshelves today. They are pivotal to our understanding of the Gothic genre.

 

I recently chatted to C.G. Twiles, author of The Best Man on the Planet, which the writer describes as a ‘modern Gothic romantic thriller’. I wanted to know what Gothic means today, and how the Brontes can help us understand our more modern ideas of romance and suspense.


Austin:

Thanks for chatting with me today about Gothic fiction and The Best Man on the Planet! What inspired you to write the book?

 

Twiles:

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I read it when I was 21, and, ever since then, I’ve wanted to write something similar.

 

The Best Man on the Planet isn’t a retelling, but more of an inspired update. After all, it was hard to think of a really dark secret that my ‘Mr Rochester’ (in my novel, Mr Foster) could have that would shock people these days. We’ve heard it all at this point. My title is ironic, much like The Great Gatsby. I was also tired of thrillers with the word ‘Girl’ in the title, so I came up with one that had ‘Man’.

 

I have a lot of other interests, like true crime and psychology, which I wrote about for years, and so these themes also ended up weaving their way in. And I’ve always wanted to write a big soul-mance romance. So I put all that into one book. A modern Gothic romantic thriller was the result.

 

Austin:

How would you define Gothic fiction in particular?

 

Twiles:

For me, a house that has a sinister vibe is key to a Gothic novel. It can be a mansion, a castle, an urban apartment, or a double wide, but the dwelling is a witness to all the drama, virtually another character.

 

And then there’s often a Byronic hero, which of course comes from the poet Lord Byron. A dark, brooding, usually male, character, with some kind of torturous past that punishes his present.

 

But I would argue that while Gothic fiction often centres on the tortured psyche of the male, it is really about the psyche of the female, and how she deals with it. I look at it as the male being the dark part of her psyche.

 

There are exceptions of course—in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the woman is the Byronic hero. And I haven’t read your book, Bronte’s Mistress, yet, but I’m imagining that in your novel, both Branwell and Lydia are Byronic: Branwell tortured by drink and a sense of failure, Lydia by her boring marriage and constraints of her class and era. Am I right?!

 

Austin:

No spoilers here but you may well be onto something…

 

I find a lot of your answer really interesting, especially what you said about the central role of the Gothic house. One of the things that stood out to me when reading The Best Man on the Planet was the Gothic mansion in Brooklyn that your main character, Casey, finds herself working at. How did you go about characterizing the house? Is it a real mansion?

 

Twiles:

It is real! It’s a members-only club, called The Montauk Club, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I basically described it to a T. While I was writing the book, a member allowed me inside (and bought me dinner—thank you!). You can read more about The Montauk Club on my website, www.cgtwiles.com. I hope it will survive the pandemic given that it has currently stopped all events.

 

I suppose mansions are so central to Gothic novels because of the genre’s origins. These books were often focused on the secrets and depravity of the upper classes, and those people lived in castles, estates and mansions.

 

Austin:

Speaking of the genre’s origins, do you have any favourite Gothic reads, whether classic or modern, you’d recommend?

 

Twiles:

I love anything by the Brontes. I also like middle-of-the road Gothic authors, like Dorothy Eden, and Ira Levin, who wrote Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. In Levin’s stories, there are often sinister homes and strong heroines under duress. I was really into V.C. Andrews as a kid and read all the Dollanganger series, but I tried to reread it recently and couldn’t get into it.

 

Austin:

And any favourite, or least favourite, Gothic tropes? Which can readers expect to find in your novel?

 

Twiles:

In The Best Man on the Planet, there’s crime, there’s love and sex (though not explicit), there’s a house that basically comes alive.

 

A couple of things I also did that aren’t common now in thrillers but were in Gothic fiction back in the day: I have a heroine with a strong moral centre; she is not an unreliable narrator. There’s a sense of humour threaded throughout. The Brontes were great, dry wits, and you don’t see much of that these days in thrillers; they’re all so serious from the first paragraph. But I’m not capable of writing without some humour.

 

I’m not a huge fan of the dark and stormy night trope. Charlotte Bronte made beautiful use of a storm sweeping in and splitting the huge oak tree after Rochester’s proposal to Jane, but I don’t think that can be topped, so I tend to stay away from storms. It just seems a cheap, easy way to try to get a thrill. How much more challenging is it to create a sense of dread under a clear, sunny sky?

 

Austin:

Did you also find it challenging to deal with some of the digital realities of our lives today, when writing a Gothic with a contemporary setting?

 

Twiles:

Yes. It’s hard to give characters modern technology (cell phones, texts, emails and social media), and still manage to have the staples of suspense – like characters who can’t reach each other. If you think of that great scene in Jane Eyre where she and Rochester communicate telepathically, now they’d just text each other. Not as exciting! I kept making things happen and then realising it probably wouldn’t happen that way if there was a cell phone, so I went to elaborate lengths to get rid of modern technology.

 

Austin:

What about our modern views on psychology? We’ve come along way in our understanding of the psyche since the 1840s!

 

Twiles:

I took the more up-to-date approach that our biology and brain wiring plays a huge role in our development, more than what our mother might have done to us at age five!

 

In the world I created in my novel, the brain scan has much more importance than the subconscious. I wanted to ask the question about the role our brains play in who we are—you hear about people who have a stroke and they are suddenly a completely different person! There are people who came out of strokes speaking with foreign accents, or whose sexual orientation changed, or who suddenly became math or musical geniuses.

 

So I wanted to explore that rather than the deep buried memory thing that so many thrillers are exploring. Who are we really? In the book, Mr. Foster has had a brain aneurysm that burst. He wakes up completely changed. Is he now responsible for the actions of the man he was before?

 

Austin:

People will have to read your book to find out! Thank you so much for chatting for my blog and best of luck with The Best Man on the Planet.

 

Twiles:

It was my pleasure.

 

 

The Best Man on the Planet is available for purchase on Amazon now. Find C.G. Twiles online, on Facebook, on Instagram, or on Twitter.

 

Bronte’s Mistress is available for pre-order, in hardcover, e-book and audiobook, now, and will be published August 4. Click here to attend my virtual launch event with Strand Book Store NYC on August 3, wherever you are in the world. Want to stay in touch? Sign up to my email newsletter below, or connect with me via Facebook or Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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Thursday, 25 June 2020

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Vanished Bride, Bella Ellis (2019)

It’s now a little over a month until my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, meets the world, and, between articles, podcasts and planned events, I’m currently living and breathing the Bronte sisters. Still, this did nothing to dissuade me from reading the latest book in my Neo-Victorian Voices series, which introduces us to the Bronte siblings as we’ve never seen them before.


The Vanished Bride, by Rowan Coleman (writing under the suitably Bronte-esque pseudonym Bella Ellis), came out in Fall 2019. It’s an historical mystery starring everyone’s favourite literary family as unlikely sleuths (or, as they call themselves, ‘detectors’).



The chapters alternate between Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s perspectives, as the trio (occasionally with an inebriated Branwell in tow) tries to discover what happened to a young bride whose bedroom has been found empty, but awash with blood.


The mystery is well-paced if straightforward, but the real fun of the novel comes in the sisters’ different personalities (Emily is perhaps best-drawn), and in how Ellis includes references to the sisters’ novels, suggesting that the events of the book might have inspired the siblings’ literary creations. There are governesses and ghosts, a devastating fire, and even a first wife confined to the attic.


The novel is set in 1845, just after Branwell’s dismissal and Anne’s resignation from Thorp Green Hall (major events in Bronte’ Mistress), so it was particularly enjoyable for me to see how Ellis incorporates known events in the Brontes’ lives to make their detecting feel possible in this period. The novel is also clearly marketed as the first in a series, so I appreciated the brief references to Arthur Nicholls, the man who would become Charlotte’s husband, and look forward to seeing how this relationship develops over the course of later books.


All in, this one’s definitely for fans of historical mysteries (if you don’t enjoy detective stories even the Brontes might not be enough of an inducement). Of the Bronte-related books I’ve reviewed recently, Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte offers realism, and Michael Stewart’s Ill Will grit, but Ellis’s novel is certainly the most playful.


Know of more Bronte-inspired novels? Let me know and I may include them in my Neo-Victorian Voices series. Leave a comment below, contact me via Instagram or Facebook, or tweet @SVictorianist.

 

If you’re a lover of all things Bronte, be sure to check out my novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which is available for pre-order now. The book tells the story of the scandalous affair that overshadowed Branwell and Anne’s employment at Thorp Green Hall, through the voice of the “profligate woman” accused of tempting the Bronte brother into sin.


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Tuesday, 16 June 2020

TV Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

I’m a huge lover of all things related to the Brontes. In fact, my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which comes out in under two months (!), prominently features several members of literature’s most famous family. However, somehow it still took a pandemic in the year of Anne Bronte’s bicentenary to make me wonder if either of her novels had been adapted for film.



Turning to IMBD, I discovered that Anne, the youngest of the three novel-writing sisters, had been overlooked on the big screen, as much as elsewhere. There are a slew of adaptations of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, but Anne’s Agnes Grey and Charlotte’s other novels have yet to been given the Hollywood treatment. There is just one lone TV adaptation of Anne’s second, more controversial, novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. This was made by the BBC in 1996. Thankfully for those of us in quarantine, it’s currently available via Amazon Prime Video.


The miniseries, which is three episodes long, was directed by Mike Barker and stars Tara Fitzgerald as runaway wife Helen Graham, Rupert Graves as her abusive husband, and Toby Stephens as Gilbert Markham, the farmer who falls for the mysterious “widow” renting nearby mansion Wildfell Hall.


I was initially sceptical about how the book would translate to film, comprised as the novel is of letters and a diary but, reader, I loved it.


There are minor plot alterations, especially related to the more streamlined cast of secondary characters, but the TV adaptation remains true to the spirit of Anne’s novel. We are closer to Gilbert’s perspective in the first and third episodes, but, when he is handed Helen’s diary, it is her voice that details her unhappy marriage.


The adaptation also does a great job of editing down some of Anne’s most didactic passages, leaving us with the best of Helen as she begs her husband to prepare for heaven, or argues that boys should be protected from vice as much as girls, directly calling out gendered double standards in Victorian childrearing.


I especially enjoyed the shots of the Yorkshire landscape and the original soundtrack (composed by Richard G. Mitchell). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall certainly has its dramatic moments but, as in Agnes Grey, Anne favours a quieter romance, and the music and setting enhanced this. Charlotte found her youngest sister’s second novel shocking because of its depictions of alcoholism and debauchery, but today we might look at the book as a heart-warming second chance romance.


If you’re a lover of costume dramas, consider checking out this lesser known adaptation. I hope that eventually Anne’s Agnes Grey makes it onto our screens (and Bronte’s Mistress, of course!).


Bronte’s Mistress is available for pre-order now. Order today and you’ll have it in your hands on release day in August. And join my mailing list for updates on events and more.


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Sunday, 7 June 2020

(More!) Novels of the French Revolution

Back in October, to celebrate the release of Ribbons of Scarlet (2019)—a multi-authored historical novel about the women of the French Revolution—I strayed out of the nineteenth century and into the late eighteenth, with a round up of the best novels I’d read set during that tumultuous period.


I reviewed Andrew Miller’s Pure (2011), Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety (1992), Daphne du Maurier’s The Glassblowers (1963), and the most iconic of all novels of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859).


Eight months later, I’m back, with thoughts on three more novels, which take this bloody conflict as their backdrop.


Three more "revolutionary" reads

Mistress of the Revolution, Catherine Delors (2008)

Delors’s novel centres on noblewoman Gabrielle—first, on the trials and tribulations of her childhood, doomed adolescent love and horrific forced marriage, and, later, on how she becomes embroiled in the events of the revolution. Gabrielle’s lot is a believable, if dramatic, one, but her character is underdeveloped and she seems to offer little beyond her attractiveness (her main bargaining chip throughout the book). There’s plenty of sexual content to titillate and horrify by turns, and Delors covers a lot of ground historically, incorporating some great details. Yet, on occasion, passages of political exposition become a little skim-worthy.


Becoming Josephine, Heather Webb (2013)

Webb’s protagonist’s biography would strain our credulity were it not true! This novel takes the future Empress Josephine as its subject, from her childhood in Martinique, to her terrible first marriage (there’s a theme here), to her love with Napoleon, to the pressures mounted on her to produce an heir, and beyond. Josephine was placed to be a great observer of the revolution, so these sections in particular are well wrought, and the nuances of her relationship with Napoleon come through. However the later parts of her life are a little rushed. I wish Webb had ended sooner, so the book had a clear novelistic arc vs. bordering on dramatized biography.


Little, Edward Carey (2018)

Carey’s Little (my most recent revolutionary read) is a very different beast. Like Webb, he takes a real person, who had a front row seat at the revolution, as his main character. In this case, it’s Marie Grosholtz, still famous the world over as Madame Tussaud. However, Carey isn’t constrained by history. His novel reads as an imaginative response to the art of waxworks, against the backdrop of a violent period when real bodies were frequently dismembered. His Marie (referred to by other characters as “Little” due to her diminutive size) is obsessed with bodies—their innards and their outer flaws and features. Illustrated by the author, this isn’t a read for the faint-hearted or weak-stomached, but it captures the madness and horror of the French Revolution, as well as the obsession with objects (clothes, wigs, locks, wax figures), which gave so many eighteenth-century Parisians their livelihood.



Do you know of any more great books set during the French Revolution? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.


My first novel, Bronte’s Mistress, about the older woman who had an affair with Branwell Bronte, is available for pre-order now. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates below.

 

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Saturday, 30 May 2020

Writers’ Questions: How should I work with beta readers?

Welcome back! In my Writers’ Questions series, I’ve been answering questions other writers have been asking me since I first announced the publication of my debut novel. My historical novel, Bronte’s Mistress, will be released by Atria Books on August 4th, but, in the meantime, I’ve been working on a new project. This manuscript (also historical fiction) is currently with the all-important beta readers.

Counting down the days until Bronte's Mistress is published

What are beta readers?
Beta readers are early readers. They read a drafted novel from beginning to end, and give the writer feedback to make their novel stronger.

What are beta readers not?
Alpha Readers/Morale Boosters
Some writers have alpha readers—readers who act as their cheerleaders, reading chapters as they’re being produced. But beta readers are different. Their job isn’t to tell a writer “this is great” but to deliver tangible feedback and valid criticisms based on their reading experience.

Writers’ Groups
I am a member of two writers’ group (one historical fiction focused, one multi-genre), which give me chapter-by-chapter feedback. The valuable feedback I receive from these groups tends to be detail-oriented and technical (after all, I’m hearing from other writers here!). But it’s hard for these groups to comment on overall plot and character arcs since they’re only reading one (or half a) chapter every two weeks, and it’s nearly impossible for writers to put themselves in the shoes of non-writing readers.

Editors
It’s not the job of a beta reader to catch your spelling mistakes (and it’ll get really annoying if multiple people are telling you about the same typo!). Spell and grammar check your work yourself or hire a freelance editor if you need support.

How do I find beta readers?
My criteria for beta readers are very straightforward. Betas should…

1. Read fiction frequently (I don’t want people who don’t read or who only read non-fiction)
2. Be reliable (I’m working to personal deadlines so don’t have time to wait around for others)
3. Be honest (people may struggle to deliver harsh feedback and that’s okay, but you have to believe that their intention is to be as honest as possible—more on how to get the actual truth out of them later)

Generally speaking, I don’t want my beta readers to be other fiction writers. This is because writers tend to try to “fix” problems and tell you what they would have done vs. just pointing out their responses. However, I do make exceptions and think it depends how many betas you have. Of the eight people currently reading my next novel, one is a fellow novelist.

Among the others, there are non-writing expertise and experiences represented that I find helpful e.g. one of my betas is a historian, and others in the group have lived experiences that mirror those of some of my characters.

I ask people I know to beta read, ranging from close family members to acquaintances. There are also beta reading services and swaps online, none of which I’ve tried. With beta read swaps, you’re going to be getting feedback from other writers, which I find less helpful. With paid services, well, you’re going to have to pay! These options could be helpful though if you’re struggling to find people you know to ask.

How many beta readers should I have?
I typically recruit 7-10 beta readers, which is a lot, but I think the volume of responses really helps me. If I hear a piece of feedback from just one or two beta readers, I could chalk the response up to personal preference. If three or more people are saying the same thing, it forces me to listen.

Life is also complicated and messy. By having more beta readers, even if one or two of them have to drop out and/or have something obstructive happen in their lives in the next few weeks, I still have more than enough people giving me feedback.

Can you describe the beta reading process?
I know my 5-step process may seem a little intense, but I’ve gone through it three times and it works well for me.

Step 1: Beta Reader Recruitment
Ask people to beta read for you. It’s better to do this over text vs. face to face and to give them an easy out. For instance, this time around I mentioned that I knew people had a lot going on right now because of the pandemic. I told them I wouldn’t be upset if they said no, but I valued their opinion and would be delighted if they said yes.

The aim of recruitment isn’t just to get beta readers. It’s to get beta readers who genuinely want to beta read and didn’t feel pressured into saying yes.

Mistakes I’ve made in the past: asking people when we’re out drinking (drunk people say yes to anything), and asking people just because I was worried about offending them by not asking. Don’t do these things!

Step 2: Email Kick-Off
Here’s an anonymized version of the email I send to kick things off. Feel free to crib from it.

Hi BETA READER NAMES,
Thank you all so much for agreeing to be beta readers for my novel, TITLE (attached). 

I've asked you for your help because I value your opinions and want to use your feedback to make the book better.

Reminders for everyone and rules of the road for new beta readers:
Try to finish the novel by DATE
Contact me as soon as you finish the novel (don't wait 'til DATE if you finish earlier)
Please read the manuscript like you would any other book. No need to take notes or sit with a red pen in hand
At a couple of points in the novel, there are pages asking you to pause your reading and answer a few quick questions. Please do that!
Don't copyedit
Be honest!
Don’t talk to the other beta readers about the book before giving me your feedback
Once you let me know you're finished, I will set up time to video interview you about the novel in depth

My promises to you:
I’m going to consider any feedback you give me seriously
I’m not going to check in on your progress before DATE
I’m not going to like you any less for anything you say about the novel

Thank you so much again for reading for me. Please confirm receipt of this email. Then I'll leave you to read in peace. J
Finola

Step 3: In-Manuscript Questions
As I mention in the email above, I include a few “pause” moments within the manuscript itself. These are pages in the PDF where I ask betas to jot down their answers to a few quick questions.

I didn’t do this the first time I had beta readers and wish I had (people will find it hard to remember their earlier reactions). The second time I used beta readers I inserted questions at the 1/3 and 2/3 marks, as well as at the end. This time I’m doing questions at 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and the end.

Here are the questions I’m including this time:

Q1 Questions
What do you think of the novel so far? [2-3 sentences]
Would you keep reading if you were reading this for fun/not as a beta reader. Why or why not?

Q2 Questions
Write down 2-3 sentences about how you are feeling at this point in the novel.
Who are your favourite and least favourite characters in the novel so far? Why?
Write down 2-3 predictions of things that will happen in the rest of the book.

Q3 Question
How do you think the novel might end?

Q4 Questions
Write a short paragraph on what you thought of the novel overall.
Send me answers to all the beta reading questions via email.

Step 4: Review Emailed Answers and Schedule Interviews
I then read and digest the emailed responses. If anyone has said something really negative (“I hated this book!”, “it sucked”), this gives me time to toughen up privately, rather than hearing this for the first time in person or during our interview.

I try to schedule interviews as soon as possible after someone has finished reading (people forget details quickly!).

Step 5: Interviews
This is the most important step. I interview each of my beta readers alone, asking them the same list of questions as each other using a discussion guide I create beforehand. This discussion guide is similar to what a qualitative researcher might use (something I learned about thanks to my advertising day job).

I don’t answer any questions the betas have for me until the end of the interview (something I tell them upfront). It’s my job to ask the questions and take notes on their answers—not to be drawn into discussion.

Generally speaking, if your beta readers know and like you, their overall comments will be complimentary (or at the very least they will soften their criticisms). But it’s hard for someone to be consistently dishonest when you’re asking them detailed questions. This is when the truth will come out.

Here’s an anonymized skeleton for the discussion guide, which may be of use to you.

Characters:
How would you describe PROTAGONIST’s character? Did you like this character? Why? Why not?
What does PROTAGONIST look like?
How did PROTAGONIST change over the course of the novel?
Who was your favourite character in the book? Why?
Who was your least favourite character in the book? Why?
Did you mix up/get confused between any of the characters in the novel? Which ones?
Pick one other character from the novel, whom you have a detailed picture of in your mind. Who are they? What do they look like?
Describe the relationship between CHARACTER A and CHARACTER B. [I have a few versions of this question for all main relationships in the novel]
Were there any characters you wish you’d learned more about in the course of the novel?
Did you identify with any of the characters in the novel in any way? Who and why?

Opening:
What did you think of the opening of the novel?
Did the novel grab your interest straight away?
[If you’re debating whether you need a prologue, ask about this here]

Plot:
Did you spot any plot holes in the novel? Is there anything in the plot that still confuses you?
Did you guess in advance anything that happened in the novel? What?
Were there any big surprises for you in the novel? What were they?
[If you have any specific plot concerns, ask specific questions about these here]

Ending:
What did your think of the ending?
Did the novel end as you expected?
How did the ending leave you feeling?
Was there anything about the ending that was unsatisfying and/or felt unfinished?

Reading experience:
Did the novel feel long or short to you?
How quickly did you read the novel?
How many chapters did you generally read at a go?
Were there any parts of the novel that felt rushed?
Were there any parts of the novel that felt slow/boring?

Setting:
When was the novel set? [especially important for historical fiction]
Did the novel seem realistic for the time period it was set in? Did anything strike you as unrealistic? [especially important for historical fiction]
Which specific locations mentioned in the novel can you picture most vividly (e.g. rooms, houses, streets etc.)? Can you describe one for me?

Sex and romance:
Which sex scenes can you recall in the novel?
What did you like about the sex scenes? What did you dislike about them?
Were any parts of the novel romantic?
[This section may not be relevant for your book, but insert sections on themes and topics that are]

Language:
How would you describe the language the novel was written in?
Was there anything you didn’t like about the language of the novel/the way it was written?
Were there any words/phrases/sentence structures that stood out as being over-used in the novel?
What did you think of the dialogue in the novel? Was there enough of it? Did it feel believable?
Do you have any comments on the imagery (similes, metaphors etc.) used in the novel?
Was there enough description in the novel?
[Most beta readers will have little to say in this section, but I ask the questions anyway]

Other people/books:
What genre is the novel?
How would you describe the novel to a stranger? Would you recommend it?
Who do you think would enjoy this novel?
Did the novel remind you of any other books you’ve read? Which ones? Why?

Finally:
How did the novel compare OTHER NOVELS OF YOURS THEY’VE BETA READ?
Do you have any questions for me about the novel?

Step 6: Review Feedback
When I’ve done all my interviews I then review the feedback as a whole. Importantly, I don’t go reader-by-reader, but question-by-question. This allows me to a) spot patterns and trends, and b) emotionally disconnect from the relationship I have with any particular reader.

By the end of my review I have a list of updates to make to the novel based on the feedback I’ve received.

I then thank my beta readers, verbally, with drinks/dinner and in my book acknowledgements. They dedicated a lot of time to helping you.

What are beta reading problems and what should I do about them?
Most beta reading problems boil down to two buckets:

“One beta reader was rude and unreliable or was unhelpful in their feedback"
Solution = Don’t ask that person to beta read again

“All my beta readers ghosted me”
Solution = There is probably something wrong with your book. Consider finding a writers’ group and/or class to learn more.


Writers, I’d love to hear about your experiences with beta readers and how your process compares to mine! Get in touch in the comments below, via Instagram, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist. If you’re interested in my forthcoming novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which is now available for pre-order, click this link or sign up for my email mailing list below. I just checked back. In total I had 15,000 words (!!) of beta reader feedback, which helped make that book as good as it needed to be to get published.

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