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Stormlight Three Update #6 ()
#3 Copy

StickerBrush

Maybe not the best place to ask, but one of your remarks reminded me:

will input beta reader comments and writing group comments

So, do you have one master document where you input their comments? How do you organize and consolidate all of their input? I'm a part of a writer's group and I now have like 5-6 copies of each chapter I've submitted and I have no idea how to get started in organizing it.

My best idea so far is to have one master doc (which is a clone of the original) and mark it up with each user's feedback.

Thanks for any advice.

Brandon Sanderson

I don't actually have people mark up the text any more, but I used to do it as you say. These days, I instead put up a google sheet with a tab for each chapter, and then I have beta readers put feedback on the appropriate tab. Peter then collates these comments and inserts them into a draft of the book for me to read in context and made decisions about.

StickerBrush

Time to find me a Peter.

Thanks for the advice!

Peter Ahlstrom

It's possible to use Word's Merge Documents feature even on 5–6 copies of a chapter (just do two at a time). But this can create a lot of artifacts. I did that during the Towers of Midnight editing and it's a real pain dealing with all of the repeat punctuation that appears, like ,”,”,”,”,”

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#4 Copy

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

We'll have the Skyward beta coming up soon.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Oh cool. Yeah, I'll bug Kara and Peter. See if they need some help with that.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Mhm, yep. We need teenagers for that one. We're going to have a separate teenager one, because it's a YA, and an adult one. And the adult one is to find all the nitpicky stuff, and the teenager one is just "respond to each chapter, what did you think of it?"

Shadows of Self San Jose signing ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

I was one of your beta readers. So, I wanted to know whether Lord Harms ever got off the roof?

Brandon Sanderson

Lord Harms. Yes, I did because people were so--*grumbling* 'Lords Harms Lord Harms'. Alright. Fine. So, I mentioned Wax saying, "go get Lord Harms back," or something like that. I did put it in at some point.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#6 Copy

Questioner

How do you become a beta reader?

Brandon Sanderson

People always want to know this! We have beta and gamma readers. Alpha reads are only my agent and my writing group. Beta readers are people from fandom who have proven that they know their stuff and are a part of the community. Peter picks these from people who are on my Facebook, who are interacting with him there, or who are on the 17th Shard. There's no promises you can get in on this. We do change it every book and get some new people, because sometimes we just want people to give fresh eyes on something.

Gamma reads, if you want to read things early, are bug hunters. They can spot a type form a hundred paces. If you are really good at finding typos, you can go to the thread on the 17th Shard, for every book there is a thread, a forum thread that talks about typos. And if you are consistently finding typos no one else has found, chances are good Peter will be like, "Hey, do you want to proofread for us?"

But don't feel like you have to do this because it actually diminishes the book a little bit, even though you get to do something cool, because it's not in its final form yet. I don't like beta reading when I don't have to, I'd prefer reading something with polish.

Firefight Seattle Public Library signing ()
#7 Copy

Questioner

Can you talk a little about your editing process? After you get through the first draft-- You go through it, you look at the acknowledgements in a lot of your books, and other books, there's this huge team of people that have been pouring over this thing.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, so editing for me. Here's my drafting process. First draft I just write-- I write it straight through. I don't stop, I try not to let myself stop. If there is something major I need to change I just change it in the chapter and keep going forward. And then I can change it back later, like two chapters later if I think "No that was the wrong thing". So there will be a new character sometimes in my book that will just pop up for three chapters and everyone acts like they've always been there and then they vanish and no one talks about them not being there anymore. That's just so I can keep momentum and see what works. Draft number 2 I fix all of those things.  Draft number 3, polishing draft. Line by line trying to cut 10%, get rid of the passive voice, make descriptions more active, and make sure that I'm finding the right words and things like that. Really Draft 4 is where it turns into true drafting, and by that point I've given it to my editor and my alpha readers which are basically my assistants, my good friends, my wife, people like that. They read it, they come back with comments for me and I've been thinking about the book, working in my writing group with it and I make a goal-based document, where it's like "Here are the major issues. Here are the medium level issues.  Here are the little things I need to fix." And I start on page one, read through with this open on the screen next to the book when I'm working on it and I try to like-- It's almost like a bug report for programming, I'm trying to clear things off the list. Major things I have to re-write the whole way through so I can't clear them off until the end. Medium issues are things I can put in two or three times to fix through a couple of chapters where they are wrong and then clear it. Little things are just fix this one little thing and it's easy to clear off the list. I do that, I don't get to everything. I move around things on this list, like I maybe [???] I move it down the list.

Then I send the book out to beta readers, who are gathered by my assistant, he handles this, Peter Ahlstrom. Then they do a thing with us on a Google Doc, where it's chapter by chapter there is a document for each chapter and they all put their comments and interact with each other. It's like having a very large focus group, with like 15 people who are all reading the book at the same time and working on it. Once that is done and I've heard back from my editor on the new draft I will then make another draft.  I will do this as many times as necessary to make the book good. Last draft is proofreading and those people are also drawn from fandom, usually, my assistant picks them off forums and things like that and people we've used before. And they are just looking for-- At that point we can't change anything really bigger than a line or two. They are looking for continuity and things like that. But my process is that goal-based "I want to fix this let's see if I can do a draft where I fix this." And I'll do a couple more polishing drafts as I go along.

FAQFriday 2017 ()
#8 Copy

Questioner

Can I become a beta reader for Brandon's books?

Brandon Sanderson

Beta readers are some of the people to whom I send early versions of my books for feedback. Usually, these are different from alpha readers, who include industry professionals like my editor, my agent, and my writing group. Beta readers, instead, are usually fans and "average" readers, used as a test audience. I don't expect them to offer solutions to problems; more, these are the people i want to use to gauge how the book will be received.

Most of these people fall into two groups. The first are old friends who have been reading my writing for a long time, and whose opinion I trust. The second are people who have made insightful comments on places like the 17th Shard, Tor.com, or my Facebook page. They are generally people well known in the fandom community surrounding my books--people who have good reputations, with whom we feel we can entrust early copies of books without leaking them.

We do pick from general fans sometimes to do beta readers, but there are a LOT of people who want to do this--and not many slots available. Usually, we pick people who have a special experitise relating to a book I'm working on. (We might pick a person who has been an EMT, for example, when reading Stormlight--to help with Kaladin's surgery scenes.)

I don't generally pick beta readers myself. I leave this to my team, mostly Peter Ahlstrom. I suggest not pestering him with requests, however. Instead, if you really want to beta read, participate in the fan community and get to be known there. Another great way to help is to find typos that HAVEN'T YET been found and post them in the appropriate thread for that book on the 17th Shard. (Don't just send these via email; chances are, peter already knows about them and has fixed them in a newer edition of the book.)

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#9 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

How much did the alpha, beta, and gamma readers in your opinion influence the end product [of Oathbringer] here today?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

...I find them invaluable. Let me define them for you first.

Alpha readers are a very select group. My editor, my agent, my wife, and, like, my assistant-- like Peter. These are alpha readers, people who are reading it in a very raw form.

Beta readers are more like a test audience. The difference between alpha reader and beta reader is that the alpha is somebody who's an industry professional, for me, who can say-- can look at the structure and say "here's some advice on structure" and things like this. A beta reader is just a person who likes books, whose job is just to say "I like this, I don't like this, this is why." Right?

Gamma readers are proofreaders. So, usually, Peter handles all the gamma readers. I don't even see what they say, because that's all to fix proofreading.

I am a very big believer in test audience. I know some writers don't use them at all, but I find it really, really helpful to see how people are responding to the text and the fiction, and then looking and saying, "What is it that is making them feel this way? Do I want that? Do I not want that?" It is just a huge piece of the toolbox for me, a huge tool in the toolbox. (That metaphor doesn't work, because a larger tool in your toolbox is not necessarily more useful, but go with me on it.) I would say, they had all kinds of effects. And we might have Peter do some blog posts on things that I changed because of the beta readers while I'm online. And once you've read the book, you can ask me, we'll try to post about some of this stuff. Usually, they're not making suggestions, they're just giving their feelings, and I'm looking for the places where I've misfired. Where I'm like, "I thought this scene would be super dramatic," but everyone is confused. That's the sort of scene you want to find, and then ask yourself, "How can I make it work instead."

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

You had 70, right?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yeah, I had 70 beta readers on this. They wrote around 600,000 or 700,000 words. So, more than was in the book, about the book. Yeah. It's crazy.

Stormlight Three Update #6 ()
#11 Copy

inthearena

To answer the inevitable question, the beta readers are chosen by Peter--my assistant and editorial director--from among those who have been very active on the fan websites, or who know us personally.

Don't you think this invite survivor bias? If the only ones who beta you books are people who love your books (granted there are a lot of them ;-) doesn't that result in a particularly district set of people who are reading for specific things?

Just curious.

Brandon Sanderson

Betas are supposed to be a test audience, not a critical audience. Meaning, I just want to judge how my fanbase will respond to the book.

For alphas (my editorial team) I look for the strong criticism. For Betas, I want people who are partial to the work, as they represent the average fan. I do try to fill them with some people who are more casual fans, as opposed to only the hardcore.

SouthernNorthEast

For alphas (my editorial team) I look for the strong criticism. For Betas, I want people who are partial to the work, as they represent the average fan. I do try to fill them with some people who are more casual fans, as opposed to only the hardcore.

Do you get a lot of information that you use from these Beta readers? Or - do you take a lot of that and actual use it in edits and revisions down the road?

Brandon Sanderson

We do get a lot of information, but it's more...how to describe it. It's more general AND more specific.

On one hand, what we get from the betas is a general feel for the book, and how it will be received. We also get specific little continuity goofs that we've missed.

Editorial tends to be able to talk about story structure, characterization, that sort of thing on the macro scale. Betas tend to give more of a view of the book emotionally--is this book matching expectations, are parts of it boring, that sort of thing.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

How do you keep everything straight in your head?

Brandon Sanderson

So, it's kinda weird. I forget my keys. I forget what day it is, I'm one of these types, right. But stories, I don't forget. Stories are in there. Part of the help for this, though is I do use a wiki, called wikidpad, it's, like, a personal wiki thing. And I stuffed a whole bunch of it in there, not all of it, but a whole bunch of it. I actually have someone whose job it is to go through each book, add in all the new details and things like this to keep kind of a personal encyclopedia of the Cosmere, for myself, for reference that I can be working with as I'm building things.

So, yeah, it's a mixture of tools, my own personal weird brain psychology, and good help and forum assistance. Like, if you read one of my early drafts, there's, like, so many continuity errors. So many, right? Because there's just stuff I... like, when you're writing, you're not thinking about. And your fingers, they just type it. Or, like, I forget, like... one of the things I have to do for a Stormlight is I have to go through and add in way more spren. Because it's just so unnatural to us to have emotionspren, that first draft, I don't even worry about them. Like, get down what's happening, and then I will highlight where the spren appear. It's almost like I do post-production on my books. But, even still, to this day, I write silver when I mean tin in Mistborn, because for years it was silver was that power. Like, it's been ten years since it was silver, that I changed it to tin, but even still my fingers type silver. And the alpha readers and beta readers are like, "Oh, there's a silver in here! We found one!" Like for years, Clubs, I think it was Clubs, and... I had two of the powers swapped for the... anyway, so there's all that. And then there's all the stuff that I forget I changed in revision in previous books.

So, it's not like I'm photographic memory who keeps all this. I have a good team, a good process, and enough up here that we can make a good book come together. But those early books... don't become an alpha or beta reader for me unless you're willing to be like, "Okay. Canon is not here." Like, in the Lift chapter, there was even a place where I'm like, "I think this is connected. I wanna connect this to something in the Cosmere, but I can't remember what it is. Karen, can you look up some of this and see, so I can make sure that I can..." I think it's in there. And then in the beta read document, everyone's like, "Oh, you can do this! You can do this! You can do this!"

Questioner

No that wasn't in Lift!

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, it is! I just went and looked at it. Maybe Karen posted that quote that I gave her, maybe Peter pulled it out, and she posted it in the document later on.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#13 Copy

Questioner

I heard that in one of your books two people from the actual 17th Shard got married as members of the 17th Shard in your book.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, shes right there. That's Mi'chelle, she's a beta reader. She and her husband met at a signing at a Barnes & Noble of mine. So they met at one of my signings, and they eventually got engaged at my class in BYU so I put their wedding in a book.