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Bless the Beta Readers

What happens when you write a book about basketball, journalism, and academic fraud? You need coaches, journalists, and sensitivity readers, that’s what. I am so grateful for the wisdom of my various readers. Below is the list of those who have helped me with reading my two biggest projects since 2013. In the last five years, I’ve written (and rewritten) two novels.Beta reader

No Small Thing

It began with a lot of research, and I can’t thank two people enough on the front end of that research–Sally Starrfield, educator and basketball fan, who led me to Michele Van Gorp, former WNBA and Duke player, who led me to other great resources such as Krista Gingrich and Payton Hobbs, former Duke players and current basketball coaches. I also interviewed Dan Kane of The News and Observer, and from those inspirational and informative conversations, a manuscript was born.

Then I handed off either pages or the whole 320-page baby off to readers. Thanks to all these wonderful folks who’ve been reading and commenting.

  • Jamye Abram, author and educator
  • Dan Kane, journalist
  • Krista Gingrich, basketball coach
  • Greg Hawks, basketball fan and athlete
  • Jennifer Puryear, author and blogger of Bacon on the Bookshelf
  • Cindy Salerno, basketball coach, athlete, and teacher
  • Michael Salerno, author and filmmaker
  • Hannah-Kathryn Wall, student
  • Natasha Wall, author and educator
  • My writers’ group: Amanda Gladin-Kramer, Russell Johnson, Stephanie Moore, and Becky Moynihan.
  • My wonderful parents, authors both: Stephen and Katherine Fairchild

The English teacher in me insists on pretty detailed rubrics. Here’s an example of some questions I peppered Dan Kane with, and ones below that are for Krista and Cindy:

Journalism:

  1. Are the principles of journalism that Audrey is learning accurate?
  2. On issues such as use of recordings, or allowing an interview subject to see their quotes before they go to press—is that good practice?rubric
  3. Redd Graye is supposed to be a stand-up journalist. Is there anything he says that is inaccurate or unethical?
  4. What do you think about Redd Graye’s character and his mentoring of Audrey? Whether it’s Redd’s writing or advice—feel free to edit it if it’s unrealistic or overwrought.

Basketball:

  1. Does how I portray high school basketball coaches seem fair and accurate?
  2. How authentic are the coaches’ locker-room speeches? If they don’t ring true, what wording or topics would be preferable? Feel free to line edit.
  3. How authentic are the players’ conversations? Line edits welcome!
  4. Do the teens—like Emma (center) and Serena (point) in particular—do they sound and act like players you would coach?

@NervesofSteel

Exciting news: Amy and I are revisiting this manuscript and I’m reworking Minerva’s age. These folks have done deep reads of several different versions of the novel.

  • Ashlie Canipe, educator
  • David Frauenfelder, author
  • Gordon Jack, author
  • Maureen Keathley, author
  • Margaret Velto, student
  • Jamey Widener-Reynolds, educator
  • Tracy Yale, author
  • Randy Yale, author
  • My family: Stephen and Katherine Fairchild, authors both; and my sister, Antonia Fairchild, actress, director, and educator

Thank you all! Your feedback has been instrumental to getting through this journey.

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Bless You, Beta Readers

There’s no motivation like real, red-blooded beta readers to make you dive back into a manuscript and rip it up.

The beginning dragged, a couple readers said. I dispensed with the first chapter and wrote another.

Blessing Christ, Savior of the World by Bernardino Luini. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

Blessing Christ, Savior of the World by Bernardino Luini. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

No one uses the word “frosh,” said a couple others. I hit Command-F and did a nice little replace with “freshman” and “first year” (depending on how eager Minerva Mae was to impress her feminist mentor).

I despise Minerva, said one. She’s a female Holden Caulfield, said another. I hold these two comments in constant tension and wonder if the hate a character inspires in one reader is indeed the flip side of love another might feel. As the Holden Caulfield commenter shared with me, “Trust that a strong emotional reaction is just that…and different than an objective set of criticisms.”

Personally, I prefer hate to apathy.

Comments ranged from serious questions about character choices to concerns about whether Minerva should wear cords, jeans, or cargo pants. All of it mattered; all got attended to. Because there is nothing like getting a play-by-play set of reactions in the margins of your manuscript to make you care about your story in a whole new way.

Thank you, Antonia, David, Erin, Gordon, Jamye, Katherine, Maureen, Sara, Stephen, and Tracy. Your diverse views gave me a robust portrait of how my character affects a range of people.

Minerva has a whole new life now thanks to the hard work of these kind folk who could be reading or binge-watching or retweeting something else. (I know my competition, and it is fierce.) Minerva is ready for agents, and yes, another round of beta readers.

Because an author’s work is never done. I know the novel can’t be all things to all people, but it darn well better try.