Beta Reader Back-and-Forth

Today, my post on Eight Ladies Writing was about cultivating a good writer/beta reader relationship. It occurred to me that showing an example of some of the points I made might be in order.

What’s below is the email exchange between me and one of my beta readers, fellow Eight Lady Jilly Wood. Jilly has read two versions of my planned submission for the Royal Ascot contest; her comments are based on the second revision. The email trail is in chronological order from top to bottom. I hope you find it useful!


15 Mar 6:58 p.m. from Me
Hi ladies,

I’m so blinded by this thing that I can’t see anything anymore.  I need to put these scenes down for a few days. I’ve made major changes to the scene where Nate and Susannah meet, I’ve taken out the scene with the Hag and the dress shopping, and I moved the second letter from M. to P. somewhere else (you won’t see it here). That said, someone else needs to look at this now. 🙂

Feel free to get deeper into comments this time (specific suggestions where I could word things tighter, etc), but only if you want.

Comments by Wednesday or Thursday would be great. I’ll have contest stuff (for the AZ conference) to do after that and want to have enough time for any more changes you suggest, plus that stuff.

I’m traveling next Wed and on east coast time after that until the 29th (at my sister’s house and mom’s house) I’ll be out of the loop a bit.

As always, thank you very much for your feedback!


16 Mar 3:50 p.m. from Jilly
Hey Justine,

I have one big comment and a bunch of smaller, nit-picky ones. Please take it with a pinch because I really enjoyed it and I think you have made it a lot stronger vs the previous draft.

Big Comments

  • I really like what you’ve done with the opening scene 🙂
  • I like the way you’ve explained Susannah’s finances – makes it totally clear that her money came from her mother, uncle got everything else, and explains why the Home Office overlooked it. (I assume that even tho the money came from her mother in France she’ll be able to get her hands on it in England?)
  • I like the tweaks to the Nate Home Office scene (you sent me that ahead of time).
  • I think the musicale scene beats finishes off the 7k really nicely

My only problem is the important bit at the end of the musicale when Nate and Susannah meet. I assumed it was deliberate on Nate’s part – his friend Guy doesn’t usually go to parties but showed up and distracted uncle, and Nate bumped in to S in a place where he could get a private conversation with her (unlikely to be a coincidence, and unlikely he hadn’t found out who she was when she’s his mission). If he knows who he is and he’s supposed to woo her and not hurt her, he did not treat her well or respectfully, more like a tart than a lady. He was quite forward, could have expected to get his face slapped. If he had a plan, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what Susannah wanted either. She’s being threatened with marriage to a horrible man, the marquess has been pawing at her all night, she finally gets away, and instead of trying to find her friend (who knows when she’ll get another chance?) she’s thinking about how good-looking Nate is and that she’d give marriage a chance with him (why? apart from his good looks there’s no reason). Somehow they both need more of a plan from the meeting (or I need to think they have a plan, even if I don’t know what it is). Frex, what about if Nate’s trying to charm her (he may not get another chance) and despite his good looks and charm, all she wants is to find Sally (she may not get another chance)?

Small, pernickety nit-picking points

  • A falcon’s a bird, not an animal. ‘Animal’ distracted me. Maybe  S could call it a creature?
  • The idea of the falcon’s claws coming for S crops up twice in the opening paragraph (and again at the end of the scene). I like it in the opening sentence and it works at the end of the scene, but the extra reference in the middle seems like one too many.
  • In the first scene S says uncle has removed every trace of her father, but his desk is still there. Uncle is using it.
  • In the opening scene, you have ‘it took every ounce of control for S to ‘tamper’ her rage. I think it’s ‘tamp down’ or ‘temper’.
  • In a couple of places you have people talk about a ‘societal debut’ (S to uncle, Nate at Home Office). These are all society people so I don’t think they’d say ‘societal’, just ‘debut’ or ‘presentation’ or whatever.
  • In a couple of places you have uncle describing the marquess as ‘the marquess’. He’s Lucius informally (which is spot on) but I think to S, uncle would call him ‘Lord Luckingham’ (???) S might think of him / call him the marquess. ?
  • In a couple of places you have Sir Guy called ‘Sir Smithson’ which doesn’t sound right. He’s either ‘Sir Guy’ or ‘Smithson.’ ?
  • Would uncle use the word ‘frock’ for S? It doesn’t sound like a period term. I’d expect him to say ‘gown’.
  • Would Nate use the word ‘sexy?’ Doesn’t sound period.
  • Would S’s maid be the right person to caution her about being alone with a man? Her mama should have taught her that while she was still a little girl, and her best friend certainly should have reminded her. Similarly, would she get a scold from her maid? Only if her maid was a really trusted family retainer who’d been with her forever – and if that kind of servant is still with her, S is not alone and at the mercy of Uncle, her maid would help/carry messages for her etc.

Hope this helps. As I said, I enjoyed reading this. I think it’s much more powerful than your last draft – can see how much work has gone into it. No wonder you’re cross-eyed.


16 Mar 4:49 p.m. from Me
Jill, thanks so much. A lot of the nit-picky things you mentioned (particularly towards the end) is when I was getting cross-eyed. In some places, I knew the word was wrong (“sexy,” “frock”) but I was just too tired to care. 🙂

As for the important bit — I totally see where you’re coming from. I had two ideas there and I guess I didn’t pull either one off effectively. Smithson was there to distract the captain, but I guess I didn’t figure that Nate’d probably be standing right next to him and would have seen Susannah. The idea is that Susannah gets away from the captain/marquess to try to find Maggie, and in the process, runs into Nate, who doesn’t know who she is yet (and of course she doesn’t have a clue who he is). I guess if that’s going to happen, then I can’t have Guy pulling the captain away at that point — maybe later. In essence, neither Nate nor Susannah know who the other is yet, so they’ll get the surprise of their lives later that evening when they run into each other again. Suggestions for how to handle this? And I see what you mean about how the last thing on her mind would be Nate…she’s focused on finding Maggie. Perhaps that does need to come out and I move up Nate meeting Susannah to just a regular meeting, and scratch their anonymous tete-a-tete.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more the whole “chance meeting” is like a string-of-pearls…well, prob not “plot,” but at least “scene.” Perhaps it might work if Nate is hell-bent on making himself known to Susannah and she’s hell bent on ignoring him in pursuit of Maggie, although she does find herself attracted to him. What do you think?


17 Mar 12:04 a.m. from Jilly
Unless you have something important you want to get out of it, as a reader I’m not buying a coincidental, anonymous encounter between Susannah and Nate. He’s a spy, he’s smart and efficient, he hates social events and eligible women and he’s come specifically to court Susannah because she’s the mission. His sidekick has distracted uncle and he bumps in to S right where he can get a private conversation with her. It works perfectly if that’s his plan, unlikely to be an accident, and if it was, as soon as he realised she was a young woman he didn’t know with a sun-tan, he should have figured it out fast. More likely that he knows who she is and what she looks like – but he still has no idea what kind of girl she is. I’d prefer it if he knows who she is but he knows he has to charm her and he must act fast and make an impression – he doesn’t have much time and no idea when he’ll get another chance – which means he has to do something drastic (?) Clearly S has no idea who he is, but I’m thinking she’ll be all about finding Maggie and getting help from her awful predicament and he’s trying to persuade her to stay and talk to him.

Maybe he could (say) have that first conversation with her that neither of them can admit to because she shouldn’t be talking to her alone, and then he’ll have to get himself formally introduced and they’ll both have to pretend they’re meeting for the first time. You could have some fun with that.

Maybe he tells her that Maggie isn’t at the ball, or left early, or something, and asks if he can help at all / gets her to confide in him a little – anything to get her to stay and talk to him. If S thinks Maggie’s not there and she might not get another chance, she might confide in him or accept his help in some way. Later she realises he lied – Maggie was there all the time – and when she calls him on it he says absolutely I lied, otherwise you’d have left and I’d have done anything to make sure you stayed (or whatever, this is a bit cheesy but you get the idea). It sounds romantic, it’s the truth, but it’s for the mission, not for her.

My ten pence worth 🙂 Good luck!


17 Mar 8:27 a.m. from Me
Thanks for this honest suggestion. It’s worth way more than ten pence, BTW. I will work on this scene. Mind if I send it (just this scene) to you again after I’ve played around with it some more?

2 thoughts on “Beta Reader Back-and-Forth

  1. Pingback: Jilly: Writer’s Toolkit – Giving Critique | Eight Ladies Writing

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