Beta reading, we all know, is an essential thing when you've written a novel and you're worried it's not ready to publish.
But it's not an easy thing, being a beta reader.
I just finished beta reading a 400-page fantasy novel for a friend of mine. I enjoyed it. At least I think I did. The process of beta reading is enlightening to a writer, as we're more aware of the mechanics of stories and how good stories go together. But at the same time, we're more attuned to what we like and what we don't like, and telling the author this while being honest and wanting to help.
It's more than spelling errors and such, obviously.
It's pointing out where the story is lagging, bogging down, making it tougher to read. And it's also measuring praise where it's needed and deserved, to balance things out.
On top of it all, you have to remember to read for the pleasure of it. For the story. For the fun. Because if you don't do that, you don't know much about the book at all.
So it's obvious what has to be done: I have to read it again. And that may be the key to beta reading: Not spreading it out over as many readers as possible, but giving a smaller group of readers the time to read your novel more than once. More than twice, per preference, so they can read once for mechanics and the other time for pleasure.
That's something I'll keep in mind when I send a novel of my own out for beta reading.
For the first time since I started blogging in 2009, one of my posts has had more than a thousand views. And it's not an old post, lying around on the blog for a long time. No, it's this one, featuring the last chapter of Doleful Creatures, my NaNoWriMo 2013 winning entry.
I have no idea why people are reading it. I can look at the analytics, but they don't tell me much. They don't tell me what key words might have brought someone to this page; whether it's some unfortunate combination of key words there that has brought them to my blog -- briefly -- or whether they're actually interested in reading the book. The absence of comments leads me to believe the former, as my typically pessimistic and cynical soul continues to take over. But I hold out hope. Wouldn't it be fun if it were Doleful Creatures drawing people to this blog. A guy can dream . . .
Through a combination of negligence, our three children left
our puppy alone for a few minutes with a book borrowed from the Idaho Falls
Public Library. So my wife took to the Internet and found a copy of the book
she figured she could take to the library and offer as a replacement.
She made the kids pay for the book, which totaled $8,
including shipping.We returned a pile of books to the library Friday. My wife
explained to the librarian what happened to the book, then presented her with
the replacement book, identical in every detail except for the protective film
and barcode the library puts on its books.
“Oh, you can’t do that,” the librarian said. “We have to
charge you for the book.”
And full retail price. $14.99. Plus a $5 administrative fee.
That’s library policy. Inviolate. Because what if someone
else brought in a book to replace one that was damaged that wasn’t as good as
it should have been? They’d have to argue over every book. It’s just simpler to
have this policy.
But easy to file in the big manila folder of bureaucratic
Here’s what galls me: My wife found the book – identical to
the one the dog chewed on – for $8, including shipping. But the library had to
have $14.99 to buy it from its distributor. At almost twice the price of the
book my wife had in hand, ready to give the library. So when the library asks
for monetary donations or a tax increase to help bring more books into the
community, the tale of refusing a book in the hand while insisting on ordering
one at nearly twice the cost of the one being offered will always come to the
fore now. Always.
Reality for the library may be that the policy makes for
less work for librarians, But what’s more important is the perception of
reality: The Idaho Falls Public Library refused a good-faith effort by a patron
to replace a book damaged by her own childrens’ negligence.
They did waive the $5 administrative fee. Theoretically. The
receipt we got shows a “balance owed” of $5; when we called the library to ask
about it, we were told the library administrator would have to approve it.
We’re not holding our breath.
We were not defrauding the library. We were not offering an
inferior copy of the book. We were trying to correct a mistake.
I was in the library a few weeks earlier (oh, we’re big-time
library users, up until now) and heard a librarian make several calls to
patrons, requesting information about books that came back damaged. Apparently
all the people had done was stuff the books into the return slot and hope the
damage wouldn’t be noticed. That seemed to be oafish behavior on the part of
the patrons. I’m sure the librarian didn’t enjoy making those kinds of calls. I
know I wouldn’t. So you’d think having someone come in, acknowledge the damage,
and offer recompense right there that would have the book on the shelf as soon
as it could be labeled would be a breath of fresh air.
Oh yeah. This is a bureaucracy. Fresh air is not needed.
What’s important is policy. A one-size-fits-all policy that might convenience
the library in some ways but in others punishes patrons who thought they were
doing right by replacing a damaged book, like for like.
Now I don’t pretend to understand library cataloguing, or
appreciate the superior quality of books procured from library-approved
distributors. That’s a reality outside my experience. But again, it’s the
perception of reality that’s important: Policy was treated as more important
That’s the true crime of bureaucracy.
So we now have two copies of the book. One dog-chewed, the
other pristine. The final irony: It’s not a very good book.
Back when I was in high school, I participated in the ubiquitous gym class.
And let me paint a picture: I was not athletic then. Nor am I now. I was, and am, a bone-idle, out of condition bloke to whom regular exercise -- let alone something as organized as basketball or volleyball -- was completely alien.
Why do I have to do this, I wondered, every time I had to strip down to the "skins" -- invariably, all the fat kids ended up on the team that had to take their shirts off; I guess the skinny ones liked to see our man boobs jiggle.
But you know what? I did it.
I sweated through the warm-up exercises. I panted and wheezed through all the running. And though I refused to play baseball, I wasn't shunned. Nor did I get a bad grade. Because I did everything else. I even learned to like things like the warm-up exercises and pickleball.
I still regard physical fitness as important. I'm not wild about team sports, but I will go biking and walking and hiking. I try to watch what I eat.
I got something out of high school gym, even though it wasn't my favorite thing in the world to do.
So Rebecca Schuman's essay in Slate today really got my goat.
She thinks students who don't like to write shouldn't be asked to write any more. Because they hate it. Because teachers hate reading their essays. And because they'll never learn how to do it effectively, so why bother teaching them.
She says keeping writing in strictly English courses is okay. I assume she's OK with writing in other subjects -- history comes to mind -- but for those who don't want to be English majors or historians or whatever, writing should not be required in their college careers.
attitude stuns me. "They don't like to do it. It's too hard to teach
them how to do it. So let's not do it." How DEFEATIST is that? I don't recall seeing it written that what we learn in school has to be easy for us to do. Or something we'll be doing for the rest of our lives. I remember going in with the attitude -- and I get this from my father, whose schooling was interrupted at the third-grade level by World War II -- that we should learn whatever we can, even if it's hard. And he learned a lot of things, reading a lot of books and writing things down in a language that was not his native tongue. He might know what he's talking about. I get it from this, too: And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith; Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God. -- Doctrine and Convenants 109:7-8 Or, if you prefer something a little less churchy: "Give me learning, sir, and you may keep your black bread." -- Leo Tolstoy
Visit Sunny Saturn, or at least think about it in the infomercial my son made for his eighth-grade science class. Makes me want to work on The Hermit of Iapetus again. But Doleful Creatures awaits. That's the one I think I can have published in the next few months . . .
I like the idea of encouraging people to learn how to code –
whatever that means. I’ve tried at least one variation of coding – using simple
HTML not only on this blog but in an online class I teach. I built my own
websites in the early 1990s, mimicking the code I saw back then. I haven’t kept
up with it much, I admit.
You know what I like better? Encouraging people to learn how
I listen to a lot of young boys read. I mean a lot of young
boys. And most of them can’t. They stumble over pronouncing words. Simple
words. And if you ask them to explain what it is they just read, the pat answer
is “I don’t know.” And they’re telling the truth, because when they read aloud,
they’re saying the words, but that’s all they’re doing. They’re concentrating
on getting to the end of the passage, everything else is secondary.
I can tell the readers from the non-readers at the first
meeting. They sail through simple and complicated texts – and I hear them read
everything from news stories to their Boy Scout manual to more complicated
texts, like the King James version of the Bible. If they encounter a word they’re
unfamiliar with, they sound it out, and usually get it right. They can guess at
meaning, and usually get it right. And if they’re stuck, they know where to go
to find the answers. They can summarize. They can explain.
The non-readers can’t do any of that. Or at least they don’t
And it’s not just young boys. I also can tell pretty quickly
which of my college students are readers and which are not. I don’t get to hear
them read aloud, but I do get to see them think as they write essays and post
responses in our online classes. Those less interested in reading stand out,
even more so than those for whom English is not their first language – and I
have a lot of students that fit that category too.
These aren’t dumb kids. They have other talents ranging from
excellent math skills, a deeper understanding of emotion and empathy, and
athleticism, among others. Reading isn’t “their thing.”
But it’s fundamental to everything. Including coding.
We haven’t left it up to schools to teach our kids to read.
We read to them. We started early, with picture books, then Dr. Seuss, now
others – right now, I’m reading CS Lewis’ “Prince Caspian” to my two youngest
kids. And we read aloud, nearly every night, from our scriptures. We take turns
reading and explaining what we read – requiring our kids to go over what they
just read and using their own words to explain what’s happening.
And they’re readers. They’re up late at night reading,
getting yelled at to turn off the lights and go to bed. They’re always sneaking
books into the car for trips, sneaking books off the shelves to read at
mealtimes. They’ll read newspapers. And magazines. And comic strips. I’m sure
if I put a book on coding in front of them, they’d read it. And maybe get
But the reading comes first. If it doesn’t, well, we’re
slipping into Snow Crash a lot faster than previously thought. Technological
achievement is highly valued in the Metaverse, but that achievement can be as
shallow as it is stunning.
There is, of course, this argument:
Coding does require a lot of mental discipline, dealing with
the concrete hidden in the abstract. Yes, a lot of what is written is drivel.
But so is a lot of what is on the television. As is much of what is coded.
Coding for the sake of coding, I’m not necessarily in favor of. Coding with a
foundation on the ability to think and reason, well, that sounds a whole lot
Could coding prod a non-reading kid into reading more? I’m
certain it could. But you’re going to get more coding kids if they’re reading
I’m stealing money from schools. From schools. And other important things like state parks. Roads.
And all those ivory-handled back-scratchers they pass out to state legislators.
And my guess is, if you’re an Idaho resident, you’re a
If you buy things online and don’t pay a sales tax – and
there are few ecommerce sites out there that do collect sales tax by state –
you owe the state money. And not by some new-fangled law taxing internet
purchases. No, you owe the state money under a “use tax” law passed in 1965,
well before Jeff Bezos was even thinking about getting bald.
The Idaho Statesman has the poop on this law here.
The math is pretty simple. The state tax commission
estimates Idahoans spent $1.08 billion on online purchases in an average year,
with that number growing. At six percent, that equals about $65 million in
taxes. Most of that is going unpaid. In 2011, only 9,555 Idahoans paid an
average of $56 in use taxes – or only 1.4 percent of those filing tax returns
with the state also paying the use tax.
The Statesman skirts one issue: What happens to you if you
don’t pay that tax? What are the penalties involved? Laws being what they are,
the consequences appear murky, but this statute, requiring that anyone evading
the tax be required to pay that tax once caught seems applicable.
But the situation gets murkier than that.
According to the US Small Business Administration – an
official appendage of the federal government, businesses that conduct ecommerce
are not required to collect sales taxes everywhere. Here’s the deal:
If your business has a physical presence in a state, such as
a store, office, or warehouse, you must collect applicable state and local tax
from your customers. If you do not have a presence in a particular state, you
are not required to collect sales taxes.
Note the murkiness: Online businesses aren’t required to
collect sales taxes. The SBA says nothing about whether or not purchasers area
required to pay such taxes. So it appears we fall back to the state statute.
And the state’s demands that the taxes be paid.
Additionally, if you’re looking to the federal government
for clarification on this, that’s shouting into an empty room. The US Supreme
Court decided this week not to take up a challenge to a New York state law
requiring online retailers to collect state sales taxes, instead saying that
job is one best left to Congress. And we all know how well that organization
The only thing that seems to save us is the bureaucracy. Per
The sole difference between a sales tax and a use tax is the person that
ends up giving the money to the state government. When it is a sales tax, the
retailer is the one handing over the money, while a use tax is handed over
directly by the consumer. However, collecting use taxes on small purchases
often costs more than simply letting the consumer not pay the use tax. Instead,
state tax agencies try to focus more on collecting use taxes for big ticket
items that are purchased online with no sales tax, such as cars and boats. However, there are a number of states that have stepped up their
enforcement of their use tax laws and are now trying to make their state
residents pay the taxes that should be paid. However, these states are still
hampered by limited resources as well as the complexities involved with
tracking down minor purchases and demanding that a use tax be paid.
The young man giving the lesson quietly slipped out a
borrowed tablet, got it ready to play some videos. Two other young men sat in
chairs near the window. Sat is a loose word for Deacons; one sat
conventionally, feet on the floor, the other sat with his legs pulled up onto
the chair, knees tucked under his chin. He had something in his lap – LEGO
figures – he was showing to the other boy.
Two other boys leaned their chairs against the wall. One of
them realized with both the president and the first counselor gone, he, as
second counselor, was in charge. He called the group to order.
I am their Scoutmaster, but in the fuzzy leadership links in
the LDS Church between the Aaronic Priesthood and the Boy Scouts of America, my
role at church is uncertain. Tuesdays are my days to shine and campouts and
merit badge pow-wows are my territory; Sundays belong to the deacons quorum
adviser. Who was not present.
The lesson commenced. The boy giving the lesson resembles my
own: intelligent, obsessive, smug in his abilities and eager to challenge his
cohorts to read a long list of scriptures, to guess the identity of the general
authority speaking – Jeffrey R. Holland – and to repeat several times with joke
that we look under our beds for devils and demons, while devils and demons look
under their bed for Jeffrey R. Holland.
The boys by the window weren’t listening. The LEGO figures
were more compelling.
The boy who took charge appeared to be asleep.
The other boy challenged everything the young man teaching
said, finally blurting “Why does everything have to be a competition?” throwing
the boy teaching off his game. He tried to recover by bringing up the Elder
Holland joke again.A bishopric member poked his head into the classroom, looked
at me. “You alone here?”
“Apparently so,” I replied.
He took a seat. As it was Fast Sunday, he wanted to make
sure the fast offering routes were assigned. They were not. One boy lamented he
wanted to sing with the choir after church and thus couldn’t do fast offerings.
Another said since he’d volunteered to help pass the sacrament at a retirement
community that afternoon, his obligation to fast offering collection was
nullified. Three other boys just stared at the brown leather envelopes in the
Eventually, they decided amongst themselves that they could
do two of the five routes. The leader went to find conscripts from the teachers
and priests quorums for the other three. The lesson recommenced. With the Elder
These are my scouts, I thought. On Tuesdays, they’re
noisier. There are others there who don’t regularly come to church who add
their own individual elements of chaos and decorum, often at the same moment.
As I watched them, Wood Badge training kicked in. This kid
challenging the teacher isn’t one who comes to scouts regularly. But when he
does, I thought, our Scout team will go from norming to storming again – the
team dynamic they’ve figured out (the norming, everything’s working normally) in
his absence due to football practice will be upset and they’ll have to learn
how to work as a team all over again (the storming, as in thunder and
lightning) as he comes in, not knowing where to fit in, not knowing how the
team has worked before, and with the team not knowing what to do as he attempts
to fit in and his attempts are interpreted as disruptions.
I sat there with them, terrified.
Not because of anything that happened in the classroom. This
wasn’t my first experience with this knot of Deacons on a Sunday. The boys
always teach the lessons. That one kid always brings LEGOs and those two always
sit by the window, distracted. The second counselor almost always looks like
he’s asleep. And if the kid questioning everything isn’t there, another kid who
does the same thing is.
But because I’d seen it all before. Somewhere. Deja-vu.
The Scoutmaster Handbook tells us this: “A new Scoutmaster
is likely to approach his troop with self-confidence. He anticipates that his
enthusiasm will excite his young charges to get the most they can out of
I can do self-confidence and enthusiasm. As can just about
anyone any bishopric would call as Scoutmaster, providing he meets the basic
requirements: He appears to be breathing, is likely to pass a background check,
has not been openly heard swearing, and
is also on the bishopric radar after the ward paid for his Wood Badge training.
But the Scoutmaster handbook goes on to say, in the same
breath and with that same self-confidence and enthusiasm: “Learning about the
characteristics of boys, how to motivate them, how to deal with their behavior,
and how to help them with their problems will give the Scoutmaster the insights
necessary to enjoy working with his Scouts.”
Oh woof. This is something respiration and a mild financial
obligation can’t cover.
Wood Badge taught me enough to know that “learning about the
characteristics of boys” goes much beyond pigeonholing them into categories:
Smug, self-confident yet awkward in social situations; At ease in social
situations but prone to sweating and stumbling when called upon to pronounce
words with more than three syllables; Distracted LEGO aficionado; Thrall of the
LEGO aficionado; Avoider of responsibility unless it’s easy; and the inevitable
Scout Camp Slob. Wood badge taught me that learning the boys’ characteristics
meant finding ways for them to learn, to accomplish, to lead, despite the
challenges they face from broken homes, aversion to schoolwork, or fixation
with Danish toys.
Wood Badge taught me it’s okay to let the boys lead and to
let them make mistakes; the Scoutmaster Handbook cautions me against “falling
into the trap of controlling the Scouts’ experiences and doing everything for
them.” Wood Badge taught me it’s better for boys to try and fail and then try
again than never to bother trying because “the Scoutmaster did it for me.”
Wood Badge taught me that old saw from Lord Baden-Powell
himself: “Scouting is a game with a purpose: the game is a fun and exciting
program, and the purpose is to become better adults.”
To become better adults.
Funny, I’ve heard something like that before.
Part of Brigham Young University-Idaho’s mission statement
reads “Prepare students for lifelong learning, for employment, and for their
roles as citizens and parents.”
Different words. But the same thing.
All this time I’ve been concentrating on how the training I
got at Wood Badge could help me be a better online instructor at BYU-Idaho.
Part of me now sees this as a two-way street, as there are elements of our
online teacher training and the experience of teaching diverse groups of online
students will help make me a better Scouter.
As I sat in that Deacons Quorum room, I thought not of
Scouting, but of my students at BYU-Idaho. What am I doing in class to, as the
Scoutmaster Handbook advises, to make my classroom a safe place? To think
ahead? To recognize students as individuals? And then conversely: What am I
doing with my Scouts to encourage them to live gospel principles, to provide a
quality education for Scouts of diverse interests and abilities, and to
maintain a wholesome academic, cultural, social, and spiritual environment?
Should my goal be to squeeze my scouts through the eight
hours of community-based service they need for their Citizenship in the
Community merit badge, or to show them that there are community-based
organizations who need service from every person, including Scouts and Scout leaders,
so those organizations can concentrate on serving the public?
Should I sign my Scouts off on the Personal Fitness merit
badge because they‘ve stumbled through three months’ worth of push-ups and mile
walks and bookwork, or because through example they’re seeing how fitness now
will pay dividends well into the future that for them may as well be a million
years from now?
One hand can learn from the other. My role as an online
instructor at Brigham Young University-Idaho has as much to learn from Wood
Badge as my role as Scoutmaster has to learn from my teaching online English
So I took two of those Deacons – my Scouts – on their fast
offering route, forgetting that when I arrived at church, my first thought was:
My son is home sick; I don’t have to do fast offerings today either. We talked
about the wind, the cold, the coming snow that might make our camping trip the
coming weekend a bit more interesting. I reminded myself that one of those boys
was in charge of planning our upcoming court of honor as he works on his
Communication merit badge; I’d better follow up on that on Tuesday, lest the
court of honor go unplanned and his experience fulfilling those merit badge
requirements goes unfulfilled.
I also noted the need to plan ahead for my Foundations
English students. They’re starting work on their group projects, with some of
them already expressing anxiety over the mistake-makings of their peers. As I
remind them I’m not a fan of group work myself, I also mention, casually –
about half of what I do in my full-time job as a technical writer involves
working with groups. Work doesn’t have to be pleasant to be necessary.
Making of the President 1960, The; by Theodore White.
Read in 2017
Asterix Chez les Helvetes, by Uderzo and Goscinny. 48 pages.
Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Double Down, by Jeff Kinney. 218 pages.
Essential C.S. Lewis, The; edited by Lyle W. Dorsett. 536 pages.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. 184 pages.
Good Intentions, by Ogden Nash. 180 pages.
Le Bouclier Arverne, by Uderzo and Goscinny. 48 pages.
Non Campus Mentis, by Anders Henriksson. 150 pages.
Up the Down Staircase, by Bel Kaufman. 340 pages.
Ze page total: 1,704 pages.
The Best Part
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
"In my experience Miss Crisplock tends to write down exactly what one says," Vetinari observed. "It's a terrible thing when jouralists do that. It spoils the fun. One feels instinctively that it's cheating somehow."