Last weekend I completed an interesting experience. I was an alpha-reader for Mary Robinette Kowal, author of Shades of Milk and Honey, and Glamour in Glass, two books in a historical fantasy series set in Jane Austen-esque England, except with magic. The next book, Without a Summer, comes out next year. She’s also part of the Writing Excuses team, whose work I completely enjoy and appreciate.
She’s been working on the draft of her fourth book, which I’m not sure I should give the name, as it may be subject to change, and part of her process involves letting a group of readers go through the draft practically as it comes from her fingers. Proofreading is not what we’re there for; she hasn’t tried to fix typos and minor errors yet. She simply wants to know the impact on the reader.
I was select both in spite of and because I had not read the second book yet. I was perhaps a test case to see if she was able to give me enough information so that I wasn’t lost, but without having to recap the previous books. Not a problem there, though I’m fairly good at deducing things and not getting too irritated when books allude to things that happened elsewhere.
Let me first say that, even in raw form, I enjoyed the book. I think it’s better than Shades of Milk and Honey, and I enjoyed that one. I really need to go read Glamour in Glass now.
It was also fascinating to watch her at work, so to speak. Sometimes she would simply make note of our comments and keep going. Sometimes she would take our comments and immediately go back and revise previous chapters. She’s a cool customer; she took it all in stride and never sounded defensive. We were valued.
Seeing how a professional writer’s first draft looks was also encouraging. There were typos, dropped words, bracketed places where information or names were to be inserted at a later date, notes to herself to check her research, etc. As I knew the purpose of what I was doing it didn’t throw me out of the story (much–sometimes it’s impossible to not notice things). I wasn’t there to bird-dog misspellings.
But she’s won a Hugo, and her drafts are not perfect, scintillating prose from the moment it enters the screen. She’s probably got several rewrites ahead. It’s probably safe to say when the book comes out there will be parts I won’t even recognize. She’s got at least one other group lined up to take a similar pass through as well.
It was a great opportunity, and I look forward to both applying some of the things I’ve learned in my own writing, and to reading the finished product from cover to cover without the delays waiting for her to finish writing the next chapter (to her credit, they did come out fairly quickly). If you haven’t checked out her Glamour series, you might want to do so. It’s good stuff!