Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Writing Wednesday: ARCs and Betas and SMEs - Oh My!
An ARC technically stands for an Advanced Reader Copy. This can either be "official," as in the advanced copies from your publisher of your final work, that you can distribute for reviews, or it can be a draft ARC, which is how I'm using the term today. A draft ARC is the "finished" reading copy you send to trusted readers to get their opinion of the story arc and characters, for them to tell you if it flows, if it works, if it holds together... basically, if you need to dive back in and make changes before you send it to the editor for the last time.
Those trusted readers - those are your Betas. You, the author, are the Alpha, right? You wrote it, you read it first. Betas are the ones who are the first ones to read it besides you. Having a slush pile reader or an acquisition editor be your Beta is a rookie mistake. Big no no. I know I've talked about Betas before, finding someone who will give you an honest opinion and tell you where the plot holes lie.
Something I didn't think too much about until my current work in progress is having an SME, or Subject Matter Expert. There's probably a better literary world term for this type of reader, but in my other world (the tech industry) they love their acronyms, and SME is one of the terms thrown about a lot. It basically means someone who knows what they're talking about for a specific subject.
A lot of authors, myself included, can get by with learning and writing about a profession other than our own or a place we've never actually visited through research. The internet is a fabulous tool for that, as is the public library. When I wrote Ghosts Don't Lie, I did a lot of internet research on diabetes, crack, and of course various psychic powers. I didn't have a drug dealer read through that specific chapter to make sure I portrayed him realistically, but I did read a lot of police accounts and first person narratives to get a feel for that scene.
But other times an author needs to get it right. Julie James, for instance, was a lawyer before she started writing romantic suspense, so she "knows" the lawyer parts of her story. But she still consults with SMEs about the FBI and police procedural parts of her stories to be certain to get that right. If you look at the Acknowledgements sections of a book, they will often thank the SMEs they spoke to or who beta read for them to get the details right.
Why is that important?
Well, first of all, if a storyline is talking about something the reader is familiar with, they will KNOW when it's wrong, and the author immediately loses credibility. For just a simple example, I was reading a book supposedly set on Martha's Vineyard in March, where everyone was wearing tank tops and shorts for spring break. Umm, really? This is New England, not the Caribbean. The clothing should have been more L.L.Bean warmth than the barely there get-up the author described. Did I finish reading that book? Of course not. She insulted me by not knowing what she was talking about.
In my current WIP (work in progress), a cop goes undercover at a 5-star resort to catch a drug dealer. You'd think the cop stuff would be my sticking point, but my bigger problem was actually the resort.
I've worked in kitchens, but not a 5-star resort, and not recently. There are rules my story violated that I had no idea I was breaking, despite both my research and prior knowledge. For one of my Beta readers, I went back to the trained chef who first helped me understand the outline of 5-star kitchen hierarchy. She pointed out the health code violations my supposed trained kitchen staff were breaking. Would readers have caught these flaws and stopped reading because of them? Maybe. (Certainly she would have.) But I feel better knowing I got it right. And it gives the story more credibility as a whole.
There's a reason for the advice "Write what you know." The reader has to be able to trust what they're reading, or else it pulls them out of the story. But. If you don't know, research. And find an SME to help you out. Most are more than happy to chat about their jobs, and walk you through the finer points you might need for a story.
What do you think? Have you ever used an SME for a story?