Crawling Along

I'm happy to have an abysmal word count. Yes, that might sound a bit odd or self-defeating, but really it's all a matter of context. If this was November and I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo I would be unhappy with my daily average word count over the past week. But this is May, and—in what has been a difficult year for me so far—I've been doing almost no writing at all lately. When I look back over the past week, though, I can see that I made progress every single day in a long-delayed fantasy work-in-progress. It might have been just a couple hundred words, or going back and fixing a large continuity error, but it's progress. Slow progress is better than no progress; so, without any sarcasm, I can say that I really am pleased by my recent work on that novel.

As I get closer to completing the first draft of this novel, for which the prequel has already been written and the sequel is well under way, I'm puzzling over how I can get enough beta readers to effectively test some different approaches with this series. I'd like to get input from several people for each of the following scenarios:

  1. Read the works as I wrote them: Current novel with prologue, then prequel, then sequel.
  2. Read the works as I wrote them, but leave out the prologue from the current novel.
  3. Read the works in story chronological order (prequel, current novel, sequel), with prologue.

After getting feedback directly from readers of those different scenarios, I'd also like to have them join together in a discussion about the books, to see how the different perceptions relate to each other.

As you might guess, the prologue in the current novel is a sticking point for me, despite being very short. It dovetails with the prequel, and if the prequel is read first then there's really no point in leaving it out. Thus the lack of a fourth scenario. However, I can see some different outcomes in how readers perceive the main character based on whether or not they have that background knowledge. I think the story could be, at least initially, very different to a reader who is unaware of the events prior to chapter one of the novel I'm currently writing. This might be overstating it a little, but it could be the difference between perceiving the story to be like the Harry Potter series versus the Thomas Covenant series.

The third option, reading the prequel first, is more about curiosity than anything. I don't think I would publish it that way, but it would be good to know how the story is perceived if it was done that way. It would also, to a degree, act as a "control group" for the other two.

Testing these different presentations requires more beta readers than I've ever had. There's no value in any given reader being in more than one test group, so—if I'm looking even at the minimal case of three readers in the first two cases—it's still more readers than I've had at that stage of pre-publication.

I'm not exactly recruiting beta readers at this point, but I wouldn't turn people away either. If you'd like to be in one of these test groups (probably without knowing which group you are in), feel free to leave a comment. On the other hand, if you're waiting to see if I offer some goodies as incentives, well… don't hold your breath, but maybe that will happen!