E23 – Interview with Ben Godfrey (video, show notes, transcript)
In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith discuss Miss Catherine’s relationship with her alpha reader, Ben Godfrey!
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2327
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Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2327
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Miss Catherine MH. And I am joined by my fellow wizard and co host, Ve Griffith. This is episode 23, and this time we’re joined by my alpha reader, Ben Godfrey, and we’re here to discuss what both authors and readers should consider and expect with an alpha reader relationship. This episode is sponsored by our amazing patrons who help us to build our podcast so we can help make your editing and revision process so much better.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:31
Our patrons help us pay for transcripts for our shows that are available on our website, and for better audio recording quality. So listening is a little easier on your ears if you’d be willing to support the show financially for as little as a buck an episode. We have a bunch of neat benefits you can take advantage of, including a special podcast feed with extra content and personal updates, inside access as we collaborate on Avella, the opportunity to ask questions, professional editing, and more, you can find everything you need to email@example.com revisionwizards. And with that, here we go with Ben. So, new guest today. If you would please tell us your name and your pronouns.
Ben Godfrey 00:01:11
I’m Ben. He him.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:13
All right, so we’re here to talk about today about being and using an alpha reader. Can you tell us how you guys met and how you got involved in alpha reading for Ms. Catherine?
Ben Godfrey 00:01:24
We actually met outside of reading. Probably not uncommon, but she made a post the one time just looking for alpha readers. She had just kind of finished up the bulk of her first novel and clarion call through social media and thought, hey, that’d be neat and cool and a good way to get closer with a friend, do something that would help them out. So I shot a message. I’d be willing to do it, and it’s definitely taken off. We’ve done it for a bunch of years now.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:55
Well, Ms. Catherine, tell us, what is an alpha reader? How do you guys work together? What is the process?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:02:02
It’s torture for him. That’s what the process is, and it’s torture for me.
Ben Godfrey 00:02:05
Now, for one of us, it alternates back and forth.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:02:12
So an alpha reader is different from a beta reader because beta readers are usually when you are mostly finished with the book, maybe it’s right before the proofreader or right after, but beta readers are reading the book. Once you’ve given it to an editor, alpha readers can be there from the very beginning of the book all the way up through. So in Ben’s case, he got draft.
Ben Godfrey 00:02:37
One from some raw stages.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:02:40
Yes. You know how people are always like, no, draft one, you never show it to anyone. Yeah, Ben saw draft one and two.
Ben Godfrey 00:02:49
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:02:51
And he’s also seen like, hey, I’m working this chapter.
V.E. Griffith 00:02:57
So, Ben, what do you think the hardest part of doing this for her is?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:03:02
I’ll expand on that too, because you’ve done for two different books. So you pick whichever one you want to start with.
Ben Godfrey 00:03:10
Yeah. So overall, in the task as a whole, the most difficult part is as you make edits, as you’ve gone through some, especially on the second novel that we’ve worked on together, we’ve already done pretty much three full, pretty in depth, extensive level rewrites. And then one you’re reading, even when they’re different and changed a lot, character wise, timeline wise, a lot of things. New plot points. You’re reading some of the same content back to back and then you get a little bit of an addition bleed. You get to the end of a book, you’re 100 pages in. So you’re like, Was that something cut from the book? Is there a plot hole now? And you get difficult to remember what’s in this edition, what’s been clipped out, what new things have been added. Sometimes even character names change and you’re trying to remember if maybe someone got deleted and their traits rolled together. Sometimes you just got to step back because you’re like, I’ve read this book three times. It’s familiar, while also being different. That can be a chore.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:04:23
I’m sorry. So that was mostly the I think, anyway, the space opera one. What about Scandal’s Pen? Because I had only sent it to you, so I didn’t get to see your feedback immediately like we normally do.
Ben Godfrey 00:04:41
Yeah. So actually, one thing we do in our alpha reading the first book we worked on, you gave it to me. You had questions you wanted posed. I would kind of burn through the chapters, give you some feedback, see how things were, things that didn’t work, where I was having a hang up and I would give you some feedback once in a while if it was an exciting chapter. You got messaged in the middle of the chapter with a little bit of excitement, but you do miss a little bit. We found when we did the second one, where I would read it live in a call with you, it let us do a lot more intense editing and work. You got a lot more personal and timely feedback on it because sometimes when you even just put chapter by chapter, it’s hard to put into words or you gloss over the smaller things because you only remember the large ones at the end. You’re like, that was a problem. This was a problem. And you miss all the very small parts where maybe a line was fantastic. And even in an edit, you want to keep it. Or something was really confusing for a bit, but it did sort out later. But you kind of muddle through it for a minute and go reread those points. When we did it live, we got a lot more intensity to it, a lot more depth to it. And it also let me get way more hands on with you. It wasn’t just feedback. I could come in sit there, be like, this feels weird. This is clunky. The pacing is off. And we could workshop it together. So it definitely is a lot more intense. Hands on. You have to sync up schedules. But it definitely brought a lot more to the table as far as improving the work.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:06:24
Yeah, because it definitely became more of also a soundboard. However, you got real good at just making faces while you were reading, just because you could.
Ben Godfrey 00:06:36
It was a real excitement because sometimes she could tell it was clunky, but I’m pushing through just so I could get the gist of what’s going to happen before I gave her the feedback on what needed to change. Other times it was smooth. Great chapter, fantastic. The ones that just flowed out of her. But then I would read through it without too much facial expression suddenly, because I’m just absorbing it. And suddenly she’d be like, I’m worried. You could see the panic form because she wasn’t sure what was happening. Was it terrible? Was it great? Why am I not reading? Can you move the cursor? Was a common refrain. So I know where you are.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:07:19
I would start writing notes to be like, did you get here yet?
Ben Godfrey 00:07:23
Then there’d be little notes I’d be reading and she’d jump ahead. Wasn’t sure where I would be. And suddenly there’d just be a hilarious one line or a little inside joke. Suddenly a little comment so that I’d react and she’d know where I was at. So we definitely had fun. And you brought up soundboard, which was something else, too, because might read a chapter. Ten minutes, give you some feedback. Another 1015 minutes. But then issues we came to. I’d be like, you know what? We’re 15 chapters in. I still don’t know where the plot is going to be taking us. I feel a little I’m not hooked yet. Things like that, we could workshop. We would sometimes spend an hour, 2 hours after coming up with new plot points. Be like, you know what? We’re really lacking a protagonist to take control or an antagonist here just feels really lacking. And we would workshop things, sometimes chapters ahead. Sometimes we would have to go back and add things. So there was definitely a lot there, at least in our relationship to it. Yeah.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:08:24
Plus you make sure that I don’t plot anymore. Which is great. Although Ve is very annoyed at that because he is a plotter.
Ben Godfrey 00:08:31
So is she. I’ll be 100% honest here. Catherine big plotter. She sometimes pretends she’s not. And then you’ll see she’s got binders full of plans ahead of time.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:08:41
Well, that’s world building.
Ben Godfrey 00:08:44
By the time the space wrapper, the second book, I could tell exactly which chapters you plotted and which ones you didn’t. Because the ones you didn’t plot so much smoother, so much more organic. The ones you plotted felt like you were trying to stuff stuff into it and it was disjointed and it was clunky and the dialogue was broken and out of pace because you were trying to hit point to point without any connections, and I could pick them out instantly.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:09:10
So, see, you have now made me a complete panther. I don’t plot anything. It drives him insane.
Ben Godfrey 00:09:17
I don’t believe you don’t plot anything. You still have a lot of plots there, but I think you do let the process kind of take you in the current a little bit more. To my opinion, it’s for the better. It definitely lets you and it also lets you take new directions that you didn’t quite think. It makes the characters feel more alive themselves. I’ve appreciated it in your writing style.
V.E. Griffith 00:09:41
So what’s the best part of this mess for you, Ben?
Ben Godfrey 00:09:45
I think it’d be, to anyone who’s listening to this kind of podcast, the same thing that the author gets out of it, especially in the relationship that Catherine and I have formed, such a depth of what we work on together. And to that process, I may not be the kind of person who can just out of thin air, create a whole world like she does, but if I have a framework, I feel I’m fantastic at starting to fill that in, to bring it to life, to flesh it out. So you get that kind of same thrill of working on something. You get to see, in this case, a good friend whose vision is coming alive the same as she would read my reactions, the amount of the jokes and laughter and communication and dialogue we’ve had hours and hours across weeks and months on multiple novels, that it really brings a depth to your relationship and to your friendship. And you get to see that creation.
V.E. Griffith 00:10:46
If you had known then what you know now, would you have done it?
Ben Godfrey 00:10:50
Absolutely. I mean, it’s it’s exciting, even even if you’re not like the core author. It’s the same as someone who might work on a movie. Maybe they’re not the director or the title actor, but you still have that excitement for being part of that experience, part of that process, seeing part of that vision come to life. And there will be lines in there that I know I gave her. There’ll be plot points or ideas that I know I changed or took a different path because of an idea I had. And that’s super exciting. It’s the same excitement that the author or any artist doing any kind of creation gets to see and feel, except your version.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:28
Your version, I’m telling you, is going to get its own different ending. I hate you for it.
Ben Godfrey 00:11:34
Now, there is a lot of excitement.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:37
Ben Godfrey 00:11:41
The personal traits that I might appreciate or the way I feel a character that can be a real thing is I feel a character vibes or is described one way, maybe not by words, but by their actions and the tone and the personality they have, and it’s not what she intended. Maybe she still doesn’t realize that it’s different. And suddenly you’d be like, this character feels like this, and you kind of describe how the vibe that character is giving off and it doesn’t match what she thought she was writing. And then it’s like, well, am I reading that by my personal experience applied, did she not write it the way she originally intended? We’ve had a lot of back and forth, a lot of interesting conversations, and sometimes you both disagree and the author takes it one direction, and you’re sitting there and it just becomes a running inside joke between you because you’re like, I still don’t believe it.
V.E. Griffith 00:12:36
So, Catherine, what kind of advice would you offer an author who’s looking for an alpha?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:12:42
So if you’re looking for an alpha reader, you definitely want someone who likes to read. I got lucky when I was in the process of doing it. I wasn’t looking for an alpha reader. I was looking for betas, because I was like, I finished the book. Don’t you get people who read it? That’s the next step. You know, editing is the next step. People edit your book, then give it to people to read. If you’re looking for someone who is going to read the rough drafts, they have to be aware that it’s going to be the rough drafts. Like, there’s going to be spelling errors. Ben still laughs at my spelling errors. My computer now recognizes the Canadian spelling for several words because of his corrections. Definitely look for someone who’s going to give you honest feedback, who is going to enjoy the process of it. Don’t look for someone who’s just going to pat you on the back. Yeah, it’s really cool when he sits there and he’s like, I love this, but I want to hear no, I really don’t, but I want to hear, this part sucked. Like, no, this isn’t working. Please go fix this. They need to kiss. You need to cut 17 chapters.
Ben Godfrey 00:14:02
You’ve heard many of those. That’s a big thing, unless you’re finding someone in a circle who maybe isn’t your friend. But as we’ve discussed, the relationship we have for alpha level and the work we put in together isn’t just basic feedback to what we’ve done. So it’s obviously someone that you’re going to need to have confidence and trust in and maybe some kind of at least passable friendship there, too. But they’ve also got to be someone who’s not going to be a yes person that is going to be able to hit you with, this is terrible, and I know this is from your heart, but it is awful. And then also just work on fixing that. Sometimes it means back to the drawing board. Sometimes a whole chapter needs to be deleted, and parts of it that are good blended into another. Sometimes you get 200 pages in and you’re like, this plot is going nowhere. I’m reading an encyclopedia, and that’s a hard thing to task. We’ve thrived on the back and forth, but that’s not going to be every person you encounter. So you may not find the same level of intensity or feedback or success with any person out there, and that’s not a bad thing. They could still certainly help you at other phases, but not everyone’s going to bring the same amount of aid to that process.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:15:34
Yeah. And definitely know what you’re going to be looking for in an alpha reader, because I was looking for someone who could do story with me who yeah, you can get into the characters. I mean, I met Ben at a roaring 20s party and then I knew that he went and dressed up as a knight and would battle people on the side. So I was like, yeah, he can get into character, no problem. You could do characters with me. So know what you’re looking for when you go to talk with your Alpha, because I know I’m better now if I do. Hey, I wrote a chapter. Here you go. I haven’t even touched it again. Let’s go look it over. Versus when I gave him the whole manuscript, I still missed stuff. It was a fun conversation after, but I would have loved to have seen what you had thought of Scandal’s Pen per chapter. That would have been real interesting.
Ben Godfrey 00:16:31
Yeah, it is interesting for us to look back on that one because I got the whole book and it was the first one we did, and then now we look back at it after subsequent writing works we’ve worked together on, and you always wonder what that one would have been like. By the time I entered that draft was actually I felt much smoother except for maybe the first six chapters, and it was like, oh, this is going to be tough. That was the first time and really the only time I was almost regretting it. I was like, oh, okay. I gave my commitment to this task. It’s a little clunky and kind of forcing myself because it’s not like you picked up a book and suddenly you’re like, oh, this is exciting to me. It’s like, here’s a job, here’s a world. You don’t know what it’s like. Maybe you’re not in the mood to be reading and you’re like, I can’t wait all month and then start reading. I got to give her some feedback now. And it was a bit rough and then I got hooked and you got that flow and suddenly I was at work and I’d be twelve chapters later being, what are you doing? Or how dare you do this to my character? It was polished and I had that opportunity to get hooked, whereas in later ones we did chapter by chapter. Definitely for those works, though, was much more successful that way as well because they were a lot rougher and needed more work, and it gave us chances to work together. And we hit a point twice. We were on the third rewrite where it was like, we need to go back there’s cumulatively, enough changes that we need to go back, start it over, make some of these things, get them implemented, because going further isn’t going to be helpful because the whole plotline is probably going to evolve.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:26
Yeah, we’ve still put that one to the side. I haven’t gone back to it for a while. We needed a break, both of us.
Ben Godfrey 00:18:32
Yeah, but we’ve worked on a lot of projects, a lot of genres, a lot of characters, timelines, different types of period pieces. So our relationship for that has really evolved to where we have a mutual respect and appreciation for the other person, what they’re delivering. And we know that we can hammer out details. And even if it’s a character that I don’t like, she loves, you don’t like every character, but she feels it’s necessary to applaud. Sometimes you hate the villain, but you obviously know they’re necessary. So we have a lot of fun. And if you’re going to put that much time and effort into a person, it’s got to be someone that you’re going to be able to get along with for that kind of time. You don’t want just a coworker that you’d smile and nod for an hour a week and then you disappear. So for us, this has really worked.
V.E. Griffith 00:19:24
Out in your experience, or if you may not have any experience with this, when is it time to call it quits and end the relationship?
Ben Godfrey 00:19:32
We haven’t hit any kind of point of that. Hopefully we don’t. We glossed over a few points that might trigger something like that. If you’re in the market of searching for an alpha reader or you have a difficulty with it, we’ve already experienced points where we’ve just had to agree to disagree. Maybe I didn’t think a direction was the best or a character was necessary, but then I gave my feedback, I gave my appreciation, and you carry on if your relationship dynamic doesn’t allow for that. Also my feedback. I’m hoping she’s coming back to me many times. She greatly appreciate it and is helpful. Sometimes the feedback just isn’t there. The person might be really willing to help you, but they just either don’t have experience in it, the vocabulary for it, the vision to try and create stuff that it’s not for everyone. Not everyone can just plop down and write out a world or imagine a character that isn’t just themselves or someone from their personal experience. So you might just find a person who just doesn’t bring what you need. You’re just going to get very basic bland feedback that’s not really going to be helpful to you. We haven’t hopefully we don’t. I think we’ve done enough now that we’re probably pretty stable on that. But if you’re in the market for an alfredo, that’d be your biggest concerns. As someone who isn’t going to respect when you disagree and is going to be willing to disagree and not just.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:10
Be like, I liked it when we did Scandals Pen. I got to see the feedback separately so I could digest anything and then be like, okay, cool. I see where you’re coming from. When we’re doing the space opera, I’m getting it immediately. And sometimes you’ve got to really bite your tongue. So those have been the moments, especially when it comes to one character in that series who I’m going to really make a side series about just because it’s gotten to that point. But it really is about that feedback criticism.
Ben Godfrey 00:21:47
Yeah. If you’re like, another author is out there working with an alpha reader. How you receive that feedback and the level of involvement they have is going to be a very different place. Our first book, she got bulk generalized feedback after a bunch of reading, and I just gave her my opinions on things. I didn’t tell her how to change something. I didn’t feel like, this is the direction I’m feeling. It’s probably flowing, and that might work for a person. Maybe they don’t want someone else’s hands in their puzzle or their vision for it. But you also had time to digest what I said. If I was disagreeing with something, unhappy with something, you had time to think about it, wonder why. Maybe it was because it was supposed to be a point where the reader was lost and then the mystery got solved later. Whereas when we were doing it live, it was great for the process. Especially if you’re in an earlier phase of the book and you haven’t had a bunch of it already written or even completed. Potentially. But you get knee jerk reactions. You get those instant reactions where even sometimes I’ll be like, no, okay, I see what you’re doing there, and it can be fun, but it can also be anxious, anxiety inducing.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:23:13
Yeah. So if you’re not ready to get that feedback, or you are someone who needs that time, work your way up to what Ben and I have done, because we did work our way up to it. I used to give him chapters at a time. Maybe I’d sit and watch occasionally to me pestering him sometimes to be like, yo, read my chapter with me. So definitely know what style you’re ready for. And if you’re not ready for that, I’m getting the immediate feedback. Talk that out with your reader because you can work up to that.
V.E. Griffith 00:23:51
All right. And what did we miss about this process?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:23:55
V.E. Griffith 00:23:56
What did we not discuss that you think is important or that comes to mind?
Ben Godfrey 00:24:01
Some of these questions we already put on a tangent, so a lot of that stuff is probably buried in there somewhere. Hopefully anyone watching or listening to this will see the kind of dynamic that we’ve taken into the work we’ve done together where it really feeds back and forth off each other. That’s how we’ve ended up. Sometimes 20 minutes of work was on that core chapter she might have just written and wanted some immediate feedback on and 2 hours later we’re 20 chapters away in a plotline that’s probably going to trigger another rewrite as we’ve gone down a complete tangent and the same thing happens. Yeah, I don’t know necessarily off the top of my head what we may have missed, but it’s probably buried half of it in there somewhere.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:46
Alluded to I got lucky when it came to finding Ben, we clicked pretty well. Sometimes it might take somebody a little bit or maybe it’s definitely looking into the betas. If you’ve been getting beta readers and you have one that you’ve really been able to talk to, get good feedback from, you could then ask them on the next book hey, do you want to be an alpha? So that means that you’re in on the beginning process, not just seeing the end. So, I mean, I got lucky with my ben. You guys need to go find yourselves a Ben.
Ben Godfrey 00:25:23
Appreciate it. But that is a good source as well. If you have a beta who is going really above and beyond the content and feedback they’re giving you. Not just feedback on what’s there, but maybe starting to add this would be a good direction suggestions or things like that where they’re really starting to give suggestions out. That would probably be a great person to bring on board and trial as an alpha. Because the big difference between the two is the first book I was more just the beta reader. The book was essentially start middle end. It was there, it was formatted, things might need to adjust but the plot was really already hammered out, the characters were hammered out other when we space opera and other subsequent things we’ve worked on was not the case we were in much earlier. Characters were still being workshopped even as things wrote like as we were adding traits to the characters as plots revealed new things about them. And we also just have different points. I for 01:00 a.m. Terrible at picking out all of the little foreshadowing she’ll put in. I’ll hit an end of a chapter and she’ll be like did you get the ten foreshadowing points every other beta reader got them? No, I got none of them. But I also just from feel and my own personal experiences figured out the giant plot twist that she had for the entire third act in the first act and she’d be like how did you figure that? I haven’t even started foreshadowing that one. And then you missed all the obvious things. So different people are going to bring different levels and that is where we’ve done really good work, just you and I. But you also don’t want to isolate yourself to just one person and depending on who they are, you’re going to get a lot of different feedback.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:27:14
Yeah. And again, I got lucky with this because Ve has been editing actually, you finished editing Scandals Pen and you read Edit Four, so you got a very clean version compared to poor Ben. And a lot had changed since Ben read it. But it was interesting because you came back to me and you were like, hey, the first 17 chapters need to be cut. And I was like, that’s what Ben said, too. I was like, oh, cool. Because I do like the idea of you collect information.
Ben Godfrey 00:27:50
That’s a really exciting thing for me because you never know, I will be very intense and opinionated about changes or directions and work that needs to be workshopped. But you never know if that’s just my standpoint. Maybe I’m that one person who doesn’t like a character that everyone else loves. But then sometimes she’ll come back and be like, I fed this off to three or four other people, and everyone’s in agreement. Or everyone is just being, like, really worried to tell me that something was bad, but they felt they had to do it. And then they tell you something that they think is going to hurt you and you’re like, yeah, Ben’s been saying the same thing already. I just wanted a second opinion first. I was already briefed on this, so I guess he was right. So it’s exciting when, you know, as part of just as a creation, like a person working on creating something, it is really nice to have that bit of confirmation. You’re able to put yourself outside your own mind, outside your own experiences, and just try and see things more from the character, from the world, from the diverse audience you’re hoping to attract to that piece.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:06
So you were right, Ben. Unlike two parts for Scandals Pen, the third one you’re not right. And we will still fight over that piece all day.
Ben Godfrey 00:29:16
And that’s one of those agreed and disagrees where I’m going to just pencil it into my copy at the end. That’s the evolution of fan fiction right there.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:28
V.E. Griffith 00:29:29
Well, Catherine knows what I think Scandal’s Pen needs. And without giving any spoilers yeah, okay. Yeah, I’m not going to give any.
Ben Godfrey 00:29:39
Spoilers about the special edition. Can sell more than the original.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:47
There you go. Okay, well, I guess that basically wraps it up. I really appreciate Ben, you coming on and we will see everybody next time.
Ben Godfrey 00:30:00
Thanks for having me. That was fantastic, everyone. Have a great night.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:30:03