The other good news is that both of them had some really good feedback on how to improve the book further. I was pleased they could do that, as I would have suspected that praise unaccompanied by suggestions for improvement would have been fairly hollow.
I'm now at the tail end of my third draft of the story, taking on board their feedback and trying to address some of the points they raised.
Here are some of the pointers they gave me (not including the ones that would be plot-spoilers, obviously)...
- Visuals - Both Beta readers said that the book needed more visual description, especially of locations and characters. I suppose there's little point in setting your story in a fantastical steampunk world if you don't describe it to the reader every now and again. Now, I wanted to avoid any "stop to describe a face" moments and so cut a lot of this out of previous drafts in the interests of pace. I've gone back and spiced up the visual elements hopefully without slowing things down too much or being clunky about it.
- Villain Earlier - Again, both the guys said that the villain needed to show up earlier in the story. They felt it could do with a Bond-style "false showdown" with the main villain or his henchman early in the plot. An actual encounter has proved difficult to stage, but I've tried to introduce the idea of the villain as a malign presence hanging over the earlier stages of the story. Our heroes don't get to actually meet the villain, but he's hopefully lurking there in the back of the reader's mind. We'll see how that works.
- Characterisation - Some of the minor characters need a little more fleshing out, especially those who go on to affect the plot. I've gone back in and done what I can around this, particularly for the main supporting characters.
- Naming - One of the Beta Boys questioned the main character's name. Was it intentionally bland? Hmmm. I had hoped the name would lend him the air of an everyman called upon to do extraordinary things. But "bland" was definitely not what I was aiming for! I'm struggling a bit with this one. I'd grown quite fond of this guy, name and all, so changing it feels wrong. I'll experiment a bit more and see if anything else comes up that sounds right to me.
Overall, really useful feedback that will undoubtedly make Red Mercury a better read. One more Beta reader to come back with his thoughts and then it'll be final draft and publishing time. Eek!