Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beta Party Time: "Booking It" Behind the Scenes!

     My nerves were a little on edge. In less than 48 hours, all eight of my beta readers would converge in my living room for a critique session. I wasn't so worried about their opinion of  my book . . . I was more frantic about the party itself. See, I tend to be a perfectionist-- you know--the kind of hostess that can't relax enough to enjoy her own parties? 
     This time I was determined to break that pesky hostess habit and organization was the key. With a little behind-the-scenes help from Pinterest and my novel, this was the BEST party I've ever thrown! And the MOST fun, too! Here's some simple and thrifty ideas for your next beta critique party or book club party.

Party Theme.
  Let your party theme be determined by the book or manuscript you will discuss. My novel is a contemporary romance set in the rugged mountains of Colorado. My hero is a horse rancher and cowboy, so a Western theme worked well for me. My heroine is a Texas architect with  unusual, Columbine-blue eyes. So, my primary color for the party decorations was a deep violet-blue, or as close as I could come to it. Of course, romantic elements such as hearts, roses, and chocolate were a must. 

Dinner Menu

     I told my beta readers in their invitation, the dinner menu would be based around one of the meals mentioned in my book.That kept them guessing until they walked through my door. I picked  an episode where my characters shared a meal at a Mexican food restaurant and built my party menu around it. Like my hero and heroine, my beta readers munched down on chips and salsa for appetizers. For the main entree, I served homemade sour-cream chicken enchiladas with re-fried beans and Spanish rice.
      Iced tea is my heroine's favorite beverage and it happens to be my my betas' favorite choice as well.
      At one point in the book, my heroine makes a chocolate cake and tops it with homemade icing. Although her cake falls, I'm glad to say my chocolate cake did not. It was totally yummy . . . and yes the icing was made from scratch.  ( I am making myself hungrier with each paragraph I type! So let's move on.)


Party Decorations
     Keep it simple and use what you already have around your home.

  •       Table Lanterns. In keeping with the Western theme, I dug out several Mason jars and drinking glasses from my cupboard. After all, I do live in Texas, so these are always on hand. I ran off copies of my romance scenes onto card stock paper and cut out two heart-shaped holes in the paper. I inserted the paper inside the jars and trimmed it to fit. I placed a battery operated LED candle in the bottom of the jar so the light would shine through the heart-shaped hole.It gave off a nice glow without fear of flames or smoke from a real candle.Then I screwed the lids and rings on the jars and wrapped the neck of the jar with blue ribbon. Western-themed stickers helped fill some blank spots.

The LED candles were inexpensive and quite a hit.
  •      Table Centerpiece. In my book, my heroine receives two bouquets of yellow roses, one from the hero and one from the villain.  I placed one vase of yellow roses in the center of the dining table. Around the roses, I positioned some of my favorite Julie Lessman romance books, along with some of my  writing books.  I printed some of  the love scenes from my book onto red paper and cut them into numerous confetti-style hearts. These decorated the table from one end to the other, adding a splash of bright color against the blue tablecloth.

  •      Coffee table Centerpiece. At one point in my book, the heroine mentions to the hero her love of chocolate. Later, she finds a vase of flowers on her coffee table, surrounded by a wide assortment of chocolates.When my hero sends flowers to my heroine, he writes a short poem on the card. I couldn't resist this romantic touch from the story, and I placed a second bouquet of yellow roses on the coffee table. Then I  included some of my favorite chocolates.( I'm sure my heroine would approve.)

Party Favors
     I made a variety of Christian themed book marks and placed one beside each beta's place setting. 
Simplest party favor for a book party!


  •     Photo Gallery Guessing Game. Over the course of writing my novel, I had clipped pictures that best matched the visions I saw in my head. Now that my betas had read the book, I wanted to know if they could match the correct picture with the correct characters, settings, rooms and homes I described in the book.Using the same blue ribbon, I strung up the pictures over the blinds of my sliding glass door, allowing lots of room. This was a great filler between the appetizer and entree dishes. The betas had a lot of fun speculating and taking their guesses as to who was who.
Guess who is who and what is what?
  •      Trivia Quiz and Prizes. After dinner, we gathered in the living room and I provided paper and pens for the trivia quiz over the book. The questions were simple such as: "What are the names of the heroine's niece and nephew?" This was a fun icebreaker and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners got to choose their book prize from among a basket of my lightly-read book collection. 
When it's too hot for a fire, use candles in the fireplace for ambiance.  But don't set your books too close!

Discussion time
     We began with a prayer, inviting God into our discussion. I urged each beta to be totally honest and not hold back their opinions. I can't get better as a writer, unless I know where I'm making mistakes. Using the completed worksheets they had brought with them, we began our discussion.( More about what I learned from them in the next post.)

Your turn: Have you ever thrown a book club party or been to one? Any cool ideas you'd like to share? 

Coming up: What I learned from my betas. 



  1. Don't forget..the big winner of your quiz got to take home their own batch of homemade enchiladas! I was so jealous. And now I'm hungry for Mexican food and chocolate!

    1. I did forget to mention that the enchiladas were the big prize! I guess I was making myself so hungry, I had to move on to non-food items and get off the topic. Ha!

  2. Oh, this is all so cool...and what a neat thing to do for your betas. Love those table lanterns!

    1. Thanks, Melissa. I got the idea for the lanterns on Pinterest but had to tweak it a bit. I've found they are sturdy enough to use outside for patio dining too. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. WOW. Very cool. I'd definitely want to be your beta. LOL btw, I kept meaning to tell you I judged your entry in a contest. Don't remember the name of the contest but I liked your writing. :-) I got your thank you note, which is how I knew it was yours.

    1. Jessica,
      I think that is so cool that you were one of my judges.You must have judged the preliminary rounds of Genesis. I bet I can guess which one you were. There's something about your complimentary spirit I recognize and appreciate.

  4. Ava, I love your well thought out party! As I read it, I was thinking about what themes I could pull out of my book - and using the pictures for your Betas to guess who is who made me realize I need to amp up my character descriptions so that some day my Betas could do the same thing!

    Great, great ideas! I'm totally loving this series. :)

    1. Ultra cool! It made my day to know the wheels are spinning in your head. Winding up the series with the next post.


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