Beta Readers

The ironic aspect of crafting a novel is that the writing it is not the largest or most daunting part of the project. Even or especially for the enormous epic fantasies. No, in my opinion the editing and rewriting are the largest and most daunting, overwhelming, and sometimes soul-crushing tasks for writers (new writers especially).

So you’ve gotten to that magical phrase “The End,” now what? Well that’s easy, re-read and edit yourself to the best of your ability. For some, this is not terribly difficult because we’ve written to the best of our ability so there’s only so much we can edit. Ah see, there’s the problem. Did you catch it? We can only edit ourselves to the degree of skills in which we have. There are no easy buttons that a writer can push to enable the Super-Duper Editor mode, so likely the amount that we can catch on ourselves is not a terribly large amount. We’re limited, and often feel like we can’t see the forest from the trees.

In fact, there is only one “tool” that I’ve heard repeated at length that seems everyone agrees, from young to old, that works the best and that’s reading your work out loud. It sounds like common sense, but it doesn’t occur to most writers.

Even then, it might sound great to you after a few tweaks here or there. But most likely, it still isn’t submission ready. You need another set of eyes.

Keep this in mind, this is the most important word of advice for ANYONE in creative fields – Don’t ask your family for editing work. (unless your last name is King and your father’s first name is Stephen; or Asimov, and Isaac, etc) If you have famous writers, or well rated editors or other industry insiders in your family you’re obviously playing with a better hand than the rest of us and this rule doesn’t apply to you. And the rest of us huddling in the cold of non-superior writer’s family hate you for your good fortune. Ha, I’m kidding…maybe.

It’s likely you’ll have to join the rest of the lowly regular Joe writers and find someone else to peer or Beta-edit for you and there are a couple of options: Free or paid.

Paid editing is probably the safest, but really you get what you pay for and good editors are going to charge you a good amount. (good in their terms, not necessarily yours) If you want to pay for it, web searching “manuscript critique” should put you on the right path. Why is this the safest? Well, it’s because these editors probably want to stay in business so they do their all to ensure you’ll get a quality product and protect your confidentiality and property. If they don’t, their reputation and future income is on the line.

But say you’re like me and money is more of an obstacle than you’d like to admit – and well an pro editor is kinda sorta definitely out of the question. What then? What’s worked for me so far is a couple of different things: allowing time and publication rejections to tell you how far you need to come, though this along with harsh reviews once your work is published is the most painful way to learn. The least painful and probably most enjoyable is getting out into the writing community by way of participating in a local writing group or writing organization. There you’ll connect with others who share your passion and likely have more experience than you. If you take your time and commit to your group in a friendly and whole-hearted way chances are that you’ll pick up a couple of friends who could point you in the right direction.

Probably the most risky way of trying to find peer editing is joining purely on-line writing communities. Now, I’m not talking about small on-line forum groups (less than fifty members), I’m talking about the groups that count their members in the thousands. While these are great ways to share creative passions and connect with like minded folks, participating in huge on-line forums can open your work up to big risks. Just like with any other on-line activity, you don’t know who is on the other end of the line, and there isn’t any real way to protect your work if you run in to someone with less than honest intentions. I want to say that such people are rare, but how many would need to steal your work for it to have been catastrophic for you? One. So be careful. And it’s not just the stealing that you have to worry about – some might claim to have great skills but when it comes down to it, they could give you poor advice that could take you down the wrong path.

The safest – free – option would be to trust your work to a writer you know in person, someone whose work you’ve read and enjoyed. If they have time in their schedules to lend you advice then it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

For more information, I found these sites to be helpful:

Belinda Pollard at Small Blue Dog Publication

Chuck Sambuchino at Writers Digest

and author Lindsay Buroker

One of the tips I saw on these sites for finding authors was to reach out through Twitter. I haven’t tried this yet and I’m not a huge twitterer but this sounds like an interesting idea. Has anyone tried finding a Beta reader this way and want to share?

There is one HUGE aspect to beta reading that must be kept in mind…well maybe two. If you’re not paying for it, pay it forward once you get good enough at your craft. Beta read for others and they’ll (in theory) be more likely to beta edit for you. And two, be patient. They’re doing you a favor by reading and commenting on your work for free. It could take them some time to get back to you and you should respect that. If you have something that needs immediate attention let them know up front so they can decide if your work can fit in their schedule. If it can’t, you have to be okay with that.

Well, that’s all I have for this Technique Tuesday. I hope you found it helpful and will join me next week.




5 thoughts on “Beta Readers

    • Thanks for your comments Belinda. I enjoyed reading your blog post about beta readers and was happy to share your useful work with others. That is an excellent suggestion about twitter. Though I’m not huge on twitter yet, I can see how writers can connect in big ways there. I think the best ways to find Beta readers is spontaneous. I have found my best betas in writing groups because we all share our work. I think it’s easier to spot the writers who could give you helpful advice based on the quality of the work they produce. Sometimes…can’t say always because some people are better editors than writers and vice versa.

      Again, thanks for taking time out of your day to read and comment.

  1. Hi Sevren, thanks for recommending my beta reader articles. 🙂 Glad you found them useful.

    I met two of my beta readers through Twitter. We had been tweeting back and forth for many months, and had figured out that we had some things in common. We had been to each other’s blogs and then started email conversations about specific things, nothing to do with beta reading at that stage. In one case, the person then said to me: “Hey, we should critique each other’s work, would you like to do that?” (months before either of us needed a beta) In the other case, when I was in meltdown in my final run up to submitting my ms, and I tweeted something about it, the other person sent me a DM saying: “Can I help?” And so we ended up in a beta reading relationship from that. I’m now beta reading her next ms too. So yes, Twitter really does work… but it takes time. Hope you find some great betas!

  2. I’ve found that beta readers can indeed be invaluable, though it can be hard to find quality ones. I haven’t made use of this option for my recent works, but I believe I will for my upcoming novel. It’s my most complex story and I want to make sure readers will enjoy it…

    • You are exceptional, Bard. Some people have the skills that allow them the confidence to put their work out without having a million reviews/edit sessions with others. I’m not there quite yet with my skills or my confidence, and sometimes I think I may never be. I’ve realized that after writing and editing my own that I can’t always see my mistakes so Beta readers are really invaluable for me. You saying your next novel may be complex enough to need betas makes me really interested as your stories are already complex. Good luck! 🙂

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