After Monday’s post on the evils ways of impatience, Margaret Yang initiated a discussion in the comments section about the handiness of beta readers — those people who read your rough drafts, give you suggestions, and hopefully provide you with a dash of honesty mixed with a spoon-full of encouragement.
So. Who reads your work before you send it out? Whom do you trust? And perhaps most importantly, how to you know when and when not to take their advice?
Renee Collins says
Best Betas ever.
It’s true, the MoMos rock.
What’s been nice (besides having two awesome girls who also write YA look over my stuff and help me strengthen plots) is the support system. We’re all doing about the same thing–either editing or submitting–and it’s invaluable to have people going through the exact same thing to complain and celebrate with.
Julie (and george), I like the way you detailed some comments and the back-and-forth between you and your beta. It shows me how dangerous it can be to your psyche if you’re handing something over to someone who isn’t on the same wavelength.
My sister who was a literary agent for TV started to read my novella and because my heroine had a quick wit, immediately thought “Juno!”. Well, no, not exactly. After that, she couldn’t get it out of her head. So it never clipped along at the pace she was expecting, and found it “hard to read”. I eventually won her over halfway through, but I could see notes galore that would have totally missed the point.
In the end, I think you really have to trust your vision, which is why you’re putting finger to key in the first place. I love to return to my ms because there’s a tone there that I’m craving. The trick is to translate that to someone walking in from stage left.
I’m doing some things right now in my new book that just sparkle for me but may buck a trend here and there. If I find an agent or publisher who isn’t more interested in filling their funnel and uses a formula stencil they got at an agent seminar to do it, I think I can entertain the hell out of them. I think that because I’m entertained, and I just have to trust that I’m being objective enough and critical enough of my own hand.
Voice, voice, voice. From page count to rhythm to chapter structure. I’m still trying to get my career going, but I have this feeling I need to protect it at all costs. To do that, my beta has to get that, too.
I am a total slut when it comes to sharing my manuscripts, and I have a wide variety of readers. Some are other writers who will give it to me straight and let me know when something doesn’t work. I value these readers’ advice greatly, but I still pick and choose which of their criticisms I will actually use. In addition to the constructive critics, I also need those cheerleader types who say nothing but great things about what I write. These are usually friends and family who aren’t working on novels themselves. I keep the cheerleader comments in a special folder in my inbox to look at when I get discouraged.
My husband reads everything I write first. This is mostly because of his amazing grasp on grammar, and secondly because he is really good at being able to say, “I know you meant to say ___ but it comes across as ___”.
After that I revise, and pass it off to a few friends.
Simon Haynes says
I had 14 beta readers for my last novel, and that included my wife and both kids. I acknowledged them all in the thank-yous, because they all did a great job highlighting things they weren’t sure about or pointing out the slower parts of the book so I could rev them up.
Mon Chéri says
In truth I probably trust too many…First off, I offer it to friends and family, then by word of mouth, I end up having more people requesting to read it. (These are people I don’t personally know very well but my friends know them and have asked permission to share.) These betas also offer their help in finding the typos that I tend be blind to. When it comes to taking the advice, I generally trust the more qualified readers, the English majors for example. But I have gotten some brilliant advice from my teen readers as well. Generally I know, by instinct, right away if the advice is good or not.
I occasionally get asked to beta-read by people who know my writing style and/or reading preferences. I also get asked by writers who like a review I wrote on their piece. They don’t know me personally but our initial interactions usually stem from shared interests: like…an online community for a genre. That’s how it starts.
I think it’s best to start there and sift through a bunch of beta-readers. This process takes a while but it pays off. Personalities should be taken into consideration b/c it’s still a working relationship of sorts.
Generally, I get asked to give general feedback on plot, characters, pace, theme, figurative language, etc. I usually request they ask someone else for syntax. Syntax is very tricky, especially in creative writing. It’s a different story when the “rules” are breached.
If the intended audience is a broad range of people, I personally think writers are limiting their work if they only ask people they know to read it. Many commentators here seem to do so.
Mon Chéri says
Actually some of my most helpful beta readers have been other authors. There’s nothing like swapping with another writer and working on their book while they work on yours. I’ve met some of those through querytracker.net and at writer’s conferences. (Oh, and about that typo in my previous post, see that just proves why we need beta readers. It was intentional, I swear. LOL)
I have NO critique partners or beta readers!
WHERE ARE YOU FINDING people to exchange ms with?
I’ve tried using the SCBWI chapter in my area but there were only two and both were already defunct by the time they answered my email. I’ve also tried a few online YA writers I know in cyberspace, but they had no openings in their groups, either.
People say start your own, but how, where?
Nobody. I don’t want anybody phunkin’ wit me head.
bryan russell says
Since some people are asking where to find Beta readers, I’ll recommend the one place I’m familiar with (and to which I belong) that’s suitable for any writer with online access. Forward Motion for Writers is a large online community (almost 12,000 members, I believe) of writers from across the world. Any and every writer is welcome. The main goal of the site is to help writers towards publication, but there’s hundreds of other aspects to the site as well. Dozens (hundreds?) of private crit groups are run through the site (though openings come up all the time in these groups, and are advertised on the site), and there’s also a forum for connecting with writers who want to trade and crit manuscripts, as well as opportunities to form entirely new crit groups. On top of this there’s also an open critique forum available to any member (and the membership is entirely free, by the way), where people post writing and return crits.
So, anyone looking for readers/critiques/a writing community… this is a good place to check out. I can personally vouch for the people there, and how helpful and professional everyone tends to be. It’s a very positive place, really, and I recommend it. It also has a lot of other interesting areas, as well. There’s chat rooms where writers hash over the craft (among other things), there’s dares and workshops and free classes, there’s forums for every genre and every area of the craft. There’s areas available for professional advice, for workshopping queries, for questions about publishing, agents and editors. Really, it’s a big place, with lots of resources valuable to a writer. And I stress again, the atmosphere is positive and supportive, and constructive criticism is available.
Check out Forward Motion for Writers (google that and it should come up lickety split). Again, it’s a large community with a variety of resources, and membership is free.
Plug over. (And no, I am in now way involved in running or managing the site. Simply an appreciative member.)
Qualifier: I write non-fiction — travel books.
I don’t let anyone read anything until the first draft of the book is done. It interrupts the flow for me, and since I write very quickly, I can’t handle the interruptions. It is a distraction. But, when it is all out on paper, I have my husband read it. He is great and comes to my writing from a VERY different perspective — he only reads fiction, largely thrillers. We have totally opposite reading tastes.
I also have a good friend who is a former newspaper editor. His comments on my last manuscript were invaluable. And again, his perspective is totally different from mine.
Ultimately, I think it is important to have people who come to the manuscript with different perspectives. After all, if I have done my job well, few of my readers will be travel experts. So, to have readers who don’t know much about the subject give me their comments is tremendously valuable.
I take a number of classes at university, and the focus of pretty much all of those classes is workshop. It’s really useful because it means we get critiques from a number of people of varying tastes and denominations.
How do I know when to take their advice? It’s pretty much what other people have been saying – if it’s something I’ve already been thinking about, I’ll probably do it. If it makes sense, I’ll consider it pretty carefully, even if I don’t like the idea that much at first, before I make the decision. If a number of people point to the same thing, it’s worth considering.
One thing I do when I’m waffling with a piece of advice is just rewrite the paragraph/scene/story in question. There’s no better way to see if a suggestion works than to try it.
My first two novels were read by my father and his wife, and my neighbour Carol. They all offered limitless advice about characters, plot, what made them excited and what made them confused. They are all a great help to me.
My crit partners over at Romance Writers Unlimited go over my chapters one at a time with a fine-tooth comb.
I don’t know what I’d do without them! Who ever said writing was a solitary experience?
I only take advice from the people who are paying me.
Where to find beta readers?
I found my first few critique groups through creative writing classes. You may hit it off with some of your classmates and want to continue meeting after the class finishes, or the teacher may know of some local groups – both have happened to me. (Do find out before you sign up for the class whether the teacher’s genre preferences match yours, though!) Even if you don’t sign up for a class, do check the bulletin boards in the English department of your local university or college, as well as at your local indie bookstore. That’s where I found my current in-person group.
Later, I joined NaNoWriMo (Google it if you haven’t heard of it). The NaNoWriMo forums have sections for editing, so you can probably find critique partners there; the age distribution skews pretty young, but there’s a significant number of mature, committed writers as well. I’m now in an offshoot writing forum of mostly NaNoWriMo alumni.
I’ve heard good things about Forward Motion, the Online Writing Workshop, and Critters.
One last thing to mention – IMHO there’s no reason to pay someone to critique your novel (or to edit it, but that’s another discussion). There are plenty of people who will give good critiques for free, especially if you’re willing to critique theirs in return.
Tracey S. Rosenberg says
There are plenty of people who will give good critiques for free, especially if you’re willing to critique theirs in return.
Ah, but there’s the rub. I don’t have the time right now to critique anything by anyone else (and thus I don’t feel that I have the right to ask anyone to critique mine).
I live in the Netherlands, so i need to go online for critique partners. I’ve found great people on critiquecircle.com. Very varied community, but once you’ve been active for a few months, you’ll make a connection with some very good critique partners/beta readers.
Tracey – Yes, that’s something I’m struggling with right now. I’m critiquing but not writing. Have I gotten too far into the critiquing mindset and paralyzed myself; is critiquing taking up the time and creative energy that I need for writing; or am I just being lazy? I don’t know.
One thing to keep in mind, though: critiquing isn’t just a service you do for others. As previous commenters have said, learning to spot problems with other people’s writing is invaluable in helping you to spot errors in your own work (or not to make them in the first place – at least not the same ones!). Critique partners can also be a good source of support around writing-related issues. So they’re useful in more ways than one.
I have a mixed-genre writing group that I belong to who critique my submissions and then I have two outside friend who read it as well. I also recently joined Crit Partner Match.
If the majority of the group finds the same error or has the same problem, I definitely take that into consideration and remove/revamp because usually there is a problem with it. If only one or two people pick up on it, then I consider the source.
All my beta readers have agents now–except me. They keep telling me I’m so close but then self doubt creeps in and punches me.
Gotta keep going.
Crystal-Rain Love says
I have 2 critique partners who write similar genres, and my group of “fan girls” who are friends/co-workers that love my stuff. They give me the boost of confidence I need to keep going and my CP’s are the ones who tell me when something sucks. LOL! I think every writer should have at least two good CP’s, ones who will be brutally honest without totally slamming you. There’s a nice way to tell somebody something in their story isn’t working. Sometimes finding CP’s are like trying on shoes. You have to keep going until you find that perfect fit (and NO, a CP who tells you what you want to hear isn’t a good CP. They have to be HONEST in their critiques). And I don’t advise having a CP whowrites a totally different genre from you (an erotica writer is not going to be a very good critiquer of yur inspirational… and vice versa 9 times out of 10).
Belletristic Bloggette says
I’ve had my bumps of beta readers along the way, but each circumstance lead to an awareness of the best readers to trust; before that awareness, I relied solely on gut feeling.
One bumpy instance was when I had just joined a new critique group and was anxiously waiting, after I read my story aloud, to hear comments.
The first remark from a frustrated critiquer was, “Why is the main character a male?! They (the publishing industry) always want us to write about males so that they can increase male readership! You should change this!” Arms were flailing at this point (not mine).
Um, that was the last time I went to that critique group (Example of relying on gut feeling).
Anyway, through some other interesting experiences, I found the best beta readers were people who were well read.
I have always been surprised at how many critique group participants were not well read within their own writing genre. I could see a vast difference between their feedback (spelling and grammar error corrections and male readership rants) and the others who were voracious book hookers (plot, character suggestions).
Sometimes I’ll even have people outside of the publishing industry read my stories too. People who just like to read for pleasure and who do not write, edit or do anything of the sort. The feedback I have received from these types of people have been (cliche warning) worth their weight in gold.
Bottom line: People who are well read either consciously or subconsciously know what makes a good story and can make wonderful beta readers.
In the beginning, I didn’t know when to stop taking advice and suggestions, pretty much trying to do what everyone else mentioned would work better.
Then I came to the realization I will never be able to make everyone happy, because everyone has different perspectives, tastes, etc. and if I tried, I’d never complete the book.
So I decided to take what I felt moved the story in the right direction while still keeping my voice.
As for who, I’ve been privileged with several through the time span of my latest piece, from two different writing groups.
I trust my friend. She has the patience in our friendship to actually sit and weed through my work.
Librarians–ones I know, and even a few I don’t. They are usually quite happy to read and respond; they are, after all, a built-in audience. They love books.
And besides booksellers, who knows better what goes out each week, what gets renewed, and what gets returned with a shrug?
They champion books they love and love having writers around. Ya gotta love ’em.
My friends. Some of them. Ones I can trust will tell my the truth LOL
I know I should let my mom read my books, she continually harasses me she wants too.. but I’m afraid.. so very afraid.. cause I know she’ll tell me the truth and be very very blunt about it! LOL
Hi Nathan! I know this is old, but how do you find teen readers to Beta for you? Teenink won't allow us in, I have not found them on any writer forums (they could be hiding since you don't see ages) and I have searched Instagram and Twitter. Blank.
I am one of those sad creatures who have no real-life critters in my proximity to read for me (whatever age) so I absolutely need them – and since Authonomy closed I don't even my older critiques anymore 🙁