This post brought to you thanks to Sue’spost over here: http://suelder.livejournal.com/62299.html
Beta readers are, imo, essential to a good story. It is great to have a fresh pair of eyes to pick up things that we have gone blind over, because we are so close to the story. Here are a few questions and my answers.
Why have beta/first readers? Because no work is perfect. Plotholes, characterization issues and all sorts of things happen. What a first reader can do is help find those things and often give input on how to fix it. Sometimes they are spot on. Sometimes they can come up with ways to fix the problems, methods to straighten out issues. Beta readers are awesome to have around to bounce ideas off of at a later date. Because they know your style and your storyline, they can better see where you are going with the idea. Sometimes they see it better than you do too!
Having extra eyes to help you fix your work and make it worthy of your readers is important. You want to give people (whatever your goals are) your best side, betas and first readers can help you achieve that.
Where to find those first readers & betas? Writing communities online are a great place to start. However, you should always begin by offering to crit/read over other people’s work before asking for someone to read yours. There ARE sites where you can upload your work and recieve crits for it based on a point system. The more you crit the more you can post:
Online Writer’s Workshop and Critique Circle are two point based ones that I have used with great success, though I haven’t been active at either in a long time. OWW has a huge list of writers who have used their site who have gone on to great things. I think Critique Circle does too, but it has been a long time since I was over there and I am not too sure.
Over at Forward Motion for Writers, a free forum for writers that started in ’98 by Holly Lisle and currently kept going by Lazette Gifford, is a roving crit board where you can post a short piece and get immediate feedback on your work and can crit others. There is also a chat room which allows for insta interaction between writers. I have made dear friends in that chat.
Absolute Write is another free forum which is very large and full of good info, though they have in the past been negative towards self pubbed authors, there are crit areas, advice areas and a large database of publishers and agents. I would highly recommend using their info before sending your work off to an agent or publisher. I have made several awesome friends and found a beta reader from frequenting this site, though, again, I haven’t been cruising forums much lately.
So what do I look for in beta readers? Firstly I look for people who read what I write. Sending a fantasy to a person who prefers true crime might not work well. Another thing is asking yourself what kind of input do I want? Some folks are great with the technical stuff and not the plot, character, worldbuilding, some folks prefer to give a reader’s opinion, while others love to do the red pen dance all over the story. It can all balance out (I have a couple folks who give the reader’s opinion and a couple who are more in depth which usually give a good overall view of my work), and often if you have all your betas having an issue with the same thing, chances are you need to fix it.
Some betas can be over-zealous, and not understand that the goal is not to rewrite the story based on how they would do it, but to make it closer to how you want it. Just as a word of warning. Carefully weigh what betas say with your vision of your story.
One beta picked out, within a page or so, the reason I was having trouble with a certain story. She was right, painfully so, and though I cringed mightily, I know what what I need to do to fix that issue. Her input has been priceless.
That brings me to another mention; thick skin. Getting the blunt truth back about one’s work can be uncomfortable. It is flawed, it is always flawed. There are always ways to fix it. Understanding and accepting this gracefully is important. How many times have we heard of an author who flips out on a negative reviewer? How unprofessional of the author!
When you hand your work to a beta you are asking them to pick apart the story, to look for problems, and to hand it back with a list and sometimes recommended ways to fix said problems. Flying off the handle at them when they point out that they find your main character a wimp, is not a good response, to put it mildly. Remember you ASKED for it. It doesn’t mean you have to take their advice, but if you get the same issue cropping up with more than one beta chances are you need to do something to fix your work.
When I recieve a crit or response from a beta I have a moment which I center myself, take a deep breath then plow through it. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, it can be tear inducing, but in the long run looking at a beta’s pov can benefit your story and your level of professionalism.
When you hand your work out to an agent, a publisher or self pub, you are putting it out for the public, and the public is not exactly kind if there are flaws and mistakes (or if they perceive things that they consider flaws and mistakes). And they will let you know how awful they think it is, often in a very unkind and condescending manner. To maintain a level of professionalism, keeping a clear head is probably the best idea. Thicken the skin, expect to get your stuff shredded sooner than later. 😉
Back to betas, be nice to your betas. Do for them what you hope they will do for you. Open the ears and listen to their input. It can greatly help your story in the long run.
And as a open message to my betas; thank you so much for pointing out when I messed up. 😀
Take care all, be good, be safe.