Young Adult Dark Urban Fantasy Author ~

What’s in a Beta Reader?

Everything.

Writing

It took about four months before I mustered up the courage to let anyone read the first chapters of my current novel. That was back in August of 2010. I’d been writing since April of that year, and my book was nowhere–and I mean nowhere–near ready for viewing. Even if that viewer was my mom. Now, I realize that everyone says they let their mom read their book first because, of course, our mothers will go easy on us if it sucks. Not my mom. I’m not saying she flat-out told me it was awful, but she didn’t tell me what I was hoping to hear either.

I wanted my mom to read it first because I needed real feedback from an avid reader. My mom also happens to do a lot of editing. The first reviews weren’t good. Looking back, she was 100% correct. The book was a fledgling written by a poet and short story dabbler, not a seasoned novelist.

I tucked my tail between my legs, swallowed my pride, and listened to everything she had to say. And then I used it all. I studied and researched and let the ideas in my head germinate and flow.  I wrote and I wrote until I was sick of it. Until I almost gave up.

It has been a year and a half since that time and my novel has gone through at least eight drafts. Easily. After I’d tweaked, edited, hated it, and loved it, I put it back in my moms possession. And cringed a little.

I have three beta readers now, all doing slightly different things, all slightly different viewpoints, coming from different genre preferences and widely different age groups. I think the wide scope is necessary for a real perspective. I was terrified to let my words, my characters–my world, go. Everything in those pages is me. Everything in all our books as writers, is us. Our imagination, our thoughts—our creation. What if my betas hated my story? What would that say about me? I let it go, despite my trepidation, and faced the fear.

If they did hate the story, if my characters were whack and my voice was worse–I kind of needed to know.

What’s in a Beta Reader? If you’re lucky, a trusted reader who will give it to you straight.

I waited a long time after the initial beta read back in 2010 to release my chapters again. I was afraid to hear the critiques–to hear I wasn’t any good after close to two years of sweat and tears. But how would I ever know, if I was too afraid to let go? And if I was awful at writing novels, well…there was only one way to change that— keep writing, keep learning, and keep putting myself out there.

What’s in a Beta Reader? Your audience. Who without, you have no readership. So ask yourself, who are you writing for? I can say with all my heart, I write for myself. But when you decide to go live, and publish your work, that changes a bit. I write because I love it. And somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to do more than write stories to myself. So, I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t also writing for my readers. And they, as well as I, deserve the best book I can put out. That’s where the Betas come in ;)

WRITE ON!

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9 responses

  1. Pingback: The World’s Best Beta Readers! « Amaranthine Night

  2. Pingback: Confessions of a Suddenly Smiling Stepper:What stupid writing thing did your Beta Reader find this week? | Jennifer M Eaton

  3. Very helpful post.

    How does one find a beta reader? Do they do this as a hobby or do they charge? Also, when do I look for a beta reader? While I’m writing or after the novel has been written.

    I’m in the process of writing my first novel.

    March 2, 2012 at 11:26 pm

  4. Congrats on starting your first novel! It’s never too late to start ;)
    And thank you, I’m glad this post was helpful.

    First, betas shouldn’t charge, and you shouldn’t pay if one asks you to. Editors charge. Betas are generally other writers or avid readers who simply want to help, and are excited to read new work. Some betas will exchange feedback. They read your WIP, you read theirs.

    You can find beta readers in the people around you. Critique groups, other writer or blogger friends, and online at sites like, Absolute Write. (The link is in my blogroll. >>> ) They have a plethora of information about writing and publishing. Many writers love their site. I personally haven’t tried the betas, but I do use the site for other helpful tools.

    When to allow your work to be read is ultimately up to you. If you have been writing for a year, have a few drafts under your belt, and are wondering what now? Then maybe you’re ready. If you feel like you’ve hit a wall and need some advice to push off of it, then maybe it’s a good time. I enlist my betas when I feel like I am done. When I’ve rewritten and revised and edited to the best of my ability. That’s when I need someone to come in and see what I didn’t see. I use them to gauge different issues or snags in my novel. I am always amazed by what they find, and the suggestions they have. As a writer you simply cannot see every problem. But…in order to write better, and cleaner, the problems need to be found and fixed. The feedback I have received has been immeasurable.

    Find a beta who you meld with, if it doesn’t feel right, chances are, it isn’t. Trust your instincts when you write. You know your characters better than anyone. Although you should stay open minded when you read a betas comments, remember that these are opinions, not ‘all knowing’ facts that you must now adhere to. If something sounds off in a betas opinion or suggestion, let it be for a while and come back later. Don’t go scraping everything you’ve done.
    And, SAVE EVERYTHING. Every single draft or piece of paper you scribbled on. You may need them later ;)

    I hope that helps you! I am by no means an expert. Good luck!!

    March 3, 2012 at 10:20 am

  5. Pingback: Writing to a Deadline Part 8: “Calling in the Beta Reading Army” | Jennifer M Eaton

  6. Pingback: What’s In A Beta Reader? Part 3 | Laney McMann

  7. Pingback: What’s in a Beta Reader? Part 2 | Laney McMann

  8. Pingback: What’s In A Beta Reader? Part 4 | Laney McMann

  9. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted
    to say that I have truly loved surfing around your blog posts.
    After all I will be subscribing for your rss feed and I’m hoping you write again soon!

    May 9, 2014 at 11:02 am

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