Monday, January 3, 2011

The Beauty of the Beta, Part 1

I have been lucky enough to beta read some amazing books in the last year. Seriously, I would have paid money for every single one of the books I read.

But a year ago, I didn't know what a beta was, much less what they were supposed to do. So I thought I'd take a minute to talk about what's involved in a beta read.

First off, let me just say that every writer should look for beta readers, even if you are in a critique group. Why?

Two words: fresh eyes.

Once someone has read a story, no matter how hard they try, it's difficult to see it with the same level of critical analysis. Critique groups are fabulous. I love mine. But if they've already read my chapters as I wrote them, and then read the book as a whole and given me additional feedback, that doesn't mean it's time to query.

Trust me. I learned this the hard way. That's just the first round.

Now it's time to send that baby out to a few select people who have never seen it and get feedback from them. Your critique group loves you and might not see your flaws as readily as someone with more distance from you and your writing. Take that leap, go the extra steps and find beta readers for your manuscript.

And how exactly do you find these elusive beta readers? Social networking, and I don't just mean the internet kind. Talk to people at your next SCBWI schmooze. Sign up for your local listserv and look for writers with similar interests or find a second critique group. (I actually know a few writers who are in as many as three critique groups!) I've also responded to comment threads on Twitter, email requests and open calls on people's blogs.

But remember: beta reading should be reciprocal. If someone reads your masterpiece, be prepared to do the same for them at some point. It's just common courtesy.

When I needed beta readers of my own, I emailed people I thought had both the writing and critique skills I was looking for. Sometimes I was disappointed with the feedback, but every single time, I found something useful I could take away from the critique.

Wednesday I'll talk more about what to expect from beta readers and how you can be a good beta reader for other people.

22 comments:

Cheree said...

Great post. I definitely agree that beta readers are invaluable. It's great to hear back from them about what's going right or wrong with a story.

The fresh eyes is an extremely important part of it since as the writer you would be too close to the story that all the little errors and confusions with plot and characters will be missed.

salarsenッ said...

I agree with reciprocating. That's important. I also think it's imperative to remember that ALL beta reading and reading in general are subjective. A suggestion might be great to enhance your masterpiece, but then again, it might be better for someone else's. Following your gut is so important.

Best to you during 2011!!

Laura Pauling said...

I agree. It is important to go outside out crit group to find betas. Sometimes our cps are too close to be objective.

Anne Gallagher said...

I love beta reading. You're right, I've read quite a few books this last year I would have paid money for and feel privileged and honoured I was chosen to read them.

Kelly said...

I did wonder what the difference between a critique group and a beta reader was.... And it totally makes sense! I do have both too! Just didn't realize it!

Bish Denham said...

I didn't know what they were either until this year...Someday I'll be on the hunt. Thanks for sharing.

Angela Felsted said...

Do relatives and friends count as Beta readers, or do they have to have some expertise in writing?

Melissa Gill said...

Great post. I was a little unsure about the difference between critique groups and beta readers, but this cleared it up.

Jamie Grey said...

Great post! I have a fantastic crit partner, but I'm still looking for that elusive beta reader. I'm sure I'll find one someday, and you're totally right - even if you're not exactly enthusiastic about their response, there's always something good you can get out of a critique.

Oh! And just so you know - you won one of the book packages over on my blog! Send me your contact info so I can get it out to you!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

We are so lucky to be writers in this era of blogging. I've met so many people who would be great beta readers, and I've been honored to read for others who asked. The writing world is world-wide, and it's amazing. Thanks for this post. It's a beauty!

Elaine AM Smith said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm a member of two Writers' Circles but I get the most useful feedback from my Beta readers.

JEM said...

What a great post! I just formed a critique group myself with some people from my writing class, but it's great to know I'll need three (and probably four) rounds of critiquing after this. You're spot on, as usual. Thanks!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

How lucky for you to have read such great ms! That is wonderful you do that for others. And this is a great explanation of the differences of crit vs beta.

C.R. Evers said...

I've never heard the term "beta reader" I'm in a critique group but having an fresh set of eyes is always a good thing. I'll have to look into this concept more.

Colene Murphy said...

awesome advice. Beta readers are essential!! Also agree that anyone who asks needs to be ready to reciprocate as well. Great post!

Lydia K said...

I love my betas, even though what they tell me often hurts at first. It's all good. I dish it out as good as I get it too!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't have crit group anymore, but I have some amazing writing friends who crit/beta read my novels. I've been lucky. Most of them are blog followers who volunteered to read my book without me having to ask. :D

Jean Ann Williams said...

Enjoying this topic. Can't wait to read more.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Spot on post - and you are an excellent beta reader, so I'm curious to see Part 2! :)

I have four different betas for my current draft, and it's fascinating to me that they (so far) have very different feedback. This reinforces the idea that it's subjective, but also brings into play the different skills different betas bring to a read (and why, I think, houses have several editors look over an MS, even if there is one main editor).

Susan R. Mills said...

Beta readers changed my writing life this past year. I am so thankful I found some that offer constructive, honest, and valuable feedback.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Mmm, excellent post! I LOVE my beta readers. I sure hope one day I get to beta something for you and return the huge favors you've given me!

Henya said...

Great post!!!

I love my critique groups. I belong to two of them...I have been looking for a beta reader just to get a fresh perspective. It's difficult to find someone who has enough insight/knowledge to know what to look for and how to critique.

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