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.