I’ve been thinking a lot about Beta readers, which is interesting considering I didn’t know what the term meant until about a year ago. Growing up in the computer age, I was familiar with the “beta” concept, but I never understood how it applied to writing. Not until a chapter-mate of mine made a side comment about how nice it was to have a beta reader go through her manuscript from front to back with a pair of fresh eyes.
I know some of you are thinking, “Slooow top,” or maybe, “Toe pick!” for you Cutting Edge (1992) fans. I do love that movie and nearly swooned when I looked up the release date. Can it really have been 18 years ago? Gack!
Beta readers are much like beta users. Software giants count on early end-users to track down and annihilate bugs in their programs. Like writers, computer programmers have been staring at the same old code for months, if not years, until they cease to detect their own mistakes.
If you don’t have a beta reader, find one. If you’re greedy like me, find two or three. They are invaluable at finding major plot holes, character deviations, transition and pacing issues, and glaring grammar mistakes. Beta readers are different from critique partners in that they provide feedback once you’ve finished the manuscript. Whereas, critique partners typically provide recommendations on a few chapters at a time. Detecting some of the problems I mentioned above can be difficult when critiquing another’s work chapter by chapter. Especially with long time lapses in between critiques.
Where does one find a beta reader? As with anything, there are many ways. Word of mouth, writing loops and chapters, friends, and family members are a few of the more common routes. Not to complicate things, but a critique partner can also be a beta reader. That’s the situation I have with Adrienne and Kelsey. However, Lucie’s a “true” beta reader.
I understand the beta read process won’t be to everyone’s taste. But I recommend giving it a nibble. Just one small bite. My only word of caution is to choose your partner(s) wisely. Like any critique, beta reads can harm if not done with the correct intention.
Every comment a beta reader makes on her partner’s manuscript should reek with “I got your back, babe.” There will be times, maybe several of them in a single manuscript, when plain-talk is going to be the best way to flesh out a problem. This is the moment when you know you’ve picked your partner well. Or not.
- “I think you have a better hook without these last three sentences.” (hook/pacing)
- “In the scene where Valere comes into Cora’s room with a knife…I just had a hard time believing she would behave that way. Meaning, I didn’t believe she would try to bandage his hand. She just doesn’t have motivation to do so. I think you can still have him grab her, overpower her, but not because she did something I felt was out of character.” (character deviation)
- “I think you need to draw this out a bit. Describe what his weight feels like across her body. Maybe it takes her a minute to realize the weight is Beale and when she does, what does she feel? See what I mean? This is a big moment for her and I think the added punch would be great.”
Not a single word these ladies wrote made me feel as though I was inferior or sucked as a writer. They gave me their opinion, which I have the ability to take or leave, and did so in a professional “got your back” fashion.
So ask yourself: Do you trust her? Does she provide recommendations with the intent to improve the manuscript? Or does she share her writerly wisdom to hold you back? Is she truly invested in your success? Or is she simply going through the motions because she needs something in return? Does she provide encouragement, even through the rough areas of your writing?
Ideally, these are questions you should ask yourself BEFORE you commit to a partnership, whether you’re sharing one chapter of your work or thirty. Unfortunately, some of these answers might not become evident until your partner’s first read. And other times, you’ll know she’s a keeper before you ever send her a sample of your work.
I hate to brag, but this is how it happened for me. Adrienne, Kelsey and Lucie are aces. I value their opinion as much as I value my own about my writing. And, there are times, when I value their opinions more.
We all write in different sub-genres. We all trust each other. We all click.
I hope you find your “click” too.
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RU Readers, where did you find your beta readers/critique partners? Share your stories! How have they helped you? Hurt you?
Writer John Arden Warwick returns for part two of his exploration into the question “Are men capable of love?” Be sure to stop by and help John answer this vital question important to all women!
Tracey Devlyn writes historical romance with suspense elements. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and Windy City, Hearts Through History, The Beau Monde and Kiss of Death RWA chapters. Oh, she’s a co-founder of the amazing Romance University blog too!
Her manuscript, A Lady’s Revenge, won first place in the Put Your Heart in a Book contest (New Jersey RWA) and finaled in the Ignite the Flame contest (Central Ohio Fiction Writers).
Tracey lives in the Chicago suburbs with her once-in-a-lifetime husband and their Alpha puppy. For more information, please visit www.TraceyDevlyn.com.
- Beta Males: Hidden Gems?
- 10 Turning Points to Publication
- A Writer’s Journey by Sally Bayless
- The Dos and Don’ts of Critiquing with Anna Sugden
- Puzzle Writing