Monday, March 19, 2012

A Letter to Betas


Dear Wonderful Beta Reader,


At some point in time, a manuscript was placed in your hands and you heard the begging words, "Can you please be a beta reader for my latest novel/short story/etc.?"  Being the wonderful person that you are, you agreed, even if you didn't know exactly what it meant to be a beta reader.


The author of the gem you now have in your possession probably said something like this:


"Just read it over and be completely honest.  Feel free to rip it to shreds if you hate it."


You should know that this is what all writers say.  It is the worst lie we tell ourselves and others. While we say we want you to let us have it with a red pen, what we really want is for you to finish the book and tell us it's a masterpiece.  We love to hear the words "Don't change a word.  I love it just the way you have it."


And because that is the deep, down desire for all of us, we will never question you if your feedback consists of gold stars and gushing admiration.  We will see this as validation of our genius.


So why am I telling you this?


Lately, I've been reading a lot of self-published work. Some of the authors are well known folks in the writing community on Twitter, FB, and others.  So, since these folks must know a thing or two about writing I have to assume they went through the normal editing process which usually includes beta readers. And this is where our problem starts.


I can't help but read some of these books and think to myself "where was this author's beta reader?"  As the writer we tend to be too close to our story to see some of its flaws.  That's why we need critique partners and beta readers to show us these things. Fluffy praise feels good, but it doesn't make our story any better.


So, dear fabulous, kind-hearted, brave beta reader, if something doesn't make sense, please tell us.  If all our detailed descriptions slow down the action, point it out.  And if a character is completely unlikeable, trust me, we need to know.


The truth is we may take your notes, fling them on the ground and storm around for the next few days in a fit of self-righteous rage.  But when the storm is passed, we will look at your notes, make changes and thank you for helping us write a better story.


**A note to authors** The above is a perfect example of why selecting friends and family members as your beta readers is a really bad idea.  Unless you have a second cousin who hates you for giving him bunny ears in last year's reunion photo, stay clear.  Strangers make good betas and there are plenty of websites out there where writers can trade projects with each other.

5 comments:

  1. Betas are only as helpful as their suggestions. I love a beta who isn't afraid to be honest. Give me places I can improve on because I know they're there.

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  2. I hear you! I think some betas are afraid of giving their true opinion b/c they don't feel qualified.

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  3. I couldn't agree with you more! That's why I hire a freelance editor to evaluate my mss.

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  4. Catherine, writers must be the only ones crazy enough to pay people to criticize their work. We are truly gluttons for punishment. :)

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  5. I definitely need someone impartial to view the work. I'm pretty thick-skinned but sometimes people that know me are reluctant to critique negatively because they know how hard I work, even when I'm begging them to be honest.

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