Monday, February 11, 2019

The Beta Reading Commandments

There are several processes a book goes through before it hits the shelves. Beta reading is probably one of the most important steps. It's also one that new writers avoid.

Beta reading is when a writer has an early draft of a manuscript critiqued and reviewed. It's generally agreed upon in advance just what kind of feedback the author needs, and is usually done as a manuscript swap with an author with a similar word count.

It's important because it gives the author insight on what needs to be revised. As an author, we think we know what needs to be revised, but just because we can see it in our minds when we read it, doesn't mean the readers will.

As a new author, I struggled with this. I didn't mind criticism. I simply lacked the network. It's not easy recruiting beta readers. They are not always easy to find, dependable, or very good at giving feedback.

Here are some tips that I found helpful:

For brand new writers, I would recommend sites like scribophile. It's simple enough. You post work after gaining enough karma (critiquing other's work) and then people critique yours. It's a great way to learn many story-writing basics and can start that network of writers.

After you learn to come to terms with the fact that you were not born with the writing abilities of Ernest Hemmingway, you can move on. Much of what a writer does involves destroying what tiny ego we have, only to build it back up again. Get used to it.

Twitter's writing community is a place where a writer can befriend thousands of other writers. For the most part, the #AmWriting community is a good one. If you still have an ego left over from Scribophile, check it at the door. There are many types of writers and several ways to publish. One is not better than the other, just different. So don't snub anyone willing to Beta-Read your story!

And finally, here are my Commandments for Beta Reading the work of others.
(Not everyone follows these rules, but I personally do)

1. Thou shall not be a dick

It's pretty self-explanatory. I'll never say a story is stupid, that you're a crap writer, or any other nightmare inducing feedback. If you encounter someone who does, cease and desist any contact with them.
2. Thou shall not Success Check

This is one that many do without realizing it. It's the "oh, this is the first draft," or "This is your first story, isn't it?"
I get it all the time, but I don't take it personally and neither should you. It's an attempt to establish dominance between the critique partners.

In the event that I return with negative feedback, that author can dismiss it as a "new writer" who didn't know what they were doing. It's just what writers do when they feel insecure about handing something they love to a stranger. That does not mean you should do it.

It often times backfires and feels like a foot in the mouth.

3. Thou shall commit

If you said you were going to do it. You need to do it. A cyclone can run through my house, but you should still finish it.

4. Thou shall be encouraging

I invest in the things I beta read. I want to see them succeed and I will never, ever be anything other than encouraging. I want to see that story I beta read on the shelf, take a picture of it, and know that I helped get that author there.

This ties into the commitment thing. From start to finish, I want to know how that project goes. When I beta read, usually the questions I ask is "what are you trying to do with this piece?" It helps me determine what kind of critiques I give. I often refer my beta read projects to editors, books on writing, and websites to help them on to the next steps of their journey.

5. Thou shall say "Thank you."

Often times, we hear feedback we don't like. There have been many times where I've read feedback, stormed around the house arguing the feedback before coming to terms with the fact that they were right.

This isn't always the case. A downfall of Scribophile is that people will read a chapter in the middle of a project and say a character is flat. It's still useful to know that in that specific chapter, the character was flat, but as a whole, the critique isn't as useful as the person who's read the entire thing.

Often times they are just critiquing for the sake of karma and they lack commitment or interest in your project. It happens. I've been there. The one thing I won't do, and neither should you... argue about it.

Just say "Thank you" and move on.

I tell my beta projects that my ideas, advice, and opinion is my own. They don't have to take it, they don't need to use it. Naturally, if you find all your beta partners come back with the same conclusion, you should probably listen, but again, that's up to you.

If you can't find a single thing useful from a critique, then you're not doing it right.

There it is, my 5 commandments on Beta Reading.
I am currently open for Betas. I love them and would be happy to read your story and give feedback.
You can find me on Twitter @ShaynaGrissom
On Facebook
And of course, you can message me or email me.

Want me to Beta Read for you?
I accept Manuscript swaps (totally free) for the less free option

Are you a marginalized writer? Let me know, I'll give you a second pass through your manuscript for free.

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