April 7, 2010 | By: Tracy

The Good, The Bad & The Beta

I'm in a good mood today -- even though my Orioles lost a heartbreaker of a game last night to start the season *sigh* 

I got a GREAT response and some really good suggestions for strengthening my ending from my latest beta reader. She's the second of my 6 betas who read the whole thing in one sitting, because she liked it that much. Yay! So that gives me something to smile about -- even if my baseball team seems determined to make me cry.

One of the harder parts for most newer writers is letting someone else read your manuscript for the first time. Sure, we all harbor those secret hopes that our story is one that the masses will love & know that's not likely with the first several drafts -- but it can be super hard to put it out there for the first reads anyway.

We desperately want to get feedback, yet we're terrified of it at the same time. Terrified the feedback we'll get will turn out to be things like "This is boring", "I didn't like the characters" or "The plot just doesn't make any sense", etc.

That's why it's so important for us to have good beta readers, and know the reason WHY we chose them. I bucked the conventional wisdom that it isn't a good idea to use family & friends (only my most recent beta is a writer I'd never met before joining Nathan's forum ) I think you CAN choose people you know, ya just have to know why you're doing it.

Here's the types of people I chose for my beta (new writer friend not included) :

The Non-Reader  - I'm sure some people are saying "What?!?". Hear me out. I chose this friend, because she isn't an avid reader ... which, like it or not, is the category most of the general population falls under. I knew if I was able to entice her to read through the whole manuscript then I had a story that the non-avid reader could enjoy.

Super Nice Reader Friends/Family  - I had two people that I knew read a good deal, especially in this particular genre. So I knew they would be able to tell if this story was as good as, or better  (I was praying "worse" wasn't an option) than what they normally read. I knew they were too nice to ever offer any criticism ... but I also knew they both suck at lying, so I'd still know the truth when I asked them questions.

The Nit-Picker  - This person fusses over the smallest of details in her every day life. I knew she would never be mean about her criticisms, but she'd have zero problem saying. "I don't understand how ...." and if the tiniest of details was out of alignment, she would catch it. This was the kind of person who would notice if someone's eye color suddenly changed.

Switzerland  - I let my brother play the role of Switzerland. I knew he'd be completely honest with me, and tell me things even if I didn't necessarily want to hear them. (He'd try to do it in a nice way, but he'd still do it). Plus, paranormal romance isn't really his preferred genre, so he'd read for the overall writing more than getting caught up in the story line.

So the moral of this post is ... just kidding, I don't DO morals.

I'm just curious to see how everyone else feels about beta readers, and how you pick yours. Do you allow any family & friends or do you just keep it strictly authors, etc? Are you set with your group or are you always looking for new people to read & give you their thoughts?

10 witty remarks:

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Unfortuantely I don't have a set to beta readers. I tried to get my mum to read, but she doesn't read and complained that her eyes were hurting.

My partner can't read it cause English is his second language.

My sister had a read. She's only 21 and highly intellegent and I'm so jealous of her. She got 99.9% for her university entrance score. Got some awesome feedback from her, But one person is not enough.

A few friends from Aus had a read. But they're too nice and I didn't get much than 'yeah, it was great. I wouldn't change a thing'.

So I hired a mentor and now I'm terribly poor. AND have a completely different manuscript. So glad I didn't trust my friends!

So no, not set. Would love some readers that offered for free, that know what they are talking about! But now won't need any till I finish my second ms.

Tracy said...

That's the hardest part. Finding friends that will tell you when they find a problem. My niceys live close enough that I can see them in person & ask direct questions, so I knew when I was being lied too. lol But sometimes hearing "I LOVE this!" helps to balance out the person who doesn't mind pointing out all the flaws.

Well now that you've got your blog and all rolling, maybe you'll have some of us to connect with and get opinions from when your next MS is done.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

yeah that would be awesome! :)

Matthew Rush said...

I wish I could find a critique group of people who actually knew how to write. Everyone who's read my MS (friends, family, my kid) LOVES it. But that's because they love me and are just saying it... plus they don't really know what they're talking about anyway.

Forums and online are a great way to meet betas and I intend to do so once my MS is short enough to actually burden someone (a stranger) with reading it. I hope to have a beta who I've never met and is also a writer someday soon.

Also, off topic, but we're taking the family to the cubs/braves tonight. Hopefully it will be as exciting as opening day was!

JustineDell said...

I found my beta on Bransforums...and she's awesome! I did the family/friends thing beforea and while they were encouraging, they couldn't really offer the help my beta did. ;-) I did a post about this once too. I LOVE betas!!!!

~JD

Tracy said...

Matthew - The trick is also finding someone who's a COMPETENT writer to help critique you. It doesn't do any good to get someone who doesn't have the first clue how to right. They mean well, but they're probably giving you bad advice. It can be tricky.

Justine - Sounds like Nathan is a writer's version of e-Harmony! lol

Tracy said...

Oh and I almost forgot. You're a Braves fan, right?

I'm assuming since you're from Georgia you aren't going to root for the Cubs, but ya never know. Hope Heyward puts on another show!

Shelley Sly said...

Terrific timing for this post. I just found my first beta reader (Actually she found me, via my blog) and I am so excited to exchange with her. She's a fellow writer, and we're going to critique each other's books, which I'm looking forward to.

In addition to her, my only other regular readers are my husband (who isn't a writer, but he's a super grammar freak AND has a knack for finding plot holes), one of my BFFs (who is also a writer), and my grandma (who just reads because she loves me, and I don't expect any criticism from her.)

I never thought about how cool it is to have a varied group -- I always thought ALL betas have to be other writers. But I like your little group you described. :)

P.S. You're an Orioles fan? Just wondering if you live near Baltimore. I live in MD, but I'm not originally from here, so I'm not an Orioles fan (yet... I expected I'll be converted soon.) I'm a former Mets fan turned Phillies fan, but I'm not as huge into baseball as I was in my Mets days...

Jaime said...

*Blushing under my fluttering fan while I bat my eye lashes* :)

I'm so glad I took a risk and reached out on Nathan's site. I guess the potential problem with setting up a beta partnership is that you might have to submit yourself to reading something truly awful, and I CAN NOT read something that doesn't grab me. My advice is to choose wisely - and THANK GOD I did!!!

I agree, Tracy, I really think you need a mixture of betas - family, friends who are avid readers, and writers. That way you have the encouragement, the people who can tell you whether it's up to scratch as far as comparing your story to others out there, and the people who can tell you if you have too many ellipses ;)

It's rare to find good betas who are writers, and it's nerve-wracking to put yourself out there, but it's very rewarding when you find a good match :)

Tracy said...

Shelley - congrats on finding your first beta reader! Finding a good partner, especially in the early goings, I think it sooo important! Yes, I live just outside of Baltimore -- and when I say I'm a baseball freak, I'm not kidding. I have a full season ticket plan at Camden Yards! Did you say you were a Mets fan turned Phillies fan? How did THAT happen? Isn't that along the lines of a Yankee fan turning pro Red Sox? lol

Jaime - I'm glad you took the risk too! And you're right. I never thought about what it would be like if you became a beta for someone who wrote a God awful story you couldn't stand to read. I've got so many things I'm trying to juggle as it is now, I don't know what I'd do if I DIDN'T want to read the story I was beta-ing. Thankfully, it's not a problem!

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