Tag: beta readers

beta readers

The Writers Group….. this isn’t your Beta reader

 Last night my writers group met. This is a public, regional group. We meet monthly and two members present a work in progress, often an essay, poem, or short story, sometimes 5,000 words from a longer piece.  We are a varied membership, including published authors, aspiring authors, writing faculty from local universities, and people who are curious and think they want to write.  I’m sometimes asked about the value of such a group and how it differs from Beta readers.  Most clearly, the difference is that a Beta reader is committed to ‘this project.’ The project they have agreed to read. I think Beta readers should appreciate, and hopefully read widely, in the genre of the manuscript, but most importantly they are reading as a ‘reader.’ They may not be writers at all. Good readers, widely read and critically thinking readers are invaluable for writers. They are the perfect Beta reader.  A writing group is full of people who want to write (writers must also be readers, but that is a topic for another day). Members of a writing group hope to hone craft. They hope to learn from the struggles of others, and to in turn make a contribution to the success of their fellow writers. They want comradery in their common quest for excellence. If you are establishing a writing critique group be clear in your goals, the time commitment, and the ground rules of criticism. Here’s a bit about how ours works.  Monthly meeting. We meet for 30 minutes of food and beverage with conversation, followed by a two-hour time slot for the actual critique. This schedule helps us get to know each other in the social time and keep the critique portion on a different professional plane. We rarely use the full two hours for critique. We have established the length of the pieces allowed, and the readers have a long weekend between submission and meeting. We meet in a public place (restaurant or café) so everyone feels comfortable. This also allows us to be an ‘open to the public group’ and we benefit from the diversity and slow churn of membership. The submissions are emailed to the group, but the meeting notice is in the newspaper and on our Facebook page. Although not written, we do have rules. Mostly we ask that criticism be polite in spirit and tone. We also suggest that the author absorb the commentary without being defensive. The author can ask questions if the criticism isn’t clear, but otherwise try to accept the advice as given. I wouldn’t trade my Beta readers for anything, but my writers group has a special role in my writing world. If you aren’t part of one, consider joining or creating your own. 

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The Betas

My Beta readers are the unsung heroes of the writing process. Every author has them, a fixed group or changeable one, dependable or sporadic, they are the kind souls who are willing to read a draft and speak honestly about it. I have a crew and what a group they are. Scattered around the globe I usually send the chapters to them all at the same time. Then I keep working on something else and wait. Not patiently. After all, shouldn’t they drop everything they are doing – work, family, vacation, other books and read what I have suggested? In all fairness, they are unfailingly excited to receive their email with attachment. And they do read quickly (anything outside of a 24 hour turn around for me feels like a nail biting trip to Mars and back. I have actually Tweeted a Beta reader that she needed to start reading faster. Did that smack of desperation?!). Some readers are naturals – they read carefully, thoughtfully and don’t hesitate to make ‘suggestions’. Others must be trained. Yes, you really do want their opinion. You may not take all their suggestions, but each and every idea is welcome and plays a part in strengthening the final book. My Betas fall into two broad types. Some are the nit-picky comma and word choice gurus. Amazing! (I’m always surprised how many typos go undiscovered. Did logic REALLY look like topic each and every one of the 10 times I read it? Yes, it must have.). The other readers are big picture. Their emails critiques start off “some typos and weird punctuation to fix but what really concerns me is….” Honestly, I couldn’t live without either group. Each word and comma is important and needs a second set of eyes. At the same time the words and commas won’t matter if the plot point fails, or if the chapters drag on too long or (there are many ‘ors’ here). People are busy, your Beta readers are friends, they’re not doing this for a pay check and yet they read something that isn’t as polished as it will eventually be, and then they agree to read it again (hopefully more polished). And, bless them, they read the final version to see how you’ve changed it (even after I assure them that they read was the final version with the exception of a few very minor word changes). More shocking is what they notice. They have read and absorbed and remembered more than I did. Writers are used to reading drafts. Most readers aren’t. Those who take this on willingly should be saluted. It’s a beautiful thing. What kind of a Beta reader are you? 

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