13 February, 2013

The Beta Readers

Last week I posted about ideal readers - those people, real or imaginary, who we are writing for in our heads. Ideal readers are great for making a book seem like a reality, but by far the most important readers - at least until your book is a runaway success (and perhaps even then) - are the "beta readers". These wonderful people spend their time reading the rubbish drafts of your work and telling you what they think. For free.

My beta, Jenny (with husband, Joe, another of my readers!)
It's a vulnerable thing to send your darling work out to somebody else, especially when you know it's not finished. I sent out my novel, The Art of Letting Go to my lovely readers when I knew there were obvious major flaws in it, because I wanted to make sure I'd found the hidden flaws too, before I started re-working.

Using beta readers requires a thick-skin. You have to be able to take the knocks (and the compliments!) with good grace, or there's no point. You're not looking for an ego-boost, right? Only sending your novel MS to your spouse/mother/child because you know they'll think you're wonderful regardless, defeats the object. You don't need tonnes of readers (I used four for the draft of my novel, plus another couple with later drafts), but you do need more than one. And, most importantly, you have to be discerning about their advice. Not everything they say is right! If you've weighed up what they've said carefully and you really don't agree with one of them, ignore that particular point - it's your story!

Beta/husband, Paul, with one of my manuscripts.
I rarely use another writer as a beta reader*. Sometimes it can be great to have the advice of a writer, but usually I prefer to use readers instead. People I trust. I've imposed on many wonderful friends over the last few years, but the stalwarts of my beta team are my husband Paul and my friend Jenny. It's rare for me to submit anything without it passing by one or both of these people. Neither of them are writers (although Paul blogs about clever computery stuff, and Jenny about chickens!), but they are both readers and very tactful!

Using regular readers is a special privilege. Not only because it's rare to find somebody that patient, but also because there is more insight to be gained from somebody who knows where you came from. Not only have Paul and Jenny discovered over the last few years what I need to know when I'm analysing a draft, but they can also compare my current work to past work. They know it does me no favours to flatter me, and they also know that a genuine compliment can make all the difference. Three cheers for my beta readers!

Do you use beta readers? Or have you been a beta reader yourself? What are the best and worst parts of your experiences? (Not every beta experience I've had has been as good as some of the others, but I've never had an actually bad experience, so if you have - share it!)

On an unrelated note, my friend Suzi produces regular blog posts asking a group of writers what they think on certain subjects. I'm honoured to be in her current crop of writers and the first post is up today! Go take a look!

*A beta reader is different from a critique partner, who should be another writer. CPs are the people you swap work with in order to help each other improve the technical aspects of your writing and./or when you want specific help with editing or solving a particular problem with your work.

4 comments:

  1. (Thanks, Chloe)

    I don't have any non-writer readers currently. (Did that make sense?) For the 1st novel I queried I only had 2 readers, who were not writers, because I hadn't gotten into the blogging/writing scene. They offered great suggestions, but like you said, not so much on the technical stuff.

    That's cool that you have a husband who reads your stuff. I see a lot of others like that, but mine isn't a big reader. Much less YA. :)

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    1. I think the hardest thing would be to find beta for young kids books. So difficult to know how adults and children think differently. Hubby isn't a natural audience for my books but he always wants to read them so I'm lucky!

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  2. Thanks you for your very informative post about beta readers :) I suppose it's been something I've always given very little thought to, because before I met my husband, the only person allowed near my work was me.
    It was a big moment in our relationship when I let him read my WIP, he felt trusted, and I felt very vulnerable. As it was, we ended up falling out over it. We were both students at the time, so to be fair to the man, he didn't have much spare time for reading. It sat on his computer for a while before I withdrew it and threw it in the bin. If he didn't feel compelled to read it, who else would?
    In the end, it turned out for the best, as I completely revamped and rewrote the idea and it became something Rob would frequently ask me about - 'what's going to happen to so-and-so then?'

    Long story I may well have told before. We have just about ironed out our way of working together now, but I think it is time to expand my readers. The opinion of one person is not necessarily the opinion of the rest of the world!

    Nari X

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    1. Expanding your readers will probably be really helpful - now you just need to find people who are willing to read your work and who you trust to be both honest and tactful! Having said that, I find most people are really flattered to be asked rather than feeling put-upon. Good luck!

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