Today, I want to talk about getting a beta reader. I define a beta reader as someone who reads your work objectively to point out its strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate purpose of a beta reader is to make your story better. Note that I said to “make your story better,” not you. What does this mean? If you will receive the services of a beta reader, you must be willing to accept criticism.
So how do you get a beta reader?
1. Ask a writer friend
Obviously, to do this, you need to make friends with writers. A good place to connect with writers is at workshops. So if you attend one, start meaningful conversations and connect with writers with whom you can foster long-term relationships!
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of envy among writers, so be sure to choose someone who really cares about your work. You may be thinking, “How do I know if I’m dealing with an envious colleague?” The answer is easy: Good criticism does not attack.
- Good criticism: “Perhaps you should try strengthening the character of so and so by doing this and that.”
- Bad criticism: “You obviously did no research before writing this story, this character is weak.”
I recommend having writer friends do your beta reading. They understand the writing process and can often tell you just what you need to do to make your work better.
2. Ask an editor
One of my beta readers is an editor. I have known her for several years, and she has critiqued my work from the very beginning. When she makes suggestions about my work, I accept them as useful tips from someone who has read a lot of work and has a good eye for weak sentences and plot holes. She suggests edits, and when the work is ready, I pay her to edit it. If you have an editor friend, I suggest that you ask them nicely if they wouldn’t mind reading your work. Editors read a lot of work: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think they are in a good position to tell what needs fixing.
If you don’t have an editor friend like me (who I can bully into reading my work in the middle of the night :D), you might want to consider paying an editor to critique and edit your work. Especially if you are on a deadline, and the work needs to go out as soon as possible.
3. Ask an average reader
Sometimes all you need is input from an average reader, someone within your circle who can give candid advice about your work. The good thing about this type of beta reader is that they are reading from the standpoint of the audience. So, if they don’t understand or enjoy what you’ve written, the chances are that your readers won’t as well. So, take their advice seriously.
A warning: you must know the taste of your reader. This means that if you write fantasy fiction, you shouldn’t give your work to someone who only reads literary fiction. Remember that the average reader will critique based on what they enjoy reading. Every genre is unique, and the average reader might not know or appreciate the characteristics of a different genre. So, the more widely read your average reader is, the better for you.
4. Join a community of writers
There are several online writing communities you can join, which give you the opportunity to critique and receive criticism. These communities usually have rules against personal attacks and plagiarism, and their greatest benefit is that they can serve as a kind of support group.
Because there are several people in the group, you are likely to get a variety of opinions on your work. This may pose a problem as you struggle to determine which ones you should adopt or ignore. What is most important to remember is that any opinion/advice should aid your story. So, if someone has said that a minor character is not saying enough, you need to determine if giving this character more dialogue is beneficial to the story. In most cases, it isn’t, and the advice has only come out of the critique’s peculiar interest in that character. So be careful about adopting all the opinions you get.
Another thing you’ll have to look out for is plagiarists, people who might take your work and pass it off as theirs. Although many of these groups warn against plagiarism, if you decide to join an online community of writers, know you are taking a risk.
The ultimate purpose of beta readers is to give criticism or advice that will strengthen your work. While this is good, you must recognize your choice to accept or decline the criticism. Sometimes the suggestions a reader gives are just what you need to smoothen the rough edges of your work, but other times, they will not fit in with your idea. You must learn to decipher between helpful and unhelpful advice. “How will I know this?” you might ask. Go with your gut.
I’ll give you an example. I wrote a story about a woman and her mother and submitted it for criticism. One of the beta readers suggested that I instead make the story about the woman and her boyfriend. I rejected this advice because the idea was to explore a sour relationship between a daughter and her mother and its effect on the daughter’s life, not the other way around. You must be confident as a writer; know what you want to write about and receive criticism that aids your vision.
I’ll talk more about how you should respond to criticism in another article. Until then, keep writing!
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