Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Being a Beta

Unfortunately, I don’t have a debut author to introduce you to today.  Not because I haven’t been doing much reading.  On the contrary, I’ve been reading more than ever.  But the books I’ve been reading aren’t published yet.  They’re not even finished yet.  These books are works in progress (WIP), manuscripts I’ve been asked to beta read.  And let me tell you, I’ve read some awesome stories.

Being a beta reader is one of my favorite things.  It gives me the opportunity to connect with other writers.  It lets me see what other people are working on that could possibly be published.  And it helps me with my own writing.  But it’s also hard.  There is an art to being a good beta reader.  You have to be mindful that someone has trusted you with their manuscript and asked you to help them.

I’m always afraid when I send someone my comments that they’ll be mad at me for pointing out the flaws.  It’s hard to hear that a line you love doesn’t make sense or flow with the story.  And it sucks when you’re told an entire scene needs to be rewritten.  But the purpose of telling and hearing these things is solely to make the story better and that’s what I hope I’m doing.

I’ve recently had several people read my current WIP and for the most part they’ve all loved the story.  (I say ‘for the most part’ because one reader really liked the bad guy and didn’t like how I left his character.  I have since assured her that he will have his own Happily Ever After.)  When I’ve gotten each of their comments back though, I’ve had to mentally prepare myself for what they were going to tell me.  Some loved everything and thought it was perfect as is.  Some thought there were things about the characters that didn’t make sense as I wrote them.  And some called me out on parts where I had ‘lazy’ writing, where I was telling not showing.  Each of these comments I took to heart.  I considered them closely, decided what I felt needed to be changed and what should stay as is.  This took work, a lot of work, but my manuscript is better for it.

Let me reiterate that last thought: My manuscript is better because of my beta readers.

I want to mention briefly that there is a bit of a difference between a beta reader and a critique partner, though some people may disagree with me on this.  But a beta reader is someone who reads your story, sends you their comments and pretty much moves on.  You may have a few email exchanges with them to clear up any questions, but that is the extent of the ‘relationship’.  A critique partner, on the other hand, is your best literary friend.  They are the person you can text at 1 a.m. with a dialog issue or call and read through a scene with them to make sure it sounds write when read out loud.  A critique partner won’t mind reading your manuscript a hundred times just to make sure it’s perfect.  And by the end, the story is in many ways, as much theirs as it is yours.

I want to thank my beta readers and critique partners for helping me along the writing road to publication and I certainly hope to someday see the WIPs I’ve read to be sitting on bookstore shelves or listed as New York Times Bestsellers.

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