…for without them, my books would be nothing and any reviews after their publication would just point to all errors these wonderful darlings spent so much time helping me realize needed to be addressed.
Hi, hello, how are you?
So, I’ve been slowly working through the glorious amounts of feedback from my roughly ten beta readers over my current project, BLOOD PRICE, for the past, eh, month or so? In reality, it’s only been these past two weeks I’ve taken the time to read through all of their write ups and all of their line edits
, because I was starting to experience lowkey impostor syndrome with this story and was scared to work on it again because I just want it to be good and feared it would just be shit and I was shit and would fade into nothing as a writer into the void for all of time. I’ve just finished and now I have a document almost six pages long full of summaries of their reactions, notes, ideas of where I want to take the edits; not to mention a copy of the manuscript where I transcribed a lot of their comments, reactions and typos (189 comments, to be exact) for me to respond to directly as I edit during the next round.
Fam, this amount of feedback is just incredible and I am so grateful to each and every one of my betas. (I love you darlings. <3)
But let me let you in on a little secret. My first novel I wrote, back throughout late middle and early high school, I queried without any beta readers ever looking at it.
In case you’re just getting started in the writing game or haven’t realized the value of a solid group of beta readers, let me highlight just a few of the wonderful things they did for me:
→ Helped highlight so many issues within the story that, before I sent it to them, I was riding the wave of, “This is the best book I’ve ever written, I can’t wait for it to get published tomorrow!” Which, the first part is totally valid, but the second? Yeah, this book still needs a ton of work and my betas helped me realize exactly where and what, and helped humble my hopes back down to realistic (but that’s another blog post for another time).
→ Found all my typos. Misspellings, missed commas, wrong tenses, missing words, duplicate words. I am so sorry.
→ Reflected on areas that were already strong and gave me inspiration and ideas on how to amp them up even further.
→ Like, seriously, the amount of comments that are in the typo category?! PLEASE FORGIVE ME.
→ Gave me a different perspective to look from and reminded me how much I was writing from my own experiences and perspectives, challenging me to write for a broader audience so I can be more inclusive and make my world more complex.
→ This is embarrassing. I promise I know how to write, I promise. *hides in the cave-of-shame-for-all-the-bloody-TYPOS.*
For me, betas help enlighten the areas I’m blind to, because I’m way too close to the story. Areas where I thought information was clear, they shine on how muddy it actually is. Places where I am repetitive because I was still figuring out what my story was, they remind me to trust me readers instead of beating them over with information like a dead horse. They help me be more sensitive to perspectives and experiences I’ve not had so my works can be more inclusive.
If you’re searching for betas, I recommend you remember these tips:
→ It’s a trade, not a service. I may be wrong on this, but off the topic of my head, I’m 95% positive that I have read at least one project or manuscript from all my betas, usually before I asked them to beta from me. If I’m asking them to spend hours upon hours of their time (especially if I end up asking them to reread a manuscript after incorporating their feedback, which I’ve never done before, but have a feeling I might do with this book), helping me elevate my work, I need to be willing to do the same for them.
- It’s for this reason that I definitely recommend trying to find betas who write something similar to you or at least enjoys reading similar genres. Though I think it’s awesome to get a different perspective, from a writer in a different genre, you don’t want to ask for all that time and then have them turn around and ask you to critique their novel which falls into a genre you never read and don’t enjoy. Your time is valuable, too.
- Also, I have definitely passed on beta projects that didn’t seem like something I would enjoy or if I didn’t have the right amount of time at that moment, but that doesn’t mean I won’t check it and offer to read when I have more free time or when the next project comes along. Once you find good betas, it’s a partnership, not a one-time transaction (unless you make that clear to begin with).
→ Build trust. I honestly cannot remember how I connected with most of my current betas, only that they are my PEOPLE and I am so lucky to have such a core group who I trust explicitly with my writing. I didn’t get it right on my first try, either, and it’s taken some time to find betas that click, building those relationships and the trust that is honestly required, I think. Upon reflecting a little bit more, I think it’s hard to beta read for complete strangers or, recently finish a novel and then put out a call for betas. It totally works for some and I’m not knocking that method! For me, though, all of my betas are other writers or friends who I’ve built up relationships over the years, before we started trading novels or short stories. I’ll still have someone random or I don’t know as well beta read every once in a while (and I always offer to beta for them in return), but I’m very lucky I found my core group by just interacting with the writing community, mostly on Twitter.
→ Variety is key. I also got really lucky that I have a very diverse group of beta readers, from a lot of different experiences and backgrounds. That wasn’t intentional at all, but if I was purposefully trying to build up a new beta reading group, I would recommend branching out and earnestly trying to get involved with a wide range of writers, so that your story can have a wide range of critiques, when the time comes.
- This is important to me especially because I had a couple of instances in this novel that was called out as problematic or insensitive, neither which was my intention at all, because I didn’t even realize it might have that impact. But it’s that impact that matters the most and if I were only friends with people with the exact same background as me, those weaknesses in my book would have had the chance to continue on, instead of being corrected–as they should be–during edits.
→ It’s a critique of craft, not of character. The first time I ever received beta feedback, I cried. People who I admired hated what I had written and thus, they hated me as a person for all eternity. I promise that is not at all how it works and they are seriously critiquing your writing, for that particular story. Even if they hate every aspect of the book, they don’t hate you as a person. Honestly, the betas who are willing to tell the hard truths, you need to keep closest to you. I’ve definitely been guilty of not being as honest as I should have been with my actual opinions in the past, so it’s something I’ve actively worked on. Because they are your friend and their writing is oftentimes their lifework, their greatest passion. You owe it to them and their trust they’ve put it in you to give your open and honest feedback–but always in a friendly and respectful manner.
- Being receptive is key. I still cry at “negative feedback”, i.e., when someone straight up doesn’t enjoy it (what can I say, being a mess of feels is my constant state), but I’ve learned to absorb it and then take a few days to process it. Usually by ignoring it for a few days and letting the emotions due their thing–privately–before I go back through and read it with a fresh perspective. I try my best to look at it without any emotions attached and then make an informed decision.
- Speaking of informed decisions, please, please, please remember that subjectivity is the basis of all feedback. Ever since I started working with beta readers, I’ve learned, through time, how to tell when it’s just a clash of opinions and instead trust my gut and ignore feedback. Usually, it’s when the majority of my beta readers feel one way and then I have an outlier opinion that contradicts that feeling; especially when I already find myself agreeing with the majority, then I know I can ignore that other feedback. And that’s okay. At the end of your day, it’s YOUR NOVEL. YOU get the final decision. One of my betas even gave me a great piece of advice, in her opinion of how betas work: “we tell you the what and the why, but you decide the HOW.” Meaning, that if your betas point out something you agree needs to change, you don’t need to listen to how they tell you how to change it, if they do. You make that call, you decide the how.
→ You already know their answers. A lot of the times, I’ve found, I already know the elements betas are going to bring up, because they are elements of my work that I’m already aware that needs improving and I’m just ignoring (or might be subconsciously aware of but don’t want to admit). Don’t get me wrong: there is still a ton I completely miss that they bring up, but future me: can you please address what you know are issues without someone else having to call you on your shit, please and thank you!?
→ Always thank them for their work. This seems obvious, but seriously. No matter how many times they’ve been a beta for you, if you plan to have them beta again or whether you loved their comments or felt you completely clashed, always, always, always thank them professionally, promptly and politely.
This is already WAY longer than I had any intentions of it becoming–
but what a great way to put off actually working on that backstory and fleshing out the book you’re supposed to be working on but keeping choking up in fear to work on, am I right!?–so I’m just going to wrap up and say: thanks to the betas I’m lucky enough to call my people. For those searching for betas, I hope you find a solid group. I think betas have the potential to help shape and mold careers. <3