It wasn’t so long ago that I utilized every single beta or pre-reader I was brave enough to ask to read my stories before I even considered submitting to my publisher. Recently things have changed.
But wait, perhaps I should go back a little further.
The first fictional story I shared with anyone was fan fiction (FF). For those of you who don’t know what that is, FF are stories based on already published books, movies, TV shows, or even real people in the media, called Real Person Fic. The FF community I initially belonged to was a very supportive one. Like, crazy supportive, and I’m still friends with a lot of people from that community. In fact, there are a group of us who chat nearly everyday. We encourage, support, and cheerlead each other, and most of us barely knew each other during our fan fiction days. Now that we are all publishing original fiction (OF), it’s crazy how much I miss the old days, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
So I came from a community of writers and readers who would practically clamor to beta or pre-read a story, and I moved into the world of OF, where I’m scared to ask for readers. It’s a different experience, for some reason. Some of it is because many of my old readers are busy with their own work, editing, or else have no interest in reading outside of their FF worlds. Finding a great beta is hard too, but I think that’s an entirely different blog post I’ll need to write in the future.
I’m scared of showing my rough work to people too, but that’s not all.
Last year when I wrote North Star, I asked several people to pre-read. Because I had 3 large books released very close together as well as a YA adaptation of Spark and then a novella to boot, I felt like I was taking advantage. I had so many more words to read, so I quit asking for help. For Flare, book 3 of North Star, I did something crazy: I submitted my work to my publisher w/o anyone reading it first. Only after it was out of my hands, did I ask anyone to read it. Talk about nerve wracking, but I felt I needed to know if I could still get published that way.
Since then, I’ve written 2 short stories, both which have been seen by new eyes.
I value those new eyes and am beyond grateful for people who are willing to give me their honest opinion of my work. It’s hard to let go of a story I’m not entirely sure about yet and to give someone permission to rip it to shreds, but I need to do that so I can make it better in the end.
For those of you who have beta read, what is your experience? Do you feel used or are you glad to do this?
For writers, what is your experience? How do you find readers that are not only willing, but also helpful? Do you give betas specific instructions or do you let them do what they want?
Hi, Posy! Great post 🙂
I was lucky enough to have a couple of awesome beta readers (authors/friends) for my second novel because the beta reader for my first book was unfortunately no longer speaking to me (for reasons that have nothing to do with writing). Regardless of the fallout, I know my first book was much stronger for her help, and my second book would not have been half as good if it weren’t for a couple of *amazing* ladies.
For my third book, I flew mostly solo (I only gave my favorite beta reader maybe the first half–maybe less–and we bounced a few ideas back and forth and she held my hand and told me to breathe, but I never gave her the whole book because I felt guilty since I’d been really awful at not returning the favor of beta reading as well as I should have.) While I’m crazy-proud of that third book, I think the editing stage would have gone more smoothly if it had seen a couple of beta readers first! (I expected my head editor to appear at my doorstep with tar and feathers–or maybe a cattle prod, there was SO much work to be done on my end and it was taking forever.) I’ve promised myself never to make that mistake again.
As for taking advantage, I made myself another promise, and that was that I’d be a better beta reader (return things in a timely fashion, etc.) I definitely do *not* feel used as a beta; not only is it a reciprocal thing, but I just read *the* most awesome novel that hasn’t been published yet 😀 I do think it’s important to buddy up with people whose work/style you generally like, and who generally like your work/style, and to be considerate when someone says “I can’t right now” (likewise to be honest enough to say that yourself when your plate is too full to beta read.)
In addition to swapping beta reading with a couple of other authors, I belong to a critique group that meets in person, every other week. They don’t see a whole book, just a few chapters here and there, and that is also a valuable experience. It gets people completely outside my genre looking at my work, sometimes with very critical eyes–but I learn so much every time.
I have linked with another author like you suggested, but because of life happening, we often aren’t as available to each other. That’s the hard part: life.
I beta read for two OF authors and two fanfic authors. I love it, its definitely easier when its a book or fic you like. I did Beta for a fanfic that I didn’t like and it was hard for me to be subjective. I feel like its a privilege, its so cool to get to read it first, and have a opinion on it. I will say though sometimes people say they want your opinion when they really don’t LOL. Its mostly been a good experience for me, I get just as excited as they do when a new book is released, or a new chapter posted.
That’s good to hear. I know I’ve been very invested in books I’ve beta’d too. And yes, some authors don’t really want constructive criticism, but we need it. That doesn’t mean we change all things, but my brain goes a million different directions as I edit then. It’s my brain building so I don’t get dementia. 😉