The Importance of Beta Readers

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For the second week in a row, a Facebook status has tickled my brain enough to warrant evolving into a blog post.

And no, I’m not talking about the post about how the news of the death threats against Ben Affleck for being cast as Batman is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

I’m talking about something with which I am blessed with an abundance of, both in quantity and quality: beta readers.

No matter how awesome you think your writing is, no matter how many times you’ve pored over your poor beleaguered manuscript, no matter how perfect a proof reader you think you are, a good set of beta readers will prove you wrong.

Surround yourself with good beta readers and you will be a better writer. They will find your gaping plot holes, your enormous leaps in logic, your unintended character shifts, your penchant for using the same word three times in one paragraph, not to mention your (likely) many gaffes in spelling, grammar, historical accuracy, and writing in general.

Just going through a couple critiques on “Operation: Ghost Story” and getting some spot on recommendations from both the critiquers on that one.

My recommendations – get beta readers with different reading and writing backgrounds, ones you can trust with your “darlings” even as they are telling you which ones to assassinate, ones who know how to sprinkle a little sugar even as their rubbing salt in the wounds of your suddenly red manuscript, and ones who are reliable enough to get you what you need in somewhat of a timely manner.

I participate in both large and small critique groups. The small group provides focus and particular attention on a more detailed level, but a large critique group provides a different degree of “eyes on” and getting such a wide swath of readers to give you advice at once can be immensely helpful.

That being said, there are pitfalls here. Sending something that you’re not happy with first probably is a recipe for unhappiness because you are likely to have things pointed out to you that you already knew weren’t working and that can be a bit disheartening. (Part of why I haven’t looked at Ghost Story much in the last two months – still licking manuscript wounds from June!). Also, listening to every bit of advice and acting on it will drive you mad, especially when one individual likes a particular section and another hates the exact same section. Which way do you go? Who do you trust? Answer: trust yourself. At root, you are the creator, and all critique is just a suggestion (unless it comes from Stephen King, in which case, take it to heart). 😉

As I said in my two Facebook posts, thanks to all my AWESOME beta reader and critique partners from now and the last ten years. From my first reader ,Lisa Postell during OIF1 in Iraq, up to my current two critique groups, you all have made me a better writer and my manuscripts much shinier (for all you Firefly fans out there). And with that, I will return to looking at suggested edits for Part I of “Operation: Ghost Story” – as always, with one or two grains of salt!

Happy Writing!

Darin

About Darin Kennedy


5 Responses to “The Importance of Beta Readers”

  • CL

    I’m right there with you, Darin! I find myself wishing I had more beat readers that I can count on to give me harsh criticism. That is an area in which I lack the abundance you so eloquently mentioned.

    I have to gather more evil minions, of this I am certain!

    Keep up the writing and I look forward to seeing it all in print!

  • A.T. Augustine

    I have a few questions regarding this subject.
    What’s the difference between a beta reader and an alpha reader. I thought the fine folks over at Writing Excuses were going to clarify it, but even they disagreed with one another. From what I understand a Beta reader is not necessarily an industry insider, but they’ve demonstrated a great awareness in fiction. Mary Robinette Kowal gives her beta readers her material as she’s writing the story and asks them to point out when they’re intrigued, confused, and bored.

    From what I understand, alpha readers are given the work when it’s near the final draft, and they’re industry insiders. Editors, Agents, etc.

    It seems as thought the definition of the reader is dependent on the stag of the writing process.

    And whereabouts would one find a Beta reader? How did you find yours?

  • Darin Kennedy

    Hiya CL! Good luck gathering more minions. If I was in DFW area, I would gladly sign up. Trust me, when something is in print, you’ll be among the first to know.

    To AT – Don’t think there’s much difference in alpha and beta readers. The Wikipedia article shows a fine distinction: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_reader)
    In any case, an alpha/beta reader is anyone in whom you have enough trust to allow them to read your work and give you honest feedback. If you are in turn reading their stuff as well, they are generally called a critique partner. Check with your local writers group. Most of my current critique partners came from within my writers group. In a previous critique group (the one my current group evolved from) all the members were from a Sci Fi/Fantasy critique group from Charlotte Writers Club. Your best bet is to find people who are willing to read and give critique or find someone/others who wants to exchange critiquing and start meeting regularly as you and they see fit. Next time we run into each other, we can discuss. Hope this helps, and thanks for checking out the blog!

  • Liz

    It’s so hard to find good beta readers though. Where do you find them? There are lots of novices who mean well, but authors who intend to publish don’t have time to work through many novices and many don’t have the funds to pay a professional.

    Also, most of the potential beta readers I meets are people who want to be authors themselves. This is great in the sense that at least they have a deeper understanding of what it takes to fix problems with your book, but these people rarely have the time to sit with your work and really give it the time and care it deserves. It’s kind of frustrating. I’ve been struggling to build up a core of beta readers that I can trust. I don’t like the idea that whenever I’m sending my piece out to someone, there’s always that worry at the back of my mind that they may have less than honorable intentions either.

  • Darin Kennedy

    Hi Liz! Great hearing from you.
    I suppose I should tell you that other than family, most of my beta readers come from my writers group, and rather than beta readers, I have more of a critique group. However, these fine folks have beta read a lot of my stuff and me theirs. You definitely have to find people you trust, both to give good advice, and people who you don’t believe have any ill intent of course. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. You may want to look into Meetup or local writers groups and see if you can find some other writers to ally with and trade critiques. I think once you have a bit of a following, it may be easier to find straight “readers” to look at your stuff. Hope this helps.

    Darin

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