So, you’ve finished your revision. You’ve worked out all the issues you can see with your potential book and you’ve got what you hope is a good, solid story.
Before you publish or send it to a copyeditor/proofreader, it would be wise to let someone else look at it. It doesn’t make sense to fix commas if your story has deeper issues.
Now, this step is a tricky one. Editors, critique groups, and beta readers can all kill a person’s writing. However, the most important thing, especially for those just starting out, is feedback. Honest feedback. Without it, your writing will suck for a very long time, possibly the rest of your life. I’m not kidding. I started heading down that path early on and narrowly avoided it. My writing would have become a marsh of confusion if not for a handful of people I can rely on if I need feedback. You’ll need the same if you want to improve as a writer and still do this on the cheap. That means, since we’re talking cheap here, no developmental editors.
You need readers. Good ones.
How you get them may change over the years, but it always comes from being in the right place. Which is…where?
It depends. I’ve found my beta readers while networking with other writers (i.e. making friends). You could try blogging (which includes finding other blogs and commenting on them). You could also join something like the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and get to know other writers through their blog hop. Take a writing class. Find a local group that looks specifically for feedback. Try Critters or Hatrack or some other forum that’s devoted to helping writers get in touch with writers specifically for feedback. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll find good readers among your family and friends.
I personally believe there’s as many ways to find readers as there are ways to meet people.
Wherever you find them, it’s important that they:
- Are willing to be honest with you, even if it hurts. (They should not be mean, though. More on that in a minute.)
- Know something about what makes a story good. This doesn’t mean they have to label things a particular way. It does mean that if the story falls flat, if the characters are acting stupid, or the story gets boring or confusing, that they will pick up on it and be able to point to exactly where they lost interest/got ticked/got confused.
- Listen when you tell them the genre. This is more important than you’d think. If you missed the mark, they’ll be able to tell you what they expected to find. That’s vital in genre-writing. And in line with that…
- Enjoy the genre you’re writing in. Do not ever give a romance to someone who thinks romance is trash. Do not ever give a fantasy to someone who thinks fantasy is for losers. Even if they’re intelligent and otherwise well-read, do not ever, ever, ever put your work in a position to be torn apart by someone who thinks they’re being helpful by destroying a story that is perfectly acceptable within that genre. (I’ve seen a very good argument against this, though.)
- Are objective. There is no excuse for cruelty or snobbery when it comes to feedback. If you feel personally demeaned in the process or if the person mocks your writing or…you get the idea. Run from this feedback. Ignore it. Dismiss it. Even if they’re right, this is the stuff that will kill your writing. Find someone else.
- Do not suggest you change the genre of your story. Do not get intimidated by someone who says your space opera doesn’t have enough science behind it, but hey, if you made it a fantasy you wouldn’t have to worry about it. If the thought of changing genres makes you feel as if you’re doing something wrong, stop. Do whatever it takes to fill those gaps instead.
It’s also important that you, as a writer:
- Bite your tongue. Do not answer the feedback in any other way but in the story itself. (Saying “thank you” is the exception to this rule.)
- Stay nice. Do not argue or belittle the feedback. Only dismiss it if it’s toxic. Otherwise, ask yourself if the feedback is correct.
- Stay grateful. This is someone who took valuable time from taking care of their own world to help you with yours. Be grateful they did so. Say thank you, even if they irritate you.
- Take all suggestions under advisement. Don’t panic and think you’ve got a whole lot of changes to make. Only make the changes that make sense to you, that feel right, that make you want to facepalm when you hear them.
- Return the favor. If they need a beta reader, be more than willing to be that reader.
Beta writers and developmental editors are not gods. They’re an extra set of eyes that can look at your work with a certain amount of detachment. The good ones will have read a lot, especially in the genre you’re writing in. The good ones will tell you what you’ve missed. The good ones will tell you when you’ve fallen short. The good ones are very hard to find and are worth everything you can give to keep them interested in reading for you because the good ones will help you see both your strengths and your weaknesses and keep you on the right track. They’ll find the holes and point them out before paying readers fall through them.
If you want to publish on the cheap and still make a career out of this, it is vital that you find someone who can give you this kind of feedback.
Next week, I’ll give my suggestions for copyediting.
Any thoughts on what I’ve written? Feel free to tell me below!
How to Find and Work with Beta Readers to Improve Your Book by Kristen Kieffer (via Jane Friedman’s blog)
Introducing the Beta Reading Worksheet! by Jami Gold
(BTW, Jami Gold has a LOT of stuff on beta readers on her website. I highly recommend searching and reading what she has. Very good stuff.)
5 Things You Should Know about Working with Beta Readers by Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas