Happy Weekend, WG2E-Land!
Here are some fabulous tips on Choosing and Using Beta Readers from one superfab smart chick, Author Lexi Ryan.
Take it away, Lexi…
I first told D.D. that I wanted to write on the value of a good beta reader, but every time I sat down to write that post, I got stumped. Why? Because I felt like everything I was saying was old news to the savvy WG2E audience. In case you were really hoping for that post, let me sum it up for you:
Beta readers are great and make writing stronger. Use some.
More helpful, I think, is some instruction on choosing and using betas, and that’s what I’ve included below.
1) A good beta is willing to read your entire piece. Choose someone who has the time and inclination to read your work as a whole, not just a chapter at a time spread out over months.
Critique groups can be great, but I think the phrase “critique group” shouldn’t be confused with “beta reader” (although I would argue that critique partners can also be beta readers, but more on that later). As fantastic as a good critique group can be, if you have a group of four people, chances are you simply can’t read everyone’s entire novel for each meeting.
My definition of a beta reader is someone who reads the entire work as a whole. Because of tight deadlines and personal commitments, it might not work out exactly this way every time, but the general idea is that a beta reader should take a macro view of your work, rather than a micro view.
For example, when I sent the first sixty pages of ACCIDENTAL SEX GODDESS to one of my critique partners, she thought the pacing of the opening was great. However, once she read that opening in the context of the book as a whole, she could tell it was too slow—the real call to adventure was too far removed from the opening pages. That’s something she wouldn’t have been able to effectively see if she had only read the piece in small chunks.
2) Use more than one beta reader when possible, the more variety the better.
There’s some disagreement in the writing community about whether or not writers make effective betas. In fact, many will tell you that to be a “true” beta reader, the person must be only a reader, not a writer. Pish!
Here’s what I’ve found: Writers are no more skilled than readers at picking out plot issues or character inconsistencies, but they do have a vocabulary with which to communicate what they’ve found. This is why a combination of readers and writers is ideal. If you haven’t had this experience already, you’ll find that as you grow an audience, readers will contact you and offer to beta read just so they can get their hands on your stuff as soon as possible. It’s great!
As for using multiple betas, this allows you to see if a reader was an outlier in her dislike of your heroine’s purple hair or if there’s a consensus that it doesn’t fit her personality.
3) Avoid people who rewrite your sentences or try to change your writing style.
If you write humor and one reader is consistently trying to get you to tone it down…
If you write sexy and one reader is consistently trying to get you to fade to black…
If you write dark and gritty and one reader consistently tries to get you to lighten up…
There are many reasons a beta reader might not be a good fit, but the biggest reason is that they don’t dig your writing style. And that’s fine. Not everyone is going to love what you write. But betas should help you hone your voice and style, not change it.
4) Return the favor or consider opening your checkbook.
If you have asked fellow writers to beta read for you, be prepared to return the favor. If they don’t ask, make sure you offer. They probably know how busy you are, and it’s your responsibility to put the offer on the table.
Don’t have time to beta read for other authors? There are content editors you can pay for the service.
In addition to writing, I hold a full-time position as a college professor and I have two small children. Beyond my two closest writing friends, I rarely have the time to beta read for people. Therefore, I do a little of both. My two closest writing friends beta read for me, and I pay someone I trust to take another look.
Regardless of what you choose, the relationship should be a rewarding one and you should learn a lot.
5) Keep an open mind.
Sometimes we get stuck in our ideas and we shut down any critique. If someone has offered to read your work and give you feedback, you owe it to them (and yourself) to keep an open mind. At the end of the day, it’s up to you what you’ll change, but if you’re not going to seriously consider your beta reader’s suggestions, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
In my novella Just the Way You Are, the heroine’s father called her the “c-word.” Yeah, the really bad one. I wanted readers to see how selfish and ugly he was. I wanted them to see how screwed up my heroine’s life had been. It was my editor who said I should nix it.
I’ll be honest. My first instinct was to ignore his suggestion. What did he know about my characters? But I stepped away from it for a couple days and when I returned I read his explanation. The word, he explained, took the complexity out of his character—it turned him into a caricature and let me off the hook for making him into the three-dimensional antagonist I needed.
Although I set this up as the five “rules” for using beta readers, the truth is, there are no rules. You have to figure out a system that works for you and your readers and that makes your stories the best they can be. Everything else is just gravy.
Author of both contemporary and paranormal romance, Lexi Ryan writes smart, spunky stories that sizzle. She lives in Indiana, where she divides her time between her family, her writing, and her job as an English professor. Her latest release is ACCIDENTAL SEX GODDESS, a sexy friends-to-lovers romance made light years better thanks to the feedback from the world’s best betas.
Connect with Lexi here: