One of the toughest challenges I faced when I first started writing fiction was finding someone to honestly assess my work. I didn’t know very many people who were fiction writers, and I had no idea where to begin. At the same time, I knew I’d taken my story as far as I could on my own. I needed a fresh set of eyes, someone who would be honest but not hurtful, who could push me to grow while reminding me I could do this. I needed a beta reader, but I had no idea where to find one.
For the uninitiated, a beta reader isn’t someone obsessed with fancy fish. It’s a person who does a thorough read and critique of your manuscript. Beta readers may help you with grammar and spelling, but they also point out plot holes, continuity problems and character issues. They’re the test drivers of your story.
So how do you find one of these mythical creatures, and what makes a good one? Here are a few aspects to consider:
Real life versus virtual: Plenty of writers I know have real-life beta readers. Often they find them through critique groups, in which members meet on a regular basis. Some may serve as beta readers for each other. If you are looking for support and for a tribe of fellow writers, this might work for you.
On the other hand, in my limited experience, real-life writing groups can also devolve into social groups, where there’s lots of chatter and wine but not a lot of work getting done. I’ve also seen them turn into pile-ons, in which one person makes a negative comment and everyone else joins in attacking someone’s work, or in which one person has success and the others feel obliged to tear them down. It can be hard not taking a beta reader’s feedback personally in such a situation.
Virtual betas. With an online relationship, many of the emotional aspects can be eliminated. You’re not getting together in person to receive feedback, which makes it easier. And there’s the convenience of ‘meeting’ via email, so there’s no need to get dressed, slog to the coffee shop, and face society. [Read more…]