Finding Beta Readers

by RS on November 18, 2011

In a follow-up to The Questioning Beta Reader, I thought today’s post would be about finding beta readers who share the same goals in critiquing WIPS.

During these past seven years of participating in numerous groups, I feel I still haven’t found the right one. Partly because most of the individuals whom I think would all work well together are scattered across the country. We have to deal with different time zones, but also some of the writers rather meet in person, while others don’t seem to care whether we form a group online and communicate via email or Skype. And then there’s the issue of submitting chapter by chapter or the whole megillah.

I used to submit chapter by chapter, make the suggested changes and then submit the next one. I finally realized this wasn’t efficient at all. Submitting in one fell swoop makes more sense because the beta reader gets the immediacy of the story, instead of having it serialized and it also facilitates their task in providing detailed feedback.

I also think that a small group—no more than four people—works better. Why? It’s a question of time logistics. Most of us are eager to get feedback quickly so we can either tweak and incorporate in corporate it into out WIPS. If the group becomes larger then the work (and remember most of us have jobs) of reading so many manuscripts becomes more like a chore that gets put off.

Before you jump in and join a critique group or workshop, consider how you can become a better beta reader. Back in February 2010, I wrote The Art of Giving a Good Critique and included some guidelines provided by Becky Levine. from her book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Give and Receive Feedback, Self-Edit, and Make Revisions. I think they’re worth repeating here:

  • Start with the good things
  • Critiquing–not copyediting
  • Explaining big, overall issues
  • Noting smaller problems
  • Offering suggestions
  • Ending with encouragement

Once you have those points drilled into your head, it’s time to find your group, but also consider what kind of groupyou’re looking for. For example, the next time I join a group, I want it to be a local with no more than four members.Second, I want to be part of a group where we all write in similar genres (in my case, women’s fiction, literary fiction, contemporary fiction). Why? In all fairness, I don’t enjoy reading certain genres and it would be difficult to provide unbiased feedback. Third, I want a group with structure and guidelines in submissions and conducting the crits. In other words, a set time and place every week with a minimum of two hours to discuss the work (an hour per writer, or 30 minutes per writer—if you want to include the entire group in one session).

Back to the main question where do you find this group or even a critique partner? Becky Levine offers the following suggestions:

  • Bulletin boards at bookstores, libraries and cafes
  • Online at the various writing organizations. Check their local chapters.
  • Classes, writing clubs, conferences
  • Word of mouth from other writers

And if you can’t find a group that fits your specific requirements, be proactive and start one yourself. You’ll meet other writers with similar goals and, hopefully, be more productive with your writing and feedback.

3 comments
Guilie
Guilie

Great tips, Rebeca--thanks for sharing. I agree 100%--finding the right person, who shares expectations as to results and approaches, is essential. Otherwise we're just wasting time. In my case, I make a distinction between beta readers and a critique group. From a critique group, such as IWW for example, I expect feedback from other writers that is, well, writerly. From a writer's point of view I garner enormous benefits: they can tell me when I'm "telling" instead of "showing". They can suggest a better starting point for the story, a better hook, a way to tweak a plot development or the overuse of adverbs. A beta reader, on the other hand, is--ideally for me--not a writer at all. My best beta reader is an avid reader, extensive reader, and lives completely outside of Author Land. Her feedback is incredibly valuable because it shows me how an actual *reader* is going to react to my work. She may not be able to tell me the mechanics of *why* a certain description, for example, doesn't work aside from saying "it's too long", or "I got confused", but she's a great asset in terms of character development (which is what my fiction focuses on)--if she's falling in love with my MC, I'm doing a great job. If she's being driven into strong introspection about her relationship with her mother as she watches my MC do it too, I can clap myself on the back. This is something that another writer will hardly ever be able to provide. Why? Because once you begin to write, the essential pleasure of reading will forever be tinged with a critical eye--can be in admiration or in disappointment, but it's never the same. At least for me.

Thanks again for all the suggestions!

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