For Love of Beta Readers

This week, I'm covering a few things I wish I knew before publishing my book. It's not a comprehensive list for sure, but it's a little bit of what I've learned this past year. 

I've gotten to be a pro of one thing since publishing Come Alive: letting others read my work before sending it off into the world.

I'm not saying I don't know how to stand on my own words. There are moments where it's necessary to trust myself and the words burning in my chest. But when it comes to something longer than say, a blog post, I know hearing feedback from others is essential in writing well. 

I know Stephen King warns against this. I know there are others who say don't let anyone not even your dog or distant Aunt Martha read your words until they're on the pages of a paperback sold in stores, but I don't agree. 

After publishing Come Alive, conversations started happening between my friends and I about how I would change the manuscript. When I finally let go of the "if-only's" and started working on a novella, I created a list of people who would read chapters for me as I wrote them. This created two things for me: accountability in writing and consistency within the plot. 

I know this now: I won't ever write a manuscript without a few people behind me reading as I go, helping me clarify the messy parts and encouraging me to keep going, keep writing, keep pushing through until the end.

What a beta-reader is :: a cheerleader, a butt-kicker, a clarifier, a crystallizer.

Though some of them may be gifted in the art of editing, their main position isn't to catch every single one of your dangling modifiers or unnecessary thats. The raking through with a fine-toothed comb comes later with an actual editor. And, if you're wise, you'll pay them what they're worth which is basically comparable to saving your life + dignity. 

Right now, you're just needing to finish. And, thankfully, your beta-readers can help you.

What do they get? Well, most of all, they get the thrill of watching a manuscript unfold before their eyes. Most betas sign up for the opportunity to read as you write and don't expect anything more, but sometimes you can throw in a surprise or two. For me, my betas receive all of the chapters as I write as well as the finished copy once it's completely done and revised. And when I finally pick up the novella again [sheepish grin] I will probably throw in a few surprise story-coaching sessions as well because of their patience in waiting. 

There's something to be said of holding your words close to your chest for a little while before sharing them with everyone. I get that—I do. But I won't ever send off a manuscript without multiple people reading over it first, letting me know what I missed or what they find lacking. And it's not because I don't trust my words or need some sort of validation. I've seen what happens when you try to go it alone. I've lived it. I don't want to do it again.

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Posted on April 16, 2013 .