I recently had a discussion with another writer about whether getting feedback on your writing is valuable. The answer is, yes, it is. The discussion led to this post. A few follow-up posts on beta reading are coming soon. Enjoy!
So you’ve written your story, edited your story, spit shinned your story. It is the absolute best you can make it. But before you send it off for querying or publishing, there is one more step. And if you are an introvert like me, it may be the step that keeps you up at night. Here it is:
Give your story to beta readers.
Beta readers read, comment, and critique your story so that you can make it even more sparkly, shiny, and perfect. Sounds great, in theory, but you are telling someone to point out everything that is wrong with your book. (Don’t mind me while I go hide under a rock.)
Here are 10 reasons why it’s worth the terror to use beta readers
- Beta readers keep you from thinking too much of yourself. You know those obscure Easter eggs you sprinkled throughout your novel? Yeah, nobody gets that, and Beta readers will tell you that. (Disclaimer: I’m not anti-Easter eggs. Just anti-overly obscure ones that detract from the story.) They will tell you when your characters are flat, and when your plot drags, and your descriptions are purple, and your socio-political system is unrealistic. They point out your weaknesses. But you can’t grow if you don’t know your weaknesses. A dose of humble pie is not as tasty as apple pie, but it’ll do a lot more to make you a better writer.
- Beta readers give ideas on how to fix your story. Sometimes they are perfect ideas. Sometimes it’s not what you need. I beta read the book Child of the Kaites by Beth Wangler. (It’s available on Amazon and it’s amazing. Go read it.) I gave her all kinds of solutions to the issues I found. She didn’t take most of them. She did look at the problems and found ways to fix them that met with her vision for her novel. It turned out beautifully. She did take some of my suggestions. Sometimes when you are stuck, a fresh set of eyes can find a solution that eluded you.
- Beta readers are the first line of defense against plot hole vortexes threatening to suck your readers into oblivion. Maybe the plot hole was created when you deleted a scene in draft three. Maybe you understood how to cross that hole in your head, but it didn’t get onto paper. Maybe you never noticed the hole at all. A beta reader will pick out those plot holes before they have a chance to devour your readers. (And you don’t want your readers to get devoured because then they can’t buy any more of your books.)
- Beta readers give you an opportunity to test out your characters outside your head. My characters are so perfect and real and wonderful. In my head. They have flaws and quirks and strengths and unique tastes. If you could reach into my head and look at my characters, you would love them. The problem is, you can’t. Beta readers give you feedback on whether the person in your head really came across on paper. Did the side character come out as witty or annoying? Is the main character strong and silent or stuck up? Is your love interest actually lovable? Conveying those characters from your mind into the world can be difficult. If readers don’t love (or love to hate) your characters they are unlikely to love your book. Beta readers are your chance to test this out and then make adjustments.
- Multiple Beta readers give you different perspectives. Some things are just opinion, but how can you tell if a beta reader comment is an opinion or a valid issue with your writing? I once had two different beta readers give exact opposite comments on a character. The first reader said my character was terrible, unrelatable, and annoying. (Talk about a big humble pie in the face.) The second beta reader felt the character was extremely relatable, she loved the character and wanted to read more. People have opinions. Sometimes something isn’t wrong, it just isn’t someone’s cup of tea. Having multiple beta readers can give you insight to what really is an issue and what is just someone’s opinion.
- Beta readers become your cheerleaders. I was crushed after getting feedback from a beta reader once. But the thing is, the beta readers were all rooting for me. Their comments aren’t always easy to read, but they are meant to make your story better. Beta readers often go on to help promote the book when it’s published, provide further support, and send you encouraging gifs when you feel like throwing yourself into one of those plot vortexes. You are all on the same team and no one wants you to succeed as much as they do. (And not just because then they get their name in your acknowledgements section.)
- Beta readers expand your writing community. Writing can be lonely. Especially if you are an introvert who is terrified of telling people you write. (I mean, I wouldn’t know, but that’s what I’ve heard.) But writing doesn’t have to be lonely. There are so many of us out there and we’re all going through the same things. Beta readers are a huge part of your writing community. Through them you can make new connections and grow your community into a supportive family of people who like to talk to imaginary friends just like you.
- Beta readers exchange their writing with you. Often while a beta reader provides a critique for you, you will do the same for them. This gives you an opportunity to see into someone else’s writing process and get ideas for what does and doesn’t work. (More on this in a coming blog post because I feel really strongly about it.)
- IT WILL MAKE YOUR WRITING BETTER. It will make your story better. It will make your future stories better. It WILL make you a better writer. You can always afford to be a better writer.
- Beta readers understand that the story is yours. They point out problems and offer solutions. But in they end, they know the story is your creation. What you do with it is your choice. They are writers too. This is your baby. If their suggestion to remove the (XXXX) from the scene in the (XXXX) is sacrilegious, you aren’t going to do it. Beta readers understand. They get it. And sometimes, having someone at your back that gets it, is what you need the most.