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On Beta Reading

So I got tagged in this post by the awesome Karma Chesnut (@KarmaMarieC):


I read Karma’s WIP (work in progress/manuscript) and absolutely loved it. Probably one of my favorite reads (so I’ll definitely be posting more information here when it gets published so you can check it out too).

So, what is BETA/Beta reading?

Beta reading usually consists of reading and giving feedback on a polished manuscript, either before the author has an agent or after (but before publishing). Authors usually ask friends and family as well as other writers to give feedback.

What’s the difference between a Beta reader and an ARC reader?

ARC stands for advanced reader copy. Before a book is published, but after the major edits, readers (especially reviewers and bloggers) read and recommend ARCs to promote pre-sales and sales. Most of the time there are changes made after Beta-reading, but not in an ARC (unless it is a typo, etc).

Why do it?

The more eyes you can get on your manuscript the better you can make it (and more likely you’ll catch plot holes or awkward phrasing etc.) This doesn’t mean you have to listen to everything every reader says, but the more information you have the easier it is to make an informed decision. For example if 1/14 of readers want something different you may consider it but maybe not as strongly as if 12/14 agree on something.

When should I look for someone to Beta read? After hiding my manuscript from all eyes until it’s perfect?

For my first novel, I hid it from the world until I was half way through and got stuck so I gave it to my mom for help, and then only let others read it once it was fully done. For my second, I’ve had more feedback throughout the process– friends who I shared chapters with to make sure I was going in the right direction, for motivation to write as they prodded me for what happened next, and encouragement as they told me what was working (and what wasn’t, but how to fix it).

I personally would recommend everyone have a trusted early reader (an alpha reader, shall we say) who reads as you write. You can ask them for feedback or just encouragement, whatever you need. It adds a level of accountability that can be crucial especially during the “middle manuscript sag” when motivation and hope for finishing are low. That being said, another way to get this is through critique groups.

What’s a critique group?

Usually composed of a group of writers who share parts of their work at a time (chapters, pages, etc) and give feedback to each other. This can occur online, in person, or a mix of the two.

Where can I find one?

Ask for writers wanting to make a group on Twitter (#writingcommunity). See if there’s a literary center near you (like the Loft in Minnesota). Many of these also have online forums where you can post. Go to conferences and talk with other writers. Make one if you have friends who are writers. If you’re in school, ask the English department or English teacher if they know of other writers who might be interested.

How do I know if it’s working well?

So my first two critique groups were sub-par and I thought that’s how all of them would be. In the first, I gave much more feedback than I received, was one of the only people to turn in my critiques on time, had very different view points than the other authors, and just seemed to be putting in way more than I was getting out of it.

That being said, make sure that you are getting out of it what you want and that you aren’t putting in an unequal amount. Make sure the people you are with have similar styles in that their feedback is helpful.

In my second group, we were all at different places in the writing process and wanted different things– some wanted to do writing exercises together, some wanted to share experiences, and some wanted feedback on materials. Basically it was hard to cover everything and made much of the time unhelpful for most people.

So make sure you’re with other writers at a similar stage in the writing process who want the same things out of the group.

Make sure there aren’t too many people because as great as it is to get more feedback, that means another set of pages you also have to critique.

Utilizing your critique group for more than just feedback.

If/when you go to publish, ask them to write reviews (on Amazon and Goodreads and a blog if they have them). They’re hard to come by and make a big difference in others buying the book.

Promote each other’s work on social media, blogs, etc.

Have them review query materials.

Ask them to write a review for the cover, especially if they are published or well known.

If you found this article helpful, share it on social media and follow my blog (on the menu on the right). You can follow me on Twitter at @mollyfennig .

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