Monday, October 24, 2016

Rewrite With the Door Open (With a Little Help From Your Beta Readers)

You've heard me discuss the need to let loose on the first draft, and to write what makes you happy. Eventually, though, you are going to have to open the door and start sharing your story with the world.

It can be frightening, but it doesn't have to be. Everyone can benefit from constructive feedback, but the key is to be selective with who sees your work first. While established authors have the benefit of editors and agents to vet their work, we can all develop a circle of first readers to give honest and useful feedback. (I'll be discussing the benefits of professional editors in an upcoming post.)

These first readers are also called beta readers, and they have the important function of giving you initial feedback on your work. Choose them carefully! Consider the following as guidelines in selecting these readers:


  1. They shouldn't be family members or significant others: These folks tend to either love everything you write, or are hyper-critical. There also can be a little emotional baggage attached to even the healthiest relationships. They can celebrate with you when the book is finished.
  2. They should have familiarity with the genre you're writing in. If you're writing fantasy, they should have read at least some fantasy novels, and so on. 
  3. They don't have to be writers, but it helps. Writers understand the mechanics of storytelling, and and can point out things you may have missed. Having said this:
  4. They shouldn't tell you how to fix your manuscript. That's your job. You really only want the beta reader to tell you what they like and what they don't: confusing scenes, stilted dialogue, and so on.
Do you use beta readers? Where do you find them? What would you add? Share your experiences in the comments.

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