Welcome to the third part in my How to Edit Your Novel series, Beta Read, Time to Bleed. This is where the editing stakes get high. Why? Because you’re about to let other people read your manuscript. Some are going to tell you how much they loved it. Others are going to send it back to you with enough red marks for your book to need a blood transplant. But it’s a necessary part of the process.
If this is your first time letting anyone read your book, start with a friend or family member you trust. Typically they will be far kinder to you and your book than they should, but have them look for typos and things that didn’t make sense. That way you can have those parts all polished up when you’re ready to take the plunge.
Odds are, wherever you live, there’s a writers group you can attend. They probably will only go over a few pages at a time, but there’s a lot you can learn from these people. Some of them may be published, whether in magazines or that they have books out, but I’ve found my group to be especially helpful in offering feedback and giving me suggestions to think about.
I think typically they’re very kind. They’re writers too, so they understand how frightening it can be to put your work on display. I tend to lean more honest because that’s the kind of feedback I want on my work. Remember, however you give feedback is likely how you’ll receive feedback. It’s important to be honest, but in a constructive way. Call it karma, call it the golden rule, call it what you like, but if you can be honest in a way that shows you want the writer to succeed, typically those people will do the same for you.
Plus your writers group members often cheer for your success and they can be very supportive during your crafting, polishing, and even querying stages. I can’t recommend them enough.
For those unfamiliar with this term, a beta reader is basically like a beta tester for your novel. Some also call them critique partners. They aren’t professional editors per se (some of them might be quite good at it), but they’re a fresh pair of eyes on your novel. Encourage them to point out your flaws. Encourage them to make that manuscript bleed. For however harsh a beta reader is, I guarantee you an agent will be 100 times harsher. It’s better to hear things up front that you can fix so you hear less harsh comments from future agents.
There are many ways you can go about acquiring a beta. If you’re in college, you can ask your peers (especially if any of them are English majors) to give your manuscript a look. Maybe you have a high school English teacher willing to look it over.
I’ve also met a lot of people via blogging and Twitter. Granted, I would get to know them first, and follow their blogs for a while to see if you feel comfortable having them critique. But they can be very helpful in showing you the flaws of your story. My friend Brian over at Descent Into Slushland did this for me on my first chapter (and it was a mess back then, thanks Brian!)
Choose carefully which you decide to attend, because you don’t necessarily want to make agent connections unless you feel you have a manuscript worthy of agent submission.
But there are workshops and conferences you can attend that give you feedback sans-agents. I went to a local one where published authors gave us feedback on our pages. I found it extremely helpful, plus I made a lot of writer friend connections.
I know Donald Maass does some Breakout Novel workshops around the nation, and having been to one of his workshops at Backspace, I’d recommend attending one if you can.
THAT BLEEDING PART
If you do these things, your story will be stronger, but you may also feel a bit of a sting. Sometimes it’s the pin prick kind, other times it’s the unexpected belly flop kind. Becoming a better writer will be painful at times. You and your book may have to bleed a little.
And that, my friends, is what Friday brings: Don’t Fear the Feedback. I’ve already spoken on this topic once before, but it’s the type of thing that needs to be repeated ad nauseum. We’ll go over what to do with your feedback, once you’ve received it, how to toughen up, and tips on how to separate the good from the not applicable.
I’m waiting until Friday because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day for crying out loud. I’ve got to say something about it. So see you for more editing on Friday!
But what do you think about beta reading? Have you used it before? Have you found it helpful? Would you recommend to others they do it? Any other beta read tips you’d add? Let us know below.