Beta Read, Time to Bleed

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.

jae scribbles diving

WRITERS GROUPS

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.

BETA READERS

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!)

But you can also use a newer site called CPSeek.com, recently put together by some of the mentors from Pitch Wars. There’s also Ladies Who Critique, although you don’t have to be a lady to use it.

WORKSHOPS/CONFERENCES

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

Alaska Teacher red pen

From Flickr.com by AlaskaTeacher

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.

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23 thoughts on “Beta Read, Time to Bleed

  1. I recently read that if you aren’t ready to have other people read your work, you aren’t ready for publication. I couldn’t agree more. Critique partners are a must. If we truly want to be published there won’t be any sting/pain. We must do what’s best for our story, not our ego. The key is to find what works best for you. Every bit of advice won’t apply to every writer. Get out there and try new things. Incorporate the things that work for you, and discard the the things that don’t. Jae gives plenty of ideas in this post. Try some!

    • I especially like how you said, “if you aren’t ready to have other people read your work, you aren’t ready for publication.” Amen! Seriously people, amen!

  2. The fun part about beta reading is when you feel that you’ve gotten everything perfect and they are still able to find places that need a fixing. But it’s good to have someone positive read you ms first, but probably not a good idea to have your significant other look at it, that might turn hostile very quickly. 😉

    • LOL, I’m guessing there’s a big ol’ story behind that one. 😉 Yep, no matter how perfect you think you’ve got it, there’s always room for improvement—and your beta readers will find it.

  3. Beta readers are my heroes! 🙂 I totally agree – Even if it is painful, I’d still rather hear that something doesn’t work from a critique partner who wants to help than from a form rejection letter. And every time I’ve had the opportunity to trade with someone, I think my story has become stronger because they always catch so much more than I can. Lol, it helps a ton when I get to the point where I’m blind to mistakes after staring at them for so long. 🙂

    • Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s crazy, after they point out the mistakes, I sometimes think, “Argh, why couldn’t I see that?” Just the way it goes I guess.

  4. Sounds like good advice! In my opinion, the hardest part is finding good critique partners. The people we know are often biased in our favor and the people we pay don’t want to offend their clientele. I’m not sure what I want to do with my manuscript yet, but I have been seeking out as much feedback as possible. I’ve had loads of my law school friends read it, but that’s the problem–they’re friends. Some had reasonable criticisms, but most were largely positive, and I end up wondering what they’re not seeing (or not telling me) because of our friendship!

    • Friends sometimes read things as readers vs. editors. You could try that CPSeek and see what you think. I’d offer to help, but not sure what knowledge I have that would be helpful in the law arena. 😉

      • I’ll check CPSeek out. I’m not in a rush at this point. It’s a fun hobby and I don’t mind that it’s a long process. This MS isn’t quite as legal as my current WIP (or rather, it feels more legal to me because it’s an area I’m less familiar with!).

        • That’s a great attitude to have. I used to be rush-rush about my MS, but I’ve realized it’s more important to get the story done right than done fast.

          But if you ever need someone to glance over a first chapter or something, just let me know. I’m always available to help friends. 😀

        • Certainly I think you’d have helpful feedback! You’re so well read in addition to writing. I probably will take you up on a reading of SHADE, once I’m at that point. Always good to get a fresh pair of eyes on a newer iteration. 🙂

    • If you mean everyone’s at the same level, it won’t happen. There are people in my group that are at the very, very beginning. There are also people in my group who only do poetry. And there are a few that write similarly to me. I think most of the really experienced writers all write something a little different, but we’ve all kind of learned how to be editors in a sense. I even get good feedback from the newbies. We’re all experienced in reading after all. What I looked for when searching for a writer’s group was people willing to critique, whatever their level. I’ve found the more we all help each other, the better the critiques grow. *shrug* My two cents. Keep trying.

      • I have no experience with writers’ groups, but I suspect I would like a diverse one. I would love to know what a poet thinks about my WIP! They might not be my intended audience, but their fresh eyes might pick up on flaws that others more familiar with my genre won’t notice. If it’s unhelpful commentary, I can always ignore it or file away that advice for a future WIP.

        • That’s exactly why I appreciate my group. Our poets are much older ladies which means their poetry and descriptions are phenomenal (at least that’s been my experience with older writers/poets). We’ve got a pretty awesome mix. 🙂

  5. I’m so jealous that you have writing workshops and conferences in your area! We have nothing here, as far as I can tell.

    I found my critique partner through Scribophile.com – it’s a site where you can post chapters or short stories for critique (you have to pay for this with karma points earned by critiquing other people’s work). The only problem is getting people to look at the entire novel. Someone who liked and critiqued my first chapter (and I’d done hers) sent me a message asking about doing a novel swap, and we’re working through it right now. She’s tough, but fair, and I think I’m the same for her.

    I could use more advice on toughening up. I’ve always been a perfectionist, so hearing that I did something (gasp!) wrong makes me physically ill, and just waiting for feedback makes me anxious. I know, it’s a problem, but I’m working on it. So far I’m finding that “constructive” feedback and rejections are like needles: one just stings a but, but twenty in a row will hurt a LOT. I just hope the toughening up part follows that. 😉

    • It will come. There’s truth in an attitude of “fake it until you make it.” If you try and pretend you’re excited about feedback because you know it will make your story stronger, eventually that can become truth. For me, I got tired of rejection letters and decided I’d get my stuff out there and critiqued as much as possible so I could stop getting rejection letters. I look at it as coming to the point where I’ve earned representation because I’ve taken my story to the level it needs to go.

      Plus I hold onto older version of my novels and look at them from time to time to remind myself of where I was and how far I’ve come. Sometimes it can be quite sobering. 😉

      • It’s true- the more I force myself to accept critiques respectfully and thoughtfully, the less they hurt. It’s the anxiety that’s ridiculous- completely out of proportion to what the results usually are! Can I fake being calm? 🙂

        Aah, and older versions… I’m afraid to look back at mine, but I really should. ‘Bound’ has changed so much, it’s ridiculous, not to mention the experience I’ve gained and the help I’ve had from beta readers. Maybe some day I’ll go back and let myself feel embarrassed by those early drafts!

        • Meh, feel PROUD! Proud of what you had and how far you’ve come. I think of it as hiking. Sometimes you look back and see how far up the mountain you’ve gone and that gives you strength to keep on going. It always makes me extremely grateful for the progress I’ve made. That’s not to say I stay there in the old version long.

          And yeah, you might be able to pull that off with being calm. But there’s probably still some positive anticipation in there, so it’s okay to be a little anxious, don’t you think?

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