Some people here retain their basic trust in the goodness of humanity. Time permitting, they will beta read for anyone who asks. This is wonderful, of course, and I like to imagine fine beta-for-beta arrangements stemming from their generous spirits.
But there are plenty of AWers like me who have beta read entire novels, written up five or ten thousand words of commentary we hoped was both insightful and useful, and never heard a word back. Or heard a single word, Thanks, or in one memorable instance, Asshole!
On behalf of those who have been similarly burned, here's why I won't beta read your book:
- You may know me from lurking, but I don't know you. A beta read takes many hours, at a minimum. A book which has 'issues' takes much longer. Pretty huge favor to ask of a stranger, don't you think?
- You're new and already have your hand out, asking for a lot without having given one damned thing to the AW community in general. Me, me, me is not cool.
- I don't like you. This can happen even if I've never interacted with you. I've observed you here at AW, and I didn't like what I saw. Bummer, huh? This is what your mom meant when she said, "What goes around, comes around."
- I like you well enough, but I don't share your politics, your taste in reading, or your sense of humor. Something essential about you and me does not mesh, and I'd be willing to bet that extends to your book.
- You and I may get along splendidly, but I don't read your genre because I don't care for it. That probably includes your book. Plus, if I don't read the genre, I will not be able to tell if you've written something wonderfully original or retold Eat, Pray, Love or A is for Alibi.
- It seems you don't need a beta read so much as reassurance that your work is pretty good, or that you're on the right path. You can get that without asking others to invest so much of themselves.
- You've never put a scene, chapter, or story up at your genre's Share Your Work board. I need to see your writing to know if you've mastered basic mechanics, can string together coherent sentences, know the difference between show and tell, can pare away unnecessary words, etc. Show me something which suggests you've got the goods.
- I have no reason to believe your novel has been rewritten, revised, edited, and polished until I need sunglasses to look at its brilliance. If it hasn't, it's not ready for a beta. No matter how good you may be, your first draft is not good enough.
And because I'm not a total meanie, here's how to turn things around:
- Become a regular presence at your genre's board. Ask questions, or answer without being a know-it-all. Seek reading suggestions. Share a few titles you really enjoyed. Discuss what traits the best of the genre often share. The others will feel like they know and like you in a matter of weeks.
- Critique other people's writing at your genre's Share Your Work (SYW) board. Those who are actively writing will feel like they owe you one. Don't know how to critique? Bullshit. You know how to read, right? What parts work for you? What doesn't? Why not? There, you're critiquing. I knew you could.
- Note the people who give the most useful critiques to other writers in your genre.
- Get active in the 'overview' board of whatever you write, whether it's novels, short stories, memoirs, or scripts. A broader group will know you and like you.
- Join in on the activity at any of the non-writing boards, from politics to cooking or movies, or just goofing around at Office Party. People will know and like you--but a different and far more diverse group than just your own genre's writers. I bet you're seeing a pattern here, huh? Being a person who's known and liked means people are happy to help you write your best.
- After you've hit 50 posts, which will take no time if you get involved at multiple AW boards, polish up your first chapter then post it at the appropriate SYW board. Make sure you read the sticky about how to format it, since AW doesn't support tabs and won't recognize your italics or font size.
- Note the people who gave you the most useful (read: most painful) critiques which ID specific mistakes, flaws, and weaknesses.
Now you'll be somebody known and liked by people who are active at different parts of AW, who's a part of the AW community, and who's contributed his or her own time and effort before asking for anyone else's. We're far more likely to help you, because you're one of us.
Plus you'll have a short list of people from whom you'd most like to receive feedback, and can even tell them in a PM why you're asking them specifically.
Maryn, earning her Curmudgeonette badge