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Thread: When You Really, Really Want a Beta Reader

  1. #1
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    When You Really, Really Want a Beta Reader

    So you've recently finished your novel and think it's pretty good. You've heard beta readers can help you make it even better, and when you do an online search, you discover AbsoluteWrite has an entire board where writers can find beta readers.

    Woo-hoo! You join immediately, and your first post is on that board. You tell the members that you want a beta reader and a little about your books. You eagerly anticipate input, maybe even insight, from someone who can see every flaw and weakness and show you how to move from good to great.

    Usually you get one of these reactions:
    • Silence. Nobody replies at all. It's funny, how loud silence can be.
    • A reply, often days or weeks later, from someone who is as new as you are, and who also wants a beta reader, although you did not offer to exchange beta reads and don't even read their genre.
    • Some grouch, often one named Maryn, chides you with what she hopes passes for tolerant good humor, because you're so eager you didn't think this through.

    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 even those people have their limits.

    We understand that you're more concerned about your writing than about anyone else's--who isn't?--but when you ask for a beta read before you've given any of your own time and expertise, my first instinct is to balk. There are plenty of AWers like me, burned by authors seeking beta reads. We read people's novels, we wrote up comments or even did line-by-line on manuscripts that weren't really beta-ready, and the writers took off as soon as they had what they came for, never to be seen again.

    As a result, we've become stingy with our time and distrustful of people we've never seen around. We won't beta or even critique for people aren't familiar names at AW. Way too many of them are glad to take our help but never help anybody else.

    I'm not saying you'd do that. I don't know you. And I guess that's the essence of my reluctance. It's not just me, either. If you look at the requests for beta reads on this board from members with a very low post count, you'll see few volunteers and almost never a thank you that suggests a beta reading was completed.

    You can get us to beta read if you do things which make you a part of the AW community rather than someone who's here only to take, with no plans to give.
    • Become a regular presence at your genre's board. Ask questions, or answer without being a know-it-all. Get reading suggestions. Share a few titles you really enjoyed. They'll 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? Sure you do. You know how to read, right? What parts work for you? What doesn't? Why not? There, you're critiquing. I knew you could.)
    • 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. 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. That includes me.

    After you've hit 50 posts, which will take no time if you get involved at multiple AW boards, post your first chapter 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. This lets people see what you've got and determine whether they'd enjoy reading more.

    Do that and you'll be somebody we know and like, who's a part of the AW community, who's contributed time and effort before asking for anyone else's, and who has a pretty good shot at getting exactly what you want, just not immediately.

    Maryn, knowing you can do it
    Last edited by Maryn; 06-22-2017 at 12:41 AM.
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  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW EvieDriver's Avatar
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    This is a wonderful thread! I'll admit I don't really participate much on here for the moment for many reasons - some more excuses, but most of them compelling reasons. This forum, as I've seen time and time again, is only as good as you make it. To elaborate, you'll only ever get out what you put in. I haven't ever asked why I have hardly any engagement on here. I know why.

    I've been looking for a few ways to integrate into a larger community on here in hopes of diving further into the world of writing. Inevitably, this is the best writing forum available. I love having access to so many individuals varying expertise. I love the concept of helping each other out. I haven't really offered much on here in past because life: work, my marriage, my family, my friends, etc.

    I really want to thank you for developing such a simple, but important post. Some of these ideas are so simplistic, but they went right over my head these last few months. I'm quite solitary by nature, so I really dislike entering into an unknown group. Like you said, no one can know me unless I engage! Taking most of this and implementing it into my own presence on here will certainly help out over the next few weeks as I endeavor to increase my presence and helpfulness here.

    While I'm nowhere near ready for critiques of my own work, I think I'll pay more attention to my genre-related boards and my other interests to help out others. Again, sometimes it takes someone to point out something - no matter how simple - to really open your eyes.

    THANK YOU!!!

  3. #3
    Жили-были дед да баба... davidjgalloway's Avatar
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    Yes and yes and yes!

    And I'd add, if no one offers to beta, then up the ante. There used to be a saying (back when people wrote letters), "if you want to receive a letter, send a letter." If you want a beta, offer to beta on the Willing Beta Readers thread without asking anything in return. You will be taken advantage of by a few, probably, but then you'll know how it feels (and will make sure you never do it to anyone else). However, you'll find folks who, as thanks for your wonderful feedback, will now be primed to read your work. Problem solved, plus you've notched a few more reads that make you a better critic (and a better writer). Win-win.

    Personally, I can't process multiple simultaneous critiques very well, so I don't use SYW, but the above method got me all the betas I needed for my first WIP, without needing to ask twice. And whenever you need more, you just offer to do more reads.

  4. #4
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    Also, the more connection you make, and the more you let people hear your considered voice on the thread - by which I mean not cut-and-paste hellos to other newbies - the more likely you are as well to get PMs from people saying "If you ever want a beta read..." And it will likely be a beta read that has a clearer understanding of you, your voice, and what your intentions are. Publishing moves at a glacial pace: no need to rush the beta-nabbing.

    Love this thread, Maryn.

  5. #5
    No, you're the grease monkey. Fruitbat's Avatar
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    ITA with everything that's been said so far.

    An interesting (imho) aside, I don't often participate in crits/beta reads much any more but when I did, I tended to be very thorough in giving my opinions. So much so that it seemed to irritate more than a few recipients. Then I started doing beta reads and critiques for pay, and nearly every customer seemed to love it then. When they paid for it, they felt they'd gotten their money's worth when they got plenty of micro-nagging haha.
    Last edited by Fruitbat; 07-06-2017 at 06:13 PM.
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  6. #6
    Recently discovered writing is hard E.Murray's Avatar
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    Well said. While not too active on the actual boards, I'm an avid beta reader (giving and receiving, both) and use this subforum as a gateway to making myself a better writer. I've done dozens of swaps over the past several years and have a growing list of people for whom I'll gladly read when they need me. And a second list (ok, nearly the same as the first...) of people that I humbly nag for reads when I have something that needs a second set of eyes. I honestly have no idea how someone could write a book without liberal use of beta readers, so this is easily the most useful part of the site for me (at this stage, at least). I'm all-in for anything that gets a solid community of writers who help each other become the best they can be. If only there was a way to require newbies to the forum to read Maryn's post, it would save them headaches and make us all better.

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Tsu Dho Nimh's Avatar
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    I offer occasional beta reads ... because finding flaws brings a glow to my cheeks and makes my eyes sparkle.

    I LOVE EDITING!!!!

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
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    Just looked at my flashdrive and since I started beta-swapping (I believe I started about three years ago), I have beta'd 16 different manuscripts (varying in genres). I can say with certainty that that has helped me immensely in furthering my writing capabilities. It is definitely a tool I will continue with in hopes of getting better with each novel I write. I can't recommend it enough for writers. You really do look at your editing process differently after you've edited someone else's manuscript.

  9. #9
    standing on head, typing one-handed... muse's Avatar
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    Excellent thread, Maryn.

    When I first joined AW I was nervous about beta reading for others. After all, what did I, an unpublished author, know about editing. (Very little, as it turned out. ) But I learned, and am still learning by criting for others.

    Along the way, I've made some good friends and found some awesome beta readers. You really do get back what you give.
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  10. #10
    figuring it all out Splendor's Avatar
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    Thanks for this. I will increase my participation before asking for beta readers. I have lurked on/off for years and now that I'm in the thick of an important project I realize how much I need the help of other writers.

  11. #11
    Preparing for winter VeryBigBeard's Avatar
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    So I'm not too proud to admit I clicked on this thread title expecting it to be another new member asking for a beta. I'm guessing that's Maryn's tolerant good humour on display.

    This is a very necessary thread. Needs to be restated every once in awhile.

    I'd add one more thing that can happen: you get/become a beta who, being very new and eager, proceeds to do either a very surface-level crit of the MS or offers a lot of editing suggestions better left for an editor. This is still valuable--every reader's reaction is legitimate--but one reader does not a sample make. There's no accounting for taste, nor for a beta reader who knows how to critique beyond it.

    A beta is a big time commitment, too. You want people who are a good fit. The benefit of SYW is a.) you can get a wide range of opinions, thus tapping into the wisdom of crowds; and b.) critters can focus on what they're comfortable doing without feeling obligated to try and parse out a whole manuscript.

    Quote Originally Posted by EvieDriver View Post
    This is a wonderful thread! I'll admit I don't really participate much on here for the moment for many reasons - some more excuses, but most of them compelling reasons. This forum, as I've seen time and time again, is only as good as you make it. To elaborate, you'll only ever get out what you put in. I haven't ever asked why I have hardly any engagement on here. I know why.

    While I'm nowhere near ready for critiques of my own work, I think I'll pay more attention to my genre-related boards and my other interests to help out others. Again, sometimes it takes someone to point out something - no matter how simple - to really open your eyes.

    THANK YOU!!!
    This is exactly it. Well said.

    My best advice to get involved? Go to Share Your Work and crit. Start small if you're nervous, but you'll find it's a pretty supportive community of critters and crittees. It feels nice to get a rep comment for a crit and people get to know you and your style, which is very helpful when it comes to matching up to a beta. There is also no faster way to improve your own writing.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW
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    What if you're a grumpy old goat like me?

  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW travelgal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chompers View Post
    What if you're a grumpy old goat like me?
    We need the grumpy old goats.

    I thought this were a newbie asking why she ain't getting no feedback, but instead we get an excellent reminder from Maryn. You want some, you dish some.

    I tend to check people's posts before critting in SYW, something I don't do often enough. There are too many users on this planet, and too many with special snowflake syndrome.

    Betas sacrifice their time and risk abuse from special snowflakers, so if a writer had proven they are willing to bite the dust and improve, a beta has better assurance their effort will be considered, even if said beta was way off the mark.
    Stoneheart-88k YA Historical set in 1979-80.

  14. #14
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by travelgal View Post
    <snip> Betas sacrifice their time and risk abuse from special snowflakers <snip>
    I've done beta reads and written up a 5,000 or 10,000 word overview of its issues and gotten a single-word reply Thanks. But the one that makes the best story was a line-by-line for the first two chapters, riddled with mistakes, and an overview of the whole, plus handouts on the kinds of mistakes the author was making. There was one for punctuating dialogue, for subject-verb agreement, for lay vs. lie, like that. The reply was Asshole! It's a wonder I ever did another beta read.

    Maryn, noting that person was later banned for other behavior here
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  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    thank you for a great read as a newbie it has helped me understand the culture here

  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by EvieDriver View Post
    This is a wonderful thread! I'll admit I don't really participate much on here for the moment for many reasons - some more excuses, but most of them compelling reasons. This forum, as I've seen time and time again, is only as good as you make it. To elaborate, you'll only ever get out what you put in. I haven't ever asked why I have hardly any engagement on here. I know why.

    I've been looking for a few ways to integrate into a larger community on here in hopes of diving further into the world of writing. Inevitably, this is the best writing forum available. I love having access to so many individuals varying expertise. I love the concept of helping each other out. I haven't really offered much on here in past because life: work, my marriage, my family, my friends, etc.

    I really want to thank you for developing such a simple, but important post. Some of these ideas are so simplistic, but they went right over my head these last few months. I'm quite solitary by nature, so I really dislike entering into an unknown group. Like you said, no one can know me unless I engage! Taking most of this and implementing it into my own presence on here will certainly help out over the next few weeks as I endeavor to increase my presence and helpfulness here.

    While I'm nowhere near ready for critiques of my own work, I think I'll pay more attention to my genre-related boards and my other interests to help out others. Again, sometimes it takes someone to point out something - no matter how simple - to really open your eyes.

    THANK YOU!!!
    so well put. I feel /felt the same

  17. #17
    Huh?? Comanche's Avatar
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    Yep - as the others have said - I needed to read this.

    As I am nearing the need for a beta-reader for my own work, it's time for me to pull my share.

    Thanx -
    Too Soon We Get Old - Too Late We Get Smart


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