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Old 04-27-2011, 12:45 AM   #1
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Arrow Why I Won't Beta Read Your Novel

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.

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Old 04-27-2011, 12:53 AM   #2
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Old 04-27-2011, 12:55 AM   #3
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nicely done, ma'am.
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:02 AM   #4
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:14 AM   #5
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Maryn, you've encapsulated my thoughts exactly. Well done!

Now it's my sad duty to inform you that a female-lady-type woman such as yourself cannot be a curmudgeon. That, alas, is a field reserved only to men (I know; I'm one). For proof, I refer you to John Houseman's character in Paper Chase. See?

You can, however, be a curmudgeonette, and your badge is even now winging its way to you!
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:15 AM   #6
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Most of your list, Maryn, is depressing but I can live with it. They're all defensible reasons for shutting down someone for reasons that cannot be changed -- I put in as much time here as I can spare, I can't help it if nobody likes me, et cetera et cetera.

But there's one bullet point that I have an honest question about, and I was wondering if you could enlighten me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
[*]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.
How exactly does one get past this point? How do I rewrite, revise, and polish a manuscript in the absence of feedback? I thought the point of a beta reader was to look at an unfinished work and offer suggestions on how to revise and polish it. (Am I thinking of an 'alpha reader'? If so, where can I get one of those?)

I'm not asking you to beta for me. It seems to me that you want only perfect manuscripts from perfect people. I might have the first -- nobody's told me differently, because nobody will look at it! -- but I damn well ain't the second. What I'd like to hear about is this step in the process that I seem to have missed, where an author is able to revise and polish in a vaccuum. That's a trick I'd sure like to learn.
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:21 AM   #7
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All very good and valid points Maryn. As a newb who did that without even realizing she did, this is me expressing my very genuine Whoops! To make amends I will impart said advice to all newbs whose path I cross.

Pandora who can admit a mea culpa.
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:24 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RemusShepherd View Post
How exactly does one get past this point? How do I rewrite, revise, and polish a manuscript in the absence of feedback? I thought the point of a beta reader was to look at an unfinished work and offer suggestions on how to revise and polish it. (Am I thinking of an 'alpha reader'? If so, where can I get one of those?)

I'm not asking you to beta for me. It seems to me that you want only perfect manuscripts from perfect people. I might have the first -- nobody's told me differently, because nobody will look at it! -- but I damn well ain't the second. What I'd like to hear about is this step in the process that I seem to have missed, where an author is able to revise and polish in a vaccuum. That's a trick I'd sure like to learn.
I do tend to agree with you on this point. Seems like if it's at that point of perfection - why the need for a beta? It's ready for the presses...
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:24 AM   #9
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I'm one of those wide-eyed optimists who has beta read for -- let me count my files in the Beta Reads folder -- 60 plus AWers I've never met.

Five of them have thanked me, the rest never responded. One even beta-read my partial manuscript and has become a regular critique partner.

Remus -- what you're looking for is a crit partner, not a beta reader. You can post and ask for them in this forum. PM me and let me know what genre you write and I may be able to help you out!
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:26 AM   #10
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I agree with Maryn entirely and understand her stance on this.
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:30 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RemusShepherd View Post
Most of your list, Maryn, is depressing but I can live with it. They're all defensible reasons for shutting down someone for reasons that cannot be changed -- I put in as much time here as I can spare, I can't help it if nobody likes me, et cetera et cetera.

But there's one bullet point that I have an honest question about, and I was wondering if you could enlighten me.



How exactly does one get past this point? How do I rewrite, revise, and polish a manuscript in the absence of feedback? I thought the point of a beta reader was to look at an unfinished work and offer suggestions on how to revise and polish it. (Am I thinking of an 'alpha reader'? If so, where can I get one of those?)

I'm not asking you to beta for me. It seems to me that you want only perfect manuscripts from perfect people. I might have the first -- nobody's told me differently, because nobody will look at it! -- but I damn well ain't the second. What I'd like to hear about is this step in the process that I seem to have missed, where an author is able to revise and polish in a vaccuum. That's a trick I'd sure like to learn.
Quote:
Originally Posted by shadowwalker View Post
I do tend to agree with you on this point. Seems like if it's at that point of perfection - why the need for a beta? It's ready for the presses...
The idea is that the manuscript should be in the best state the writer can get it to prior to going to betas. Get it into the condition that you'd want to send to an agent.

To a large degree, the polishing is down to the writer who should, hopefully, have the skills to produce a polished manuscript. If it's proofreading you want, that's an entirely different ball park.

I've done some Beta reading and there's nothing worse than spending a great deal of time pointing out fundamental errors and spelling mistakes that a writer who takes their craft seriously shouldn't be making.

Just my opinion.

I agree with everything Maryn says.
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:36 AM   #12
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I'm sorry you had a bad experience and I get it. I've been very lucky with my Betas so far.
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Old 04-27-2011, 01:51 AM   #13
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Good post, Maryn. I love beta-reading - but there's nothing so annoying as sending a report back and getting "Thanks will read later" as your only response.

It only happened once, but it was very irritating.

The other thing I didn't learn quickly enough was to ask for a few pages first, to see if the work was beta-ready. My first read here was a total waste of my time and writer's time in progressing-the-work terms - when I sent a report back (the work was entirely unfinished) she said she'd already trunked it. But I had enjoyed reading and learned a lot and I hope the writer did, too, so it wasn't entirely pointless.

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Old 04-27-2011, 02:20 AM   #14
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Quote:
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The idea is that the manuscript should be in the best state the writer can get it to prior to going to betas. Get it into the condition that you'd want to send to an agent.
The beta groups I've been involved in (for several years) work with manuscripts at all stages. The degree of critique is based on whichever stage the story is at (and yes, I'm talking critique, not proofreading). I guess for me, if the manuscript is already in "the condition that you'd want to send to an agent" then I don't need a beta.
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Old 04-27-2011, 02:29 AM   #15
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I was once new here. Came through the front door, both guns blazing. Made a lot of foolish mistakes. Then I saw that there are hundreds of gifted writers here. Slowly, I found a comfortable place and am still learning the community. Will I ever ask for a beta? Who knows? When and if I'm ever ready for a reader, I'll be ready. Really ready.
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Old 04-27-2011, 02:29 AM   #16
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I'm beta reading two projects now as I write two of my own. I look at that as the "SHARE" in share your work.

I agree that it is nice to have a well polished clean book to read .. but many in this are novices.

As long as the thing isn't filled with mis-spellings and bad writing I don't mind. I generally take several chapters at a time and look at the line by line. If the thing is 'ready for the agent' I ask for the rest of the thing and just enjoy reading. Then I can pass on my thoughts.

I have also read a book that has been 'Beta Read' by two other readers who told the author, essentialy, "It looks fine." while it had major flaws and needed quite a bit of editing before it would get onto my desk, let alone an agent's desk.

I don't claim to have the talent to edit. I have sold nothing, nor tried to yet, and consider myself less than a pro. I don't know how many on this board are pro's with books (plural) to their credit (I don't count self publish or on line published work that may or may not be up to snuff)

We're in this learn and help each other and Beta Reading and Beta Readers seems to be a bit of a crap-shoot.

My limitations are genre and subject within a genre. I'll look at the first paragraphs and then, if I get through those, the first few chapters. I don't feel I have 'promised' to read the whole thing. If I don't like it, I don't get angry. I notify the writer that I don't want to continue and tell why.

Since neither the writers nor readers have a quality badge below their names I don't know before hand what I am getting.
I am new enough that I may not have found it but the helpful thing would be a thread recognizing good Beta Readers. I'd say the same for writers but that would not be fair since most of us are capable of learning and might grow from awful to damned good. I guess the real good ones get published and show up in the brags

As far as thanking the Beta Reader, that should almost be public even if you later realize they were patting you an the butt with their response. I guess they just got a free book to read and were happy, huh?
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Old 04-27-2011, 02:45 AM   #17
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Oh,my.

I was a beta and it was a wonderful experience.I enjoyed the book and she thanked me in the most lovely manner.

What we have here with people not thanking folks is a lack of home training. You ALWAYS thank someone when they take the time to do something for you. I also sense a thin skin syndrome. If the beta is blunt without being cruel/snarky and tells you what needs to be done,I don't understand the upset.

If you are so sensitive that a Beta reader's comments makes you say rude things,how in the world are you going to make it in the MUCH more brutal world of publishing?
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Old 04-27-2011, 02:48 AM   #18
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I totally get where Maryn is coming from, and I haven't even participated here long (although I've been lurking since 2007 or so *grin*)

Old-school online etiquette is that you slink in, observe, and find you way before you put your hand out or open your piehole.

New-school lacks etiquette, and has a tendency to expect hand-holding.

What's frustrating (and trust me... I've already seen this) is when you take time you don't have that's part of the precious bit you have left after job and family and sleep and working on your own stuff to try to help someone out, only to be ignored or contradicted.

Publishing is a business, and a tough one to break into at that. Those of us who did the research and read the agent blogs and pored over PM and Twitter and P&E and Writer Beware and everything else are going to get frustrated when we do everything right, yet the loud, yapping people blast in, demand attention, ignore everything you try to explain or link them to, and disappear into the ether. Of course, it's not everyone, but eventually the few bad apples make the whole barrell look infected with rot.
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Old 04-27-2011, 03:04 AM   #19
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Awesome post, Maryn. I say we should adopt it as a beta code of conduct.

I'm frankly shocked by this behavior, but maybe I've been lucky. I've done 6 beta reads over the past 12 mos., and only one was flaky, and not to the degree of the experiences above.

I've turned down as many requests because I didn't have the time to devote to the work, or didn't think I was the best guy for the job. Even the people I turned down were polite in later correspondence.

But gosh Karen: 60 beta reads and only 5 thank you's? I'd give up beta reading completely.
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Old 04-27-2011, 03:05 AM   #20
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One of the reasons I'm pretty harsh with my critiques is to filter out people who get whiny or defensive.

I do occasional critiques in SYW, but I wouldn't volunteer to beta read a whole novel unless I read the first chapter and it actually made me want to read the rest.
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Old 04-27-2011, 03:07 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pistol Whipped Bee View Post
I don't remember asking.
Why yes, you did say that out loud.
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Old 04-27-2011, 03:12 AM   #22
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Hey Karen? I think I said thank you... didn't I?

THANK YOU!

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Old 04-27-2011, 03:26 AM   #23
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As I've always understood it:
  • Crit partners are people who read the book and give you feedback as you're writing. This is a critique circle, a writing list, whatever.
  • Beta readers are the people who read the finished thing in one go, as if it were a real book, and give you big-picture feedback.

If all you have is two chapters and an idea on the rest, you're not looking for a beta reader. Just like if you are writing software and all you have is a basic prototype where you want to run the design concept past some people, you're not looking for a beta tester.
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Old 04-27-2011, 03:26 AM   #24
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Old 04-27-2011, 03:38 AM   #25
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I don't know if this is just me, but I really dislike when the assumption is that if someone offers to beta for you (not because you asked, but they offer), you're going to automatically beta their novel in return. I offer to beta for people all the time based on excerpts I've read of their work and descriptions of their novel, or even query letters. And I don't expect that just because, say, I read both MG and YA, that this MG writer I offer to beta for is going to want to read my YA novel. Just because their query or writing caught my eye, doesn't mean I expect that mine has done the same.

I don't know, there's just something about receiving an offer that goes like this, "I saw your query in QLH, and I'd love to beta your novel if it's ready. Mine is ready whenever you want it."

I have been known to offer to my betas to read their stuff, but this is because I know a little bit about it and like it and it's a genre I tend to read. But it should be my right to offer. Not an expectation just because the other writer offered to read mine.

I totally have no problem when someone, including me, is requesting betas and offers to read anything by whoever volunteers to read theirs.
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