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View Full Version : When You Really, Really Want a Beta Reader



Maryn
06-21-2017, 08:49 PM
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

EvieDriver
06-21-2017, 09:41 PM
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!!!

davidjgalloway
06-21-2017, 11:12 PM
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.

mccardey
06-22-2017, 01:00 AM
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.

Fruitbat
06-22-2017, 01:36 AM
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.

E.Murray
06-22-2017, 05:27 PM
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.

Tsu Dho Nimh
06-22-2017, 06:09 PM
I offer occasional beta reads ... because finding flaws brings a glow to my cheeks and makes my eyes sparkle.

I LOVE EDITING!!!!

playground
06-24-2017, 06:27 PM
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.

muse
06-24-2017, 11:32 PM
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. :greenie) 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.

Splendor
06-26-2017, 03:19 AM
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.

VeryBigBeard
06-26-2017, 07:52 AM
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.


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.

chompers
06-26-2017, 09:03 AM
What if you're a grumpy old goat like me?

travelgal
06-26-2017, 09:44 AM
What if you're a grumpy old goat like me?

We need the grumpy old goats. :D

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.

Maryn
06-26-2017, 05:18 PM
<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

Ste Babur Maya
06-30-2017, 01:42 AM
thank you for a great read as a newbie it has helped me understand the culture here

Ste Babur Maya
06-30-2017, 01:46 AM
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

Comanche
07-02-2017, 06:13 AM
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 -

Farhad
02-08-2018, 07:06 PM
Looking forward to my 50th post so I can start requesting. Have PM'ed a couple of people today though, who were listed as available in the beta readers thread. Hope that wasn't a violation of the rules. I did get one request last year, from the Beta Project 2017, and I must say it was a complete eye-opener for me. There are so many silly little things you tend to not notice when reading your own work. Silly little things that can make the difference when you send those first 5-10 pages to an agent! Not to mention the numerous times I've messed up POV, or telling v showing, without realising. I was really lucky to get a beta reader to volunteer for me, and hoping to get at least a couple more soon

phantom000
04-07-2018, 07:57 PM
I guess i should offer to beta-read for other writers but one reason i hesitate is because how much could i really help someone? I remember back in 2009 after my first NanoWrimo i was doing a critique swap, chapter by chapter, with another writer and i felt kind of embarrassed. Their critique of my work was very in depth and my critique was just a few lines here and there. I have not done a lot of beta-reading sense.

Anyone else have that problem?

Maryn
04-07-2018, 09:41 PM
Everybody else, at first. But the bottom line of beta reading--which is not the same as critique--is that when you read it as a reader, what isn't working for you? Anybody who reads can do that.

Some of my more valuable beta input from others: I don't like James much--am I supposed to? and later I really hate James! (They were supposed to like him well enough.)And things like Where is that gun from chapter six? and Wait, this can't work as you've got it written. Most people who read are perfectly capable of giving this kind of feedback, including you, I bet.

Chase
04-08-2018, 02:35 AM
Excellent thread, Maryn. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for beta readers.

I've published reviews for a dozen or more novels, made line-by-line comments in two online writing groups where leaders cracked whips, and worked through several swaps with a half-dozen very gifted critique partners (any of whom I wish were still available to trade with me), but I've never beta read.

It's mostly because I edit novels every day to augment pitiful and static retirement benefits. I often have to turn away work, so I simply don't have the time.

To me, one-way gratuitous beta readers are the most generous fellow writers we have. To fail to heap thanks on any of their efforts is unconscionable ('twould serve the one who commented "Asshole" right if you published his or her name, Maryn :evil).

phantom000
04-10-2018, 07:59 PM
I have been on something of a short story binge. Writing and rewriting several different pieces and they are about 2,000 words or less. How would one find a beta-reader for several small projects?

Sage
04-10-2018, 11:25 PM
You would start your own thread and explain what you have and what you need in it, just as if you were asking for a beta reader for a novel.

Winfred
05-15-2018, 06:44 AM
Hi! I have over 50 posts and in SYW read writers works and commented. I posted to Beta Read and no one ever asked me to. Maybe they didn't ask because they see I don't have that many posts. Now days being very busy all I can beta is one chapter. I'm not the best by far. I can give a reader's view and provide in a general way my reactions. In my local writer's group I use to go to that has many members a member told me one day that other writers commented how much they liked my critiques. I'm not a professionally trained editor, just learning as I apply myself. Thanks for this thread as you are very informative. Carpe Diem!

tommyrulez_99
05-09-2019, 08:42 PM
Has anyone else ever read a book, only to find a mistake in wording and you want to contact the editor and say wth? As far as beta reading, I would enjoy doing that, but I'm not great with pronunciation, and would I just post it here?

mrsmig
05-09-2019, 09:20 PM
Has anyone else ever read a book, only to find a mistake in wording and you want to contact the editor and say wth? As far as beta reading, I would enjoy doing that, but I'm not great with pronunciation, and would I just post it here?

Not quite sure what you're asking here. Do you mean you'd like to beta read for someone? If so, you can list your name in the Willing Beta Readers thread (https://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?329957-Willing-Beta-Readers-Volume-III). However, beta reading is much more than catching typos and grammar errors, and it's generally private correspondence between the author and the beta, rather than something you'd post on a public forum.

On the other hand, if you want to try your hand at critting someone's work, look on the password-protected Share Your Work forum (https://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?26-Share-Your-Work). (Password is "vista.") Do be sure to read the stickies before posting.

g_eke
06-26-2019, 03:06 PM
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

I'd never thought of this, and now I'm slightly concerned (just posted my availability to beta read). Is there anything you can do to filter out people like this in advance? Perhaps sending feedback in bite-size chunks to gauge how the author responds, for example.

AW Admin
06-26-2019, 03:30 PM
I'd never thought of this, and now I'm slightly concerned (just posted my availability to beta read). Is there anything you can do to filter out people like this in advance? Perhaps sending feedback in bite-size chunks to gauge how the author responds, for example.

One of the reasons for suggesting people particcipate for a while, and do some crits in SYW, is to get an idea of the overall community and the members.

That said, if someone behaves as Maryn describes, let the mod(s) and/or MacAllister and I know. It's not OK.

g_eke
06-26-2019, 03:53 PM
One of the reasons for suggesting people particcipate for a while, and do some crits in SYW, is to get an idea of the overall community and the members.

That said, if someone behaves as Maryn describes, let the mod(s) and/or MacAllister and I know. It's not OK.

Makes sense. I guess I could also take a look at someone's posting history before agreeing to beta read for them.

AW Admin
06-26-2019, 05:06 PM
Makes sense. I guess I could also take a look at someone's posting history before agreeing to beta read for them.

Yep, that's a good idea.

And ask for an excerpt, a short one, before agreeing, respond to it if you think you can/want to, to make sure the two of you will be compatible.

It's not a sin or crime if you aren't; that's the nature of reading for someone else.

Maryn
06-26-2019, 07:13 PM
FWIW, one of my dear friends here remains a favorite even after we agreed I was not the right beta reader for his novel.

Maryn, who'd hug Chase if he was around

Sage
06-26-2019, 11:49 PM
One of the reasons I love the Beta Project so much is that every person who participates is committing themselves to giving at least 3 critiques as well as getting them. The project has a built-in filter for those who are willing to put in the work to get work out of it.

FWIW, upon getting a simple one-word thanks in response to a critique or beta read, it's easy to read it as a disappointing response to how much work you put into your side, but I always have to think about times when I feel too awkward to respond more than a "thanks" to kindness, or where I worry that I'd be bothering this person who put in so much effort, or just at that moment I don't have time to read the critique, but I wanted to make sure the person knows I appreciate it immediately; and even though I usually give more than a "thanks" anyway, I can easily see why someone might give only that.