Finding beta readers and critique partners once you are successful

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Fiender

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This might be a little pie-in-the sky for me, considering I'm nowhere near getting published (100+ queries between 2 projects, a single full request between them), but it is something I've wondered.
If a writer doesn't have a regular writing group before they get published (and had relied on forum go-ers for beta exchanges, cough cough), and suddenly their name gets any amount of notoriety, how might they go about finding critiques? Particularly for sequels? I don't imagine there would be a "bounty" or much value in an unfinished manuscript of anyone but the most successful of authors, but I do question how much I'd be able to continue using this site as I currently do, in the magical event that I became super successful.
 

lizmonster

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This might be a little pie-in-the sky for me, considering I'm nowhere near getting published (100+ queries between 2 projects, a single full request between them), but it is something I've wondered.
If a writer doesn't have a regular writing group before they get published (and had relied on forum go-ers for beta exchanges, cough cough), and suddenly their name gets any amount of notoriety, how might they go about finding critiques? Particularly for sequels? I don't imagine there would be a "bounty" or much value in an unfinished manuscript of anyone but the most successful of authors, but I do question how much I'd be able to continue using this site as I currently do, in the magical event that I became super successful.

Twitter is only a sliver of the writing world, but there I've noticed successful authors (at least in SFF) clump with other successful authors. An acclaimed newbie will find themselves shoved into conversation with a lot of far more experienced folks. I'd assume one could ask them if they know anyone willing to read. (Also, your agent might know people, but I wouldn't count on that. Many agents are editorial, though, and can fill some beta-like shoes.)

Of course, at that point you're going to have a book out that's doing well, which (once again in SFF) usually means you've got at least one other already sold, and a third in the works. You needed the betas two years ago. :)

Best thing to do is start cultivating betas now. IME it can take some time to find compatible betas. Took me maybe 5 years to find two, and they're absolutely stellar and indispensable.
 

Woollybear

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It does seem there is less of a 'need' for some of the basic help with time, in part because we learn local wisdom (the bits we find most valuable among the myriad pieces of advice we're so generously given). We get past certain rookie errors. But also, we find other ways to learn and apply knowledge, outside of AW. (The advice to read read read--recommended by folks here--is excellent, and gives all of us a strategy that is independent and complementary of/to beta readers.) And, I think our confidence (which reduces some need for external eyeballs) goes up as our ear improves. Putputt said something along these lines on her successful recently-sold manuscript--that when she finished the first draft she leaned back and thought 'I think I have something here.' Her ear was hearing the quality of her work, and she was quite evidently right. :)

But in addition, I'd imagine you could also meet folks through conferences who are at a similar stage as you, and in so doing develop a mutually beneficial relationship. That's one possibility. You mentioned writing groups--these are very helpful for distinguishing serious 'career writers' from the folks dipping in for an ego boost. Everyone improves, and with luck the relationships go forward.

Sixteen beta readers gave feedback on that novel below. Family and friends, some from writers' club, and some from here and from Facebook groups and twitter. Of that massive group, many probably wouldn't touch anything I wrote ever again :) but a few gave amazing feedback--and those are the relationships I hope will last. So for the current work, I need much less hand-holding up front--I really learned a lot on the title in my sig--and might only use three or four betas, truly when I feel the work is ready to go. But of those, I have a few new readers in my sights, including a friend here who has offered and who has never read the first installment, because new eyes on book two will be essential for me to know if it stands alone.

I think what you want are serious writers willing to give and take over the long haul. It's reasonable to expect that serious writers here will grow and experience success on roughly the same time frame, like a new group of cross country runners training together and finding their pace group among the larger group and improving their running times together. If so, if we are growing at the same approximate rate, then that would seem to bode well for a sort of 'class' of critique partners. :)

Good luck, and sorry that I went on as I did.

TL;DR Maybe conferences? (heh, but that's in addition to what Liz said.)
 
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lizmonster

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Excellent advice, Woollybear.

I do want to pick on this, though:

It's reasonable to expect that serious writers here will grow and experience success on roughly the same time frame

Growth? Yes. Success? Not really, no. IME, success in publishing, once you've reached a certain skill level, is 90% luck.

ETA: It's also often non-linear. Getting an agent doesn't mean you'll sell a book; selling a book doesn't mean you'll sell another. So I guess I'd say once your skills are there, publishing is 90% luck and 10% stubbornness. :)
 
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Woollybear

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Dude, 90% luck is mega depressing. :)

Blue pill, Blue pill.

~~

Fiender, Liz makes an excellent point. The silver lining would be that I suppose that means there are 10 times as many fabulous writers out there as names on the best seller lists and shelves? More critique partners for you!

Still a win, heh.
 
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Cephus

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Dude, 90% luck is mega depressing. :)

Blue pill, Blue pill.

It's still the truth though. Even once you have the skills to write a successful book, it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right material. Just because you're good enough to get published, that doesn't mean that any specific publisher has a spot for you at the moment, or that the book that you've written is appropriate for that publisher, or that they think they can sell your book right now, etc. A lot of it is still a crap shoot.
 

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Yeah I agree with the “90% luck” but I’ve always looked at it as if I really love writing I will keep at it my whole life. Assuming I live to average age (probably the biggest assumption on this thread) that means I have Roughly 50 years to produce something that will hit at the right time. That 90% luck aggregated over 50 years becomes a near certainty. Just be patient and keep growing. There are more opportunities for authors today than ever before.
 

PyriteFool

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I feel like getting betas is actually a lot easier for me now than when I first started out. I’m not agented/published, but I did get into Pitch Wars, and thanks to that I have a fantastic community of willing and talented readers. (And for folks who don’t get in, there are always people organizing beta swaps on the hashtag come fall) There are also debut groups you can join after you sell. Really, the more one invests in the writing community, the more opportunities to swap and critique pages come up. At least in my experience. Making myself super available to read for others helps too, I think. Gotta give before I can take.

And I wouldn’t worry about anyone stealing your drafts. Least of all fellow writers! We have our own books to work on. Maybe if you’re handing out Winds of Winter you can be concerned, but short of that I can’t imagine it being an issue.
 

Cephus

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The fact is, once you get known, you will have people coming out of the woodwork begging to be allowed to beta read for you. Most of those people are not worth it. They just want your book early and most will never come back to tell you what they thought. But if you make connections while you work, it isn't hard to set up a network of good beta readers. There are tons of critique groups out there to join and the best, as far as I'm concerned, are invite-only. You have to be asked to join. That's what I've got. I didn't start the group, it's been around since the mid-90s and all of the writers involved are professional, published authors. Membership is limited so that no one gets overwhelmed, but there are constantly new books to read (we only evaluate completed works) and critique. You never have to worry about amateur mistakes and SPAG issues. You are reading something that is almost guaranteed to be published at some point. You are reading for content, not grammar. I honestly would never go back to the old way.

If you know a couple of other authors that are at your level or above and are looking for something similar, go ahead and create a group. Everyone reads, everyone critiques, everyone writes. It just works if you get the right mix of people.
 

TrapperViper

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IME, success in publishing, once you've reached a certain skill level, is 90% luck.

This, coming from a published author, adds credibility and challenges my original assumptions. It goes against what I believe to be the case in most other professions.

“The harder I try the luckier I get” Gary Player
 

lizmonster

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(Apologies; quote-reply is hanging for me rn. This is in reply to TrapperViper in post #10.)

This, coming from a published author, adds credibility and challenges my original assumptions. It goes against what I believe to be the case in most other professions.

I think if you talk to most professional artists - regardless of what sort of art they do - you'll find similar sentiments. Writing for publication is this weird hybrid of creativity and random piecework.

Trade publishing is also strange, I think, in that it moves very slowly (my first book was 15 months from acquisition to publication), but what it's looking for can shift dramatically with little or no notice. On top of that, it's less a business than it is a conglomeration of similar-looking constantly moving parts. Small pubs, large pubs; editors, house and freelance; marketing and publicity departments; agents, new and old.

In short: the writer has control over almost nothing except the quality of the manuscript. Once you're published? It's not quite square one for each new manuscript, but it's close - and it's sometimes worse, if your last manuscript didn't perform as expected.

Also, I've been told by multiple people that if your last book was more than two years ago, nobody remembers you (unless you were Super Huge Writer, but even then it can depend).

I am really cynical about publishing. That said, I'm still writing. Days I don't know why. :)

I do believe that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. We can keep our eyes open for the opportunity, and we have absolute control over the preparation. And writing something beautiful and satisfying is as glorious an accomplishment, in and of itself, as any publishing deal.
 

Elle.

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Once you get published you get to meet and be in contact with lots of other authors. I also know of authors who pretty much only uses their agents and editors as beta readers.
 

lizmonster

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Once you get published you get to meet and be in contact with lots of other authors.

This was my expectation, so I feel obligated :))) to say it isn't always true. It wasn't true for me at all. I suspect it's dependent on genre, agent, and publisher, and maybe even geography (it's likely much easier to meet publishing people if you live in NYC).

TL;DR: Begin cultivating your betas now, and if you run into other potential betas after you're published - hooray, you have an embarrassment of riches.
 

LJD

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It's still the truth though. Even once you have the skills to write a successful book, it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right material. Just because you're good enough to get published, that doesn't mean that any specific publisher has a spot for you at the moment, or that the book that you've written is appropriate for that publisher, or that they think they can sell your book right now, etc. A lot of it is still a crap shoot.

Or that your book sales, even a little, once a publisher puts it out...

Ask me how I know.

But yes, the most frustrating writing years for me weren't the earliest ones, but the ones when I knew I was pretty good but was having no success.
 

LJD

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If a writer doesn't have a regular writing group before they get published (and had relied on forum go-ers for beta exchanges, cough cough), and suddenly their name gets any amount of notoriety, how might they go about finding critiques? Particularly for sequels? I don't imagine there would be a "bounty" or much value in an unfinished manuscript of anyone but the most successful of authors, but I do question how much I'd be able to continue using this site as I currently do, in the magical event that I became super successful.

I actually do have this problem, sort of.

I also don't use beta readers for all my books. I've self-published 5-6 books a year for the past 3 years, and some of them were only read by me and my editor before they were published.

Having said that, I am fairly well connected in my genre via social media (especially Twitter) and my local romance community. Earlier this year, I wanted some beta readers for the first book in a new series. I had one author that I exchange with on occasion...to find others, I just posted on Twitter. I wasn't surprised to get lots of offers, and then I chose a few people I trusted from there.

(Also, since I'm fairly prolific, it's hard to find someone who will read all 5-6 books a year from me...)
 

Cephus

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Having said that, I am fairly well connected in my genre via social media (especially Twitter) and my local romance community. Earlier this year, I wanted some beta readers for the first book in a new series. I had one author that I exchange with on occasion...to find others, I just posted on Twitter. I wasn't surprised to get lots of offers, and then I chose a few people I trusted from there.

People need to be proactive. My wife, who writes cozy mysteries, found that there was a cozy mystery group at a local bookstore. She joined it and discovered that not only were there two other published cozy authors in the group to network with, but lots of people were happy to beta read for her and they were all near experts in the genre. You just have to look, the resources are always there if you're willing to take advantage of them.

(Also, since I'm fairly prolific, it's hard to find someone who will read all 5-6 books a year from me...)

I've never had a problem with that. There are authors who write more than that every year in my group and they never have a problem. Of course, the group is relatively large and no one is required to read everything, but you will always get a bunch of responses when you bring up your book, especially once you're known and people look forward to what you're writing next.
 

Elle.

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This was my expectation, so I feel obligated :))) to say it isn't always true. It wasn't true for me at all. I suspect it's dependent on genre, agent, and publisher, and maybe even geography (it's likely much easier to meet publishing people if you live in NYC).

TL;DR: Begin cultivating your betas now, and if you run into other potential betas after you're published - hooray, you have an embarrassment of riches.

True, I should have specified "most of the time" :)
 

lizmonster

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True, I should have specified "most of the time" :)

I'm utterly off topic at this point, but: for those of you for whom this did happen, how did it happen? How did you meet other authors? How did you establish ongoing contact? How many are you in consistent touch with? How many do you feel you could hit up for a favor like a beta read?

I've always figured I struggled a little because of my age, and the fact that I don't drink (my agent at the time was big on Scotch get-togethers in her hotel room; I attended, but I was very much a fish out of water). I met many writers I liked, but none that were in the slightest bit interested in maintaining contact.

It was frustrating, because on the whole in my life I've found it easy to meet and get along with new people, and I was utterly flummoxed in this setting. At this point it's likely way too late, but I am curious what's worked for people.
 

mccardey

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I'm utterly off topic at this point, but: for those of you for whom this did happen, how did it happen? How did you meet other authors? How did you establish ongoing contact? How many are you in consistent touch with? How many do you feel you could hit up for a favor like a beta read?

I've always figured I struggled a little because of my age, and the fact that I don't drink (my agent at the time was big on Scotch get-togethers in her hotel room; I attended, but I was very much a fish out of water). I met many writers I liked, but none that were in the slightest bit interested in maintaining contact.

It was frustrating, because on the whole in my life I've found it easy to meet and get along with new people, and I was utterly flummoxed in this setting. At this point it's likely way too late, but I am curious what's worked for people.

I used to feel a bit the same way, but it helped enormously to remember that most writers also seem to feel that way regardless of how successful they are. (Oddly, the least successful often seem to feel exactly the opposite.)

I meet writers at retreats, mostly. I prefer short writers because I'm short, and adorable writers because I'm (mostly) adorable. Oddly, we don't talk about writing all that much - but we send happy emails when our PLR/ELR cheques come through because we always forget they're due.

Liz, if I met you at a writer's retreat, you'd be my friend for life :e2flowers
 
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lizmonster

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I prefer short writers because I'm short

But I'm tall! :e2cry:

Let me make an attempt to haul all this back on topic. :)

My beta readers aren't yet published authors; they're good writers who understand me well enough to know what I'm getting at, and who are kind enough to share their work with me as well. I got one of them via NaNoWriMo, and another here on AW.

Of course, on my way to finding them I had a lot of beta readers who disappeared, who didn't give me great feedback, who didn't give me the sort of feedback I thought was useful. So yeah, finding betas is really hard, but that's part of why I suggest getting to work finding them now.
 

mccardey

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Most of the people who've beta-read for me came from AW. All of the good ones did, anyway :)
 

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I'd say it isn't your age, Liz. At least to me, it seems a lot of folks start writing after another career, IOW are not spring chickens, and some succeed when they start at this time in their life. I assume you're in SFWA? I am not ... but would further assume they have a way for members to connect? That might be one avenue for you or Fiender above.

Also, I'm pretty sure I see established authors floating through some of the Facebook groups (the ones geared toward writers-helping-writers, like sub it club, and beta readers and critique partners). I bet Harlequin could verify whether I'm on the money on that, or delusional.

The latest meet-up group I joined was specifically organized for (published or unpublished) novelists with a finished manuscript. These announcements float across the meet-up pages periodically, though admittedly not often, and you might keep an eye open for one of those in your area. It automatically stratifies the group toward serious writers, which usually means people who know their way around a three-act structure and a style manual and so on. (and if the stars aligned, you might find a good partner through the experience.)
 
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katfeete

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I'm utterly off topic at this point, but: for those of you for whom this did happen, how did it happen? How did you meet other authors? How did you establish ongoing contact? How many are you in consistent touch with? How many do you feel you could hit up for a favor like a beta read?.

Even more off-topic because I didn’t end up with beta readers, just friends, but... I actually did have a lot of social success at conventions, though not through the room parties and so on (I drink, but only a little, and crowds freak me out). I was a volunteer. Most cons are desperate for volunteers who will work, and it turns out that if you’re good at it (by which I mean: you show up, you do what you’re asked, you don’t irritate the guests by gushing on them) convention regulars, including authors, take notice and start remembering your name and adding you to their friends list and inviting you out to dinner and so on. Volunteering also got me on several panels I was, uh, honestly not that qualified for, because the organizers knew me as a safe non-drama human, and the panels in turn got me introduced to several other authors. Add in a memorable name and an overly social husband and I was bewilderingly popular there for a while.

It was 100% not why I started volunteering but it was so dang effective as a backdoor into the whole fan-author world that I’ve always wondered why more people didn’t do it.

(Also: it’s easy work, it’s fun, and you get first dibs on swag, which for some of the bigger, “pro” cons like World Fantasy, can be pretty damn great. Seriously — if you want to go to cons but you’re intimidated, and you don’t mind spending part of the con behind a desk or slinging soda cans? VOLUNTEER.)
 

Elle.

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I'm utterly off topic at this point, but: for those of you for whom this did happen, how did it happen? How did you meet other authors? How did you establish ongoing contact? How many are you in consistent touch with? How many do you feel you could hit up for a favor like a beta read?

I've always figured I struggled a little because of my age, and the fact that I don't drink (my agent at the time was big on Scotch get-togethers in her hotel room; I attended, but I was very much a fish out of water). I met many writers I liked, but none that were in the slightest bit interested in maintaining contact.

It was frustrating, because on the whole in my life I've found it easy to meet and get along with new people, and I was utterly flummoxed in this setting. At this point it's likely way too late, but I am curious what's worked for people.

Mine so far has been limited because of quarantine but for example following book announcements on Twitter I got in contact with 2 other debut authors working with my editor too and so far we’ve been messaging each other as we are all 3 debuting and sharing the same experience. Also one of my friends who’s published told me of a private FB group for publishers authors which I’ve joined. Also I attended a few times in the audience a regular author’s reading evening and after I got my deal they invited me to read and I’ve started following and speaking to some of the other authors. I don’t think I would ask them to beta read for me but I’m planning to approach some of them when I get proofs to send to them.

I was very awkward at first but turns out that everybody has been really nice and supportive so far.
 

lizmonster

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I'm really lucky to know some nice folks on Twitter. Most (but not all) of them are yet-to-be published. I also follow a lot of self-published folks. As a community? They're lovely. I don't see them as a ready-made group of beta readers, though; I'd be more inclined to start here on AW if I were looking for new people.

I dunno. It feels a bit like if you debut big, there's a group of established trade authors who open their arms (probably because you're thrown into media events with them), but barring that you're pretty much in the same place you were before, just with a check in your hand. Which isn't such a bad place to be. :) But AFAICT there isn't some ready-made social group ready to embrace you the day you sell a book. It seems to me we all find each other and make friends the same way we did before.
 

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