Finding beta readers and critique partners once you are successful

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

onesecondglance

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... my agent at the time was big on Scotch get-togethers in her hotel room...

A little off-topic, but is that not a little bit weird? Maybe it's a UK/US thing, or a convention thing (I've never been to a con). But going to someone else's hotel room... it's just a bit over my boundaries. Like, it's not even the same thing as being invited to someone's house. For me it reads the same as them inviting you into their bathroom or bedroom - a private part of the house not usually for guests. :eek:

This is why I'll never be one of the cool kids, I'm missing all the secret get-togethers... :gone:
 

Putputt

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My best readers all came from AW. *squeezes them to death* *with affection* They're just wonderful and brilliant and I hope we will remain friends for the rest of our lives. I would encourage you to form good, solid bonds with like-minded people here. AW is a treasure trove for writers.

Aside from that, *AFTER* I found some success with my writing, I found it easier to make connections outside of AW, mainly on Twitter. Follow other writers who write in your genre and respond to their Tweets if what they're saying resonates with you. Be sincere and earnest and genuinely interested and you'll find that many will be quite friendly. Some will snub you, but ah well. That's okay. I also joined Pitchwars and through PW I connected with a whole group of really friendly, warm writers and a couple who I would consider good writing friends now.

Having said that though, I haven't exchanged MSs with most the folks I connected with on Twitter. I've wanted to (a LOT) but I find myself feeling a little shy and like, "Ugh, she's not going to want to show her amazing MS to me, bwaaah." I actually would love to read a lot more, but...yeah. I would hate for them to think, "Oh, she only wants to read my MS because I got that big book deal." Which isn't true in a lot of cases as I have been following their Tweets for a while and wishing I could read their books, lol. I guess I should just get over it and ask. It's tough for sure, which is why I'm grateful for places like AW!
 

lizmonster

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A little off-topic, but is that not a little bit weird? Maybe it's a UK/US thing, or a convention thing (I've never been to a con). But going to someone else's hotel room... it's just a bit over my boundaries. Like, it's not even the same thing as being invited to someone's house. For me it reads the same as them inviting you into their bathroom or bedroom - a private part of the house not usually for guests. :eek:

This is why I'll never be one of the cool kids, I'm missing all the secret get-togethers... :gone:

TBF I think it's different at cons - these gatherings were more like "well, there's the bar but this is a little less crowded and noisy." I have the impression in-room professional get-togethers can get quite large at these things. These were also mid-afternoon, which gave them a much more meeting-like quality. They didn't feel at all odd at the time.
 
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lizmonster

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So, I think the answers kind of make my point: there's no network sitting and waiting for you once you publish. You have to dig around for it, and even then you have to be flexible, and opportunistic (in a good way :) ). As with all things, it's much easier if you have some professional visibility.
 

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One tangential thing that periodically occurs to me on this topic is that a 'long term beta partner' still has an end date, eventually, for all sorts of reasons. A person never knows how long that relationship will last... or if the reader will be available when our manuscripts are ready for input, etc. It's not something to check off a list as 'done.' And sometimes the best beta reader for one book is not the best for another book.

These things occur to me. :) They're probably super-obvious to others, but I used to think that it would be a do-and-done sort of thing. I bet it isn't.

(As far as asking those people, Put Putt, I personally felt liberated to start asking more aggressively for things once I internalized that the worst thing that might happen is that the person might say no. Like, that's literally the worst thing that could happen, and I can handle that. :) A lot of my best experiences in science were because I asked to do something that everyone said "Oh you can't do that." I did, and sometimes the answer was yes.

I asked Margaret Atwood a year or two ago, on Twitter, to sign my copy of Robber's Bride (because I was headed to Toronto). She said, on Twitter, "Sure. Stop by." I didn't meet her personally, but i was able to drop off my copy and she sent it back, signed. Most times the answer would be 'no.' But sometimes the answer is Yes.)
 

Cephus

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A little off-topic, but is that not a little bit weird? Maybe it's a UK/US thing, or a convention thing (I've never been to a con). But going to someone else's hotel room... it's just a bit over my boundaries. Like, it's not even the same thing as being invited to someone's house. For me it reads the same as them inviting you into their bathroom or bedroom - a private part of the house not usually for guests. :eek:

This is why I'll never be one of the cool kids, I'm missing all the secret get-togethers... :gone:

That's extremely common. Room parties or get-togethers at conventions have been going on for as long as there have been conventions. It's the only semi-private place anyone has where they can get together with their friends or clients after-hours.
 

Liz_V

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Seconding what Cephus said. Room parties are very much a standard thing at cons. They can be open-door to all convention members, or semi-private or private for people with a shared interest. Large groups might rent a suite or a pair of connecting rooms (one party, one private), but it's not at all unusual for smaller groups to get together in a regular hotel room. They might watch episodes of a favorite show, or talk business, or claim to have some topic but mostly just drink beer.

To veer back toward the topic of this thread, I certainly hope room parties prove to be a good way to find betas once I'm a bit more successful, because I expect to be just as much of a Twitter refusenik then as I am now. :)
 

mccardey

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A little off-topic, but is that not a little bit weird? Maybe it's a UK/US thing, or a convention thing (I've never been to a con). But going to someone else's hotel room... it's just a bit over my boundaries. Like, it's not even the same thing as being invited to someone's house. For me it reads the same as them inviting you into their bathroom or bedroom - a private part of the house not usually for guests. :eek:

This is why I'll never be one of the cool kids, I'm missing all the secret get-togethers... :gone:

You and I could maybe meet by accident while we're walking around the corridors hoping not to get in anyone's way, and then we could quietly go out to the lovely gardens and walk around and find different stone benches to sit on for a while, and then meet again at the side door when it's starting to get cool and say oh hi to each other, quietly.

Just if you like.

no pressure.
 

Chris P

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That sounds good, mccardey, 'cos room parties still sound pretty damned weird to me...

I had your reaction too, especially after reading about Harvey Weinstein (in Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow)--invitations to hotel room "meetings" which turned out to be one-on-ones were his primary MO. If such hotel room meetings are so common, it takes the wind out of anyone's sails who tries to victim blame by saying anyone going to his room was expecting something sexual to happen.
 

lizmonster

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I had your reaction too, especially after reading about Harvey Weinstein (in Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow)--invitations to hotel room "meetings" which turned out to be one-on-ones were his primary MO. If such hotel room meetings are so common, it takes the wind out of anyone's sails who tries to victim blame by saying anyone going to his room was expecting something sexual to happen.

I do understand the association. In this case, it may just be a part of (US) SFF con culture - a way to have less-structured gatherings, and to handle overflow events. Room parties at SFF cons are traditionally pretty large, and are, IIRC, sometimes even catered. There's a lot I wouldn't defend my former agent on, but really, this wasn't weird (I have, alas, had reason to develop very good radar about weird); it was a bunch of writers drinking and talking about books.

Scotch is still vile, though.

ETA: This was also five years ago. I imagine she might handle things differently now. But it was not at all odd at the time.
 
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onesecondglance

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I didn't mean to imply any wrongdoing - this is more about my social anxieties (and possibly a cultural clash) than anything like that.

:)
 

Fuchsia Groan

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So, I think the answers kind of make my point: there's no network sitting and waiting for you once you publish. You have to dig around for it, and even then you have to be flexible, and opportunistic (in a good way :) ). As with all things, it's much easier if you have some professional visibility.

My experiences bear that out too. Joining a debut group did create a network for me, and connections that endure to this day, but not all categories/genres have debut groups. I didn’t attend many actual events or make many connections when I did.

I never had a critique group before I was published (whether I’m “successful” is another question, but let’s leave that aside). Here’s how I found mine: I cover books for a local paper, so I knew about the nearby published authors in my category. I asked two of them to join me on a panel I organized at a tiny local conference. We got to talking about how we’d all like to have a critique group, and now we do, and it has improved my writing and generally rocked my world.

If there are bookstores near you that host local authors’ events, going to those events is a great way to meet peers and potential CPs. (Right now it’s all happening virtually, but it is happening.) One of my CPs used to host occasional cocktail hours for kid lit writers as well.

Online, besides AW, there are private Facebook groups where published authors congregate and sometimes offer work for critique. You need an invitation to join, which could come from friendly interactions in person or on social media.

And the more you congregate candidly with published writers, the more you may discover that many (most?) of them feel not-successful-enough most of the time. I’m not sure how it would feel to exchange manuscripts with a hugely successful writer, though if one of my CPs blows up, I could find out!
 

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That's what my wife did. She writes cozy mysteries and she found out that a local bookstore runs a Cozy Mystery group. She attended and there were two other published authors there that she made friends with, plus a lot of people who were happy to beta read for her. Just find people that share your interests and you can probably make things work.
 

Harlequin

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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.
So this is a really interesting thread! The short answer is that yes, it's a problem. I left my RL novelist group because the further I got along the publication path, the more awkward it became, and the more I realised I was looking fordifferent things in my critique.

But I've been saved by online connections :)

OP - you're not too far away to think about this. Start now. Surrounding yourself with folks who have similar goals and nurture those relationships. OVer time, some of you will become agented and you start finding in those kinds of groups (for real, I have seen this multiple times) that folks suddenly all get agented within a year or two of each other. There is something about that cohesive group levelling up which is really powerful.

I met other authors through AW and facebook, usually when we were just querying or starting out! My critique partner (who is on these boards, or on Twitter as Essa Hansen) was in both places and I kept seeing her name crop up. Seeking betas, seeking feedback, doing research, having sensible answers to sensible questions. I reached out for a swap and now... some four years later... we both have the same agent and debut books within a couple years of each other (she released first.)

You really do get a sense for folk. This sounds harsh but when I skim through writer groups and see folks talk about querying, I think you can tell in many cases whether a person is going to burn out quickly or not on trying trad. The ones who aren't trying to improve, who aren't obsessively revising, who aren't researching and making connections, usually fall by the wayside. Not always but often.

Keep an eye out for those obsessive, super keen baby writers and see if you click with them, if you get to know them. Hang on to them. Send them Christmas cards if they don't find that weird (I have a Christmas card list!) and talk to them if you enjoy their company. I chat to my CP all day long, on and off, about writing and games and everything; it's not just business it's a genuine friendship.

I still do betas for other authors and keep in touch sproadically. I'm also in a couple discord groups (highly recommend!)

Liz - I'll read if you ever want! I do drink but I won't hold that against you haha. Feel free to say hello in DMs or on Twitter, and/or to join some of the discords I'm in.
 
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lizmonster

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This sounds harsh but when I skim through writer groups and see folks talk about querying, I think you can tell in many cases whether a person is going to burn out quickly or not on trying trad. The ones who aren't trying to improve, who aren't obsessively revising, who aren't researching and making connections, usually fall by the wayside. Not always but often.

I think a lot of the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of how it all works, and how much their personal ambitions affect their chances (spoiler: not at all). The mythos around trade publishing is absurd and largely inaccurate, and with each published author's experience unique, it's hard for people who haven't been through it yet to get a picture of the cohesive whole (spoiler: the whole is not cohesive).

Personally, I survive by viewing writing as artistic expression, and I do my best (with varying levels of success) to ignore the publishing side of it (I've got two self-pub projects in the works, three if my book on sub goes nowhere). I agree it's likely true someone who focuses on improving their skills is more likely to eventually trade publish than someone who's more focused on the goal than the product, but there are no guarantees even then. Learning to write publishable material is a requirement, absolutely - but it still doesn't guarantee you anything, and I can't blame people for getting discouraged at any stage of the process.

Which all strays from the topic of finding community. :) I'm pretty sure it's not just authors who struggle with this. Sometimes I think finding kindred spirits is just chance, and the only thing you can do is keep an eye open for threads of possibility.
 

Harlequin

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Yes, very much agreed. I've not phrased things in a very kind way, sorry. I think I'm thinking of very specific experiences and applying them globally which is always a bad idea.

There are always folks in various groups and online places who seek help with trad publishing and want advice or direction. I don't (anymore) have time or energy to type out paragraphs of info for everyone, so I try to be more selective, but that means having criteria that I use :F So for example, if someone is responding badly to critiques, or not listening to standard advice, or needs spoonfeeding info above and beyond the normal confused babywriter phase, then I generally walk away these days. (For example, someone saying "I don't want query critiques, I'm just going to try my dozen queries and self pub if no one signs me" is a situation I'd walk away from.)

But a newbie who is keen to learn, absorbs and improves from critique, and all that jazz, then I pour effort into connecting them with betas groups, getting them to join Sub It Club, and all the usual things we are meant to do (because others once did them for us, or should have done).

OTher than that, I do actually agree that luck and timing is about 90% of it, esp at submission stage where really, most books are publishable.
 

kinokonoronin

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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.
Five years? 😰 Guess I'd better start thinking about this now.

For longform projects, what level of completion is appropriate for beta reading? Should a writer be worried about feedback early in the process?
 

lizmonster

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Yes, very much agreed. I've not phrased things in a very kind way, sorry. I think I'm thinking of very specific experiences and applying them globally which is always a bad idea.

No worries. :) I did an author panel once, and before it started someone came up to me and handed me his manuscript. He talked at me for a bit, and eventually I handed it back and said "good luck with it." He had no idea who I was, but since I was on the panel obviously I had the Big Publishing Secret that would get him and his I'll-just-hand-it-to-a-stranger novel a publishing deal.

He tried to dominate the Q&A, too, but the moderator only allowed him one question. So...yeah. Not everyone is deserving of the benefit of the doubt.
 

lizmonster

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For longform projects, what level of completion is appropriate for beta reading? Should a writer be worried about feedback early in the process?

In my opinion, a beta read is for a completed novel you feel you can no longer improve on your own. That's either a finished piece, or something you know is not working, but you can't figure out why.

I generally polish until I can no longer see straight, and then hand the thing off. And they always come up with issues I never would have noticed on my own.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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What Liz said—revise it as much as you can, until you really need fresh eyes on it.

I’ve also found amazing betas on AW! Not via the beta forum—never really used that—but by reading and critiquing in SYW. When I connected with someone’s work, when I found myself reading it for fun, that gave me the confidence to show them my own work. I’ve had not-great experiences with a few readers in the past, so I really have to trust that someone is on my weird little wavelength and understands what works in my category/genre.

Giving work to my CP group is still always painful! Always! They always have issues with it that I never anticipated. But it’s a good pain, like getting notes from the editor who bought your book. Once you’ve experienced that, you can easily tell the difference between the constructive agony of being critted and the plain old agony of being read by an unsympathetic or inappropriate reader.
 

be frank

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I’ve also found amazing betas on AW! Not via the beta forum—never really used that—but by reading and critiquing in SYW. When I connected with someone’s work, when I found myself reading it for fun, that gave me the confidence to show them my own work.

Likewise here. Probably 90% of my beta readers and CPs originated through AW. Though for me, when I connected with someone's work or found myself really enjoying one of their excerpts, I'd usually offer to read their MS if they needed fresh eyes (RIP convenient, quick, casual rep comments for this kind of thing :( ).

TL;DR: Most of the connections I've made over the years have come about by offering to read for others, not by soliciting readers for my own work
 

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