Getting back on the horse and finding beta readers

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

TheMadge

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I wrote a Sci-Fi book a few years ago. It succeeded several half-written books and lots of scrappy short stories. It was very long (in 3 parts) and very special to me. I thought I knew everything about writing and didn't need any advice. I thought it was brilliant (I cried writing the ending); no one would read it. Of friends who politely tried, I don't think anyone got more than a couple of chapters in - no one would really say why, and I didn't want to hassle them. I agreed an exchange with someone on here, read all 80,000 words of their book, gave them constructive and detailed feedback on each chapter, then sent them my book to read in return. They replied to say they had read the first 5 pages and didn't like the style so they weren't going to read any more!

I got some pretty harsh feedback on a small section, from someone in another forum, and then began to lose faith in the project. Objectively, it is niche appeal and it was hard even trying to write a query. I sent it to one agent so I could feel like a "proper" failed writer. As expected, they rejected it. I then tried to self publish on Wattpad. I drip-fed it one chapter at a time (as they recommend) but interest vanished after a while.

I then decided to give up on writing (in a huff). I retrained as a teacher and discovered (to my surprise) that my grammar was awful, and my book may not have been as well written as I thought.

I feel more balanced about it now. No one asked me to write a book and the world doesn't owe me anyone reading it; nevertheless; and unbidden, I seem to have got the bug again and am writing another book. This time with a much more humble attitude. Whenever I read, I try and think about how I can learn from good writing.

I'm not expecting to write a best seller (or even an any seller). It would be nice to have some readers though! How do you all find beta readers? If you have a lot of amateur writing behind you, how do you stay motivated?
 

Maryn

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I'm not the poster child for beta readers, but those I have, I find by making connections here. I offer knowledge or experience when I have them, commiserate or celebrate with the ups and downs of the writing life as it impacts other members, do a bit of critique when I feel qualified and motivated, and socialize enough to have friendships here.

What we see at AW far too often is a new arrival eager to get beta readers but unwilling to give any (or much) of themselves. Some people are happy to take but unwilling to give. Hey, the world's like that, but having been burned way too many times, many of us here won't beta read for someone we don't know as a regular here.

I hope you won't let the fact that you didn't get an even exchange last time color your hopes or expectations for next time. Instead, settle in, reading the boards that interest you, posting in your genre, in threads about novels and writing craft, and wherever else something piques your interest. People you joke around with in Office Party may be just as good a beta reader as those who discuss your genre with intelligence.

Anyway, it's good to see you back in the saddle, writing again. You're among your own kind here.

Maryn, still learning at a fairly advanced age
 
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Woollybear

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I think many of us have experienced reading for a stranger and having them not hold up their end of the bargain. It's depressing, and I'm sorry you had that experience, TheMadge.

In addition to finding readers here, which is good advice, there are beta-reading Facebook groups and in-person writing critique meet up groups (look on meetup.com). The meetup groups are virtual at the moment, but I found beta readers through these three avenues. The best way to ensure a fair swap, in my experience, is to swap small amounts at a time.

If grammar was the issue on your past novel, then you might not need a beta reader but simply to participate here up to fifty decent posts (it's recommended that you not rush to 50 but take your time and be considerate toward others) and then post some small amount on Share Your Work. Problems in the first chapter might well apply to the entire manuscript.
 

Tazlima

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Ouch! The Dunning-Kruger effect burns in hindsight, doesn't it? Don't let it get you down. A lot of writers overestimate their abilities at first. I know I did - my first negative feedback on something I thought was brilliant made me cry (and looking back, the person giving the feedback was actually very gentle with me). Once I got the hurt feelings out of my system, though, I went back and re-read with an eye to what had been said, and I had to admit the comments were absolutely correct. The re-write was worlds better, and I now relish criticism, as I've seen how much it improves my work in the long run.

Anyway, EVERY good writer has a "lot of amateur writing behind them." It's part of the process, or, as Jake says, "Being bad at something is the first step toward being sorta good at something."

Glad to see you didn't give up on yourself.
 
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Fuchsia Groan

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Seconding everything Maryn said. The best beta is someone who reads your genre (they don’t necessarily have to write it) and likes your concept and/or style, but is willing and able to be critical. One approach is to post a small amount in Share Your Work, or post your query, and see if you click with particular critters. If they like some aspect of your writing and you like their feedback, you could be a good match.

I used to be in a similar situation to you; I spent years and years writing a giant SF book (700 pages in some drafts!), but no one would read it. They might read a few pages and tell me my writing was good, then stop. Looking back on that book, I completely understand: I did have nice writing on the sentence level, but I had no idea how to construct a plot or how to bond the reader to the main character. Who wants to read that?

Now (with two books published in a different category), I’m returning to the concept of that book, starting over from scratch, trying to make it work. I have two CPs who are painfully honest. A week ago, they told me to start over because my MC isn’t working. It was not fun to hear. Plus I know that, even if I make the book work for my CPs, it may not be publishable. The market is tough and fickle.

But I’m ready to dive in and try again. If you love writing, you have nothing to lose. Don’t beat yourself up about having to scrap drafts or whole books and start over. And a CP or beta is a great motivator; find a few you trust. You don’t have to have a huge array of them, unless that’s an approach that works for you. I prefer quality over quantity.
 

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