My Rejection Saga: Paid a Beta Reader $7 to read 15k words.

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writerjordan

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Context: My fantasy novel has received 5 form rejections from literary agents so far. I turned to you guys for advice and you told me to get critiques of my work before expanding.

You guys told me not to pay a beta reader, but I haven't had any luck finding one on Goodreads, so I turned to Fiverr. The beta reader I chose charged $7 to read 15,000 words of my novel. My only instruction for him was to roast me.

He replied in one day with a 1.5 page document.

(Yes - I will critique work on here and reach the 50 post minimum to share my work, but this was for the story and perhaps some decent advice in the process).

The good:

He described my main character as a "blank slate." He told me the sudden romance between two of the characters was unbelievable. He told me I needed to build more tension in one of my opening scenes.
Most importantly, he told me I had critical pacing issues, which I can see now. Now I have tangible plans for revision of my novel.

The bad:

Some of his advice was questionable. For example, he told me to replace this sentence....

"Aveline glanced over her shoulder at her partner, who was cloaked in black feathers, his face obscured by a mask."

with this...

"Aveline glanced over her shoulder at her partner cloaked in black feathers and his face hidden beneath a mask."

Also, he had no credentials, but I was a writing tutor for three years in my college's writing center and our whole perspective was that excellent readers can be just as helpful as talented writers.

What do you guys think about this? Feel free to roast me if what I did was idiotic, as well. I gave him 5 stars for his generosity.
 

Bufty

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If you want to spend $7 on what you could get here for free, that's your choice. Glad you found it helpful.

And yes, excellent beta readers can come in all shapes and sizes, but I'm neither judging you nor commenting upon another's critique.:Hug2:
 
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lizmonster

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For that price I wouldn't take anything they said as gospel.

ETA: Start with Share Your Work here before you go after betas. If you have systemic issues with the manuscript, they'll likely be evident in the first 2,000 words.
 
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mccardey

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If you want to spend $7 on what you could get here for free, that's your choice. Glad you found it helpful.

And yes, excellent beta readers can come in all shapes and sizes, but I'm neither judging you nor commenting upon another's critique.:Hug2:
+1

If you’re happy, terrific. If you’re not happy, well, you’re only out seven bucks. We can’t possibly judge a a 1.5 page doc on a few extracted sentences critting a work we haven’t read.
 

KBooks

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Well, you can get beta readers here, too, but you need to get to 50 posts first. As a suggestion, why don't you go over to SYW and do some critting of other people's samples?

What I do when I get crits is to read over them and, see if I'm getting the same crits over and over (big indication there may be an issue.) Even if I just get a crit one time, I consider it. Would it make the story stronger? It's certainly possible to get an outlier opinion that doesn't make your story better. I've also been told things by only one person that wound up being pretty good advice. You know your story and what you're trying to achieve with it. Also, five rejections is really not much in the grand scheme of things. If you get to ten with no requests for pages, then it may be a problem with your query letter or opening pages, both of which people can help with with over in SYW once you get to 50 posts.
 
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writerjordan

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+1

If you’re happy, terrific. If you’re not happy, well, you’re only out seven bucks. We can’t possibly judge a a 1.5 page doc on a few extracted sentences critting a work we haven’t read.

Overall, I am happy lol. That was the only sentence level revision he included, which is why I included it here. I will definitely be visiting Share Your Work after work today.

This wasn't a criticism of the guy, by the way. He was really helpful for the price.
 

writerjordan

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Well, you can get beta readers here, too, but you need to get to 50 posts first. As a suggestion, why don't you go over to SYW and do some critting of over people's samples? Often that can be quite helpful as it can be easier to see flaws in other people's writing (where you might be too close to your own) and once you point something out for someone else, it may be easier to apply the same corrections to your own work.

What I do when I get crits is to read over them and, see if I'm getting the same crits over and over (big indication there may be an issue.) Even if I just get a crit one time, I consider it. Would it make the story stronger? It's certainly possible to get an outlier opinion that doesn't make your story better. I've also been told things by only one person that wound up being pretty good advice. You know your story and what you're trying to achieve with it. Also, five rejections is really not much in the grand scheme of things. If you get to ten with no requests for pages, then it may be a problem with your query letter or opening pages, both of which people can help with with over in SYW once you get to 50 posts.

I definitely took what he said to heart - didn't mean to be flippant. I think there is an issue with the pacing of my opening pages, based on his feedback. I will go over there after work to offer some critiques.

I also think my query letter synopsis is probably garbage, since many betas have rejected my work based on the synopsis alone.
 

zmethos

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I'm glad you found it helpful in some way. As with any beta feedback, some you take, some you don't. As KBooks points out, if you hear the same feedback repeatedly, that's the big flag.

The reader is correct in that your original sentence has a clause that can be read as "his face" referring to Aveline rather than the partner. You don't have to rewrite it exactly the way the beta reader says (I have a few issues with that one, too), but it should probably be tweaked.
 

writerjordan

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I'm glad you found it helpful in some way. As with any beta feedback, some you take, some you don't. As KBooks points out, if you hear the same feedback repeatedly, that's the big flag.

The reader is correct in that your original sentence has a clause that can be read as "his face" referring to Aveline rather than the partner. You don't have to rewrite it exactly the way the beta reader says (I have a few issues with that one, too), but it should probably be tweaked.

Yeah - I'll probably split it into two sentences when I start the next novel draft to avoid misplaced modifier shenanigans. Thanks :)
 

cornflake

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You get what you pay for.
 

cornflake

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I used to edit long research papers for $10.50/hr and I believe I did a darn good job. But you're right...

I'm not slamming, or even commenting, on your work, as I know nothing about it or you.

In general, this is what gutted freelance writing and editing: people with little or no qualifications asking for and accepting basically no pay to write or edit. Writing and editing became things random people online would do for pennies, or for the horror of "exposure," and once there were people willing to write articles for $.01 a word, or edit a ms. for $25, too many people decided anyone asking more was being ridiculous.

It harms everyone involved when this happens to an industry. The people working for pennies were mostly not qualified, thus they produced work of questionable quality, but had no reason to try to improve, or to stop.The people hiring them often used crap work that they'd paid for, which lowered expectations. Qualified writers and editors had to either take near-total pay cuts, find something else to do, or compete for work with those willing to take jobs for 1% of the previously-normal pay scale. It just made a mess. Again, I'm not saying your work was bad, but that's not a proper editing fee, so even if it was great, it changes expectations of price scales for everyone.
 
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mccardey

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I'm not slamming, or even commenting, on your work, as I know nothing about it or you.

In general, this is what gutted freelance writing and editing: people with little or no qualifications asking for and accepting basically no pay to write or edit. Writing and editing became things random people online would do for pennies, or for the horror of "exposure," and once there were people willing to write articles for $.01 a word, or edit a ms. for $25, too many people decided anyone asking more was being ridiculous.

It harms everyone involved when this happens to an industry. The people working for pennies were mostly not qualified, thus they produced work of questionable quality, but had no reason to try to improve, or to stop.The people hiring them often used crap work that they'd paid for, which lowered expectations. Qualified writers and editors had to either take near-total pay cuts, find something else to do, or compete for work with those willing to take jobs for 1% of the previously-normal pay scale. It just made a mess. Again, I'm not saying your work was bad, but that's not a proper editing fee, so even if it was great, it changes expectations of price scales for everyone.
yep this

$7 for anything more complex than “sale ends Thursday!!” is too many bucks. ( I say that as someone who made a delicious living out of various iterations of Sale Ends Thursday)

ETA: I just realised that might sound confusing. I mean that if you’re going to pay an editor for a read, expect to pay a decent price. $7 won’t buy you a good read - nor should you expect it to.

if it’s a beta read you want, try SYW and pay in kind.
 
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fenyo

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I can only assume that the novel itself is more then 15k word (maybe not), so why giving just part of the novel and not all of it?
 

ALShades

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I've found that readers can tell when something is wrong, but they usually don't offer the best advice on how to fix it. Like in your sentence above. The original could probably use some tweaking, but I didn't like his suggestion. For something larger, like your main character being a 'blank slate,' I'd listen to the betas suggestions but so far as they help you create something that's yours.

That being said, when my co-author and I were working on an older draft, we hired an editor. She was pricey, but she gave the feedback we needed to improve not only the book but just our knowledge of writing. Every subsequent draft was a massive improvement over the one we sent her. It was almost like taking a class tailored specifically for our book and writing style. Her professional assistance was extremely helpful, but perhaps not for everyone.

Like the others, I'd suggest trying to find people on this forum who are willing to swap stories with you. It's free, and it helps both of you (or others) grow. You could end up building a small group of beta readers for each other's works.
 

VeryBigBeard

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Every beta-reader you will ever have, from the best to the worst, will provide a mix of feedback. Some of it will be absolutely the wrong thing.

This is what they're supposed to do. No reader can know your intent for the manuscript or see the big picture as a creator. Their only use is to provide data points for you to assess. If something a reader says clicks and you make a chance, great. If not, it's still helpful because you've been able to think about why or why not you might make a change.

That's a valuable process.

Which is why it's not a great idea to post publicly assessing your reader or readers' feedback. It's not fair to the reader, no matter how much you paid, and it misses the point of the exercise. Plus, it'll make future readers leery about wanting to read for you. Nobody wants to spend their own time offering feedback and then see everything you disagree with posted.

We've all been there, as writers. Slow down and take your time. You'll learn more by giving critique than by receiving it. It teaches a lot about how to take and grow from rejection.
 

Gillhoughly

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I've put in time reading the slush pile and doing critiques for 25+ years. Why books get rejected can be distilled down to just a few reasons.

No hook. My agent will read 10 pages, but makes her mind up based on the first five. Writers HAVE to grab the reader's attention from the first line. Taking one's time to drop in back story or gradually build to something interesting ain't the way to go.

They've seen this before. Agents can get 20-50 submissions a day. A successful sub does not read like the distillation of all those others. Triple fail points if the opening has the protag waking up, weather reports, landscape descriptions, back story, political history, etc. The hero has A Problem and needs to address it in an interesting way so the reader has to know what happens next.

When someone says the protag is a blank slate it means you need to rethink who that person is and their motivations. The whole story hangs on one person. They need to be interesting, have opinions, a sense of humor can help. Pretend you're casting the perfect actor for the part. If you cast a young Daniel Craig for it, then consider how a young John Goodman would play it. Stand things on their head. It can spark new ways to do things.

You have two questions to answer for EACH character in the story -- this includes the nameless spear carriers:

1) What do they want?
2) How far are they willing to go to get it?

The reply has to be deeper than "I want pizza."

Every character has to have a convincing driver. They can't float through their story with no direction beyond the next meal or meeting someone special. This is the hero's journey. Luke Skywalker wanted to go to pilot school and hook up with the rebellion, but was held back until the Inciting Incident happens and he's hurtled smack into the middle of everything before he's ready. Frodo was happy to be a stay at home Hobbit until his uncle retired and left him with the worst birthday present, ever. In Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy, The Curse of Chalion a freed galley slave POW with PTSD just wants a quiet life but winds up in the middle of palace intrigues that can get him killed along with people he cares about.

One of my favorite scenes is when a popinjay courtier challenges what he thinks is a tired librarian to a duel to teach him manners. The hero fixes him with a cold eye and imparts that he won't kill him using fancy sword work. He will kill quickly and with little effort the way a butcher dispatches a pig before moving on to the next pig. In this fantasy, there's a big difference between a cocky duelist and a big bad professional soldier. We learn a lot about his character in that scene. I want to read the book all over again now! :)

And check out the start of Harry Connelly's The Way into Chaos.

I will echo the rest here about going to Share Your Work and giving feedback as a way of racking up your post numbers.

In every writing workshop/critique group I've done, nothing sharpens a writer's craft faster than doing feedback for others. You begin to see your issues in the work of others and your problem-solving instincts kick in. Then you wind up applying those to your own stuff, getting better at it and avoiding repeats.

Get the free feedback first, polish your stuff.

I can suggest another venue to get free feedback, and that's to join Goodreads, which has groups for that kind of thing. Much of the time it's about swapping works with other writers who are just as eager to figure out how to make their books better.

You probably know all this, so I'll stop now. ALL writers want feedback, we grok that! Just keep plugging ahead and do as many rewrites as needed based on your own best judgement. After a bit you get an instinct for what works for you and what won't.

Sometimes I get some pretty terrible suggestions as feedback, but they always spark whole new ideas for me. I don't waste time telling the other person why something won't work, but jump back into the book while the fresh stuff I'm generating is still flowing.

It's a marathon, not a sprint, so have at it! :)
 
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Woollybear

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Hi Jordan,

I'd've probably done the same in your position, and I used a few recommendations on this site to hire a couple editors after I'd met with query rejections. I think I hired four or five editors over the months all told, as well as had sixteen free beta readers (and beta-read myself), and workshopped excerpts through SYW and in person. All of it helps, at least for me, but like they say everyone has their own process. Some people think beta readers are a horrible idea, I'm not one of those people.

Getting that much feedback trained me to identify when something rang true to what I wanted the story to be, and what didn't. One of my in-life critique partners wants my villains more villainous. That doesn't ring true to my vision, and he knows it. But he wants it anyway. It's fine. He knows I want certain things in his story too, things that are not true to his vision. We still read and critique and then evaluate each other's feedback.

I think you will learn to evaluate your critiques.

But in addition to the SYW/beta path, I also read the opens to new releases from the library, and plenty of these go directly against the advice you see here--because we're all just trying to help. The fact that plenty go against certain pieces of advice is important. New releases have adverbs, commas, exclamation points, echo words, prologues, weather, and waking-up opens. 90% or more (of the dozens of titles I looked through) had death and dismemberment in the opening pages, in one form or another. A funeral, a deadly threat, the fallout from an apocalypse...something. That's often part of the 'hook' as far as I can tell.

As far as that sentence rewrite you included--I personally suspect your guy was eliminating commas, to keep the reader from pausing, as a way to aid the pacing, which your guy said had issues and you agreed. There are lots of writers that prune out as many commas as possible to speed things up.

get as much feedback as you want, it is valuable at so many levels. But also trust yourself. Everyone learns in their own way.
 
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lizmonster

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But in addition to the SYW/beta path, I also read the opens to new releases from the library, and plenty of these go directly against the advice you see here--because we're all just trying to help.

This is excellent advice, but I also want to add: read in your genre, and pay attention. It's true that pretty much every book out there breaks at least one of the bits of conventional wisdom you'll see (I always end up with a prologue, for example), but you still have to grab people one way or another. It doesn't need to be an explosion or a corpse, just something to make the reader want to keep going.
 

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I have used fivver before and you need to know what type of editor they are. Like others have said you don’t need a large word count to find errors that are bad habits.
I’m especially intrigued by your cloaked in black feathers character as my WIP is about a warrior from the hussars who is also cloaked in raven feathers. At one time I had a book from Hungary and it was about these special warriors that had a no retreat policy and that is what my book is called. As far as your errant sentence I would remove ‘who was’ and your good.

Aveline glanced over her shoulder at her partner, cloaked in black feathers, his face obscured by a mask.
 
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writerjordan

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Oh my God Gill. That advice was so thorough and helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to write that. If this was Reddit I'd gild you.

I finally found a beta reader who I think matches well with me. He nitpicks in necessary places and tells me about clarity issues. He's amazing. I'm waiting for his feedback on the entire novel now.

I actually believe I might get a novel published one day with help from betas and you guys. Thanks.

Also liz, thank you for constantly helping me. You're the best.
 

kujo_jotaro

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For what it's worth, in my experience I never had positive experiences with paid editors, regardless of whether it was a query or pages, and believe me, for a while I used plenty of them!

It was only after I put my query through the meat grinder on AQC that I started getting bites from agents, and I didn't have to pay a dime for that help!
 

ap123

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I've never paid a beta, so I won't speak to that, but ime it's helpful to have multiple betas. Not a dozen, but several. Different people have different strengths, will notice/pick up on different issues. Doesn't mean I take every bit of advice as mandate, but getting that spectrum can give me a fresh perspective. Yes, what's current in your genre--both established writers and debuts, but I also find it helpful to do some reading/get some feedback from outside my genre, in order to get the mss in the best shape possible.
 

ALShades

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For what it's worth, in my experience I never had positive experiences with paid editors, regardless of whether it was a query or pages, and believe me, for a while I used plenty of them!

It was only after I put my query through the meat grinder on AQC that I started getting bites from agents, and I didn't have to pay a dime for that help!

What's AQC? I'm bad with acronyms.
 

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