When Did "Beta" Become a Dirty Word?

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

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jannawrites

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To each their own, but I feel betas act as a crucial sounding board. How else can you objectively separate yourself from your work? Get true feedback and find out if what you've spent so much time on is panning out? Even for someone who's published (which I plan to be someday), using a beta shows you care about the quality of your work and you've not gotten heady about what you're doing. IMHO.
 

Dustry Joe

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Well, I've done very little of this and what I did do didn't sell me on it being a good idea.
(How many sentences do you see containing the phrase "did do didn't"?)

Everybody likes the stuff I write. I don't get any "sounding board" or "critique" or anything. People like it. They want to see those characters in a series of books or on screen. They laugh their asses off. They grit their teeth. I have writer groupies for unpublished work.

But guess what? I can't get it past the first level of defense of the publishing industry. The always say the like the writing but there is some reason it won't work out. Nobody cares about life on the border, you can't have sex or violence or drugs in books that would be read by "young adults", the women aren't powerful enough. The women are too powerful. (And, of course, it's not the minority/feminist/coastal/Judaica that agents and editors lust for, but they don't say that. Or that "people" means "people in NYC with liberal arts degrees")

I spent a long time in periodical work and got hard evidence for my impression that people wanted to read what I had to say, but the editors were blocking me and the audience from engaging each other. Now I'm finding it even more true with novels.

So, there are a lot of ways to come to grips with something like that. What I'm doing is chipping away. Essentially trying to produce a book that those little Bennington bitches at the phone desk will pass on upstairs. Once you're in, you're in.

But I really, really, don't see where getting the opinions of a bunch of people around me is going to help with that. I already know what they're going to say.
 

jannawrites

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Everybody likes the stuff I write. I don't get any "sounding board" or "critique" or anything. People like it. They want to see those characters in a series of books or on screen. They laugh their asses off. They grit their teeth. I have writer groupies for unpublished work.

Those writer groupies are your betas.
 

kuwisdelu

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Well, I've done very little of this and what I did do didn't sell me on it being a good idea.
(How many sentences do you see containing the phrase "did do didn't"?)

Everybody likes the stuff I write. I don't get any "sounding board" or "critique" or anything. People like it. They want to see those characters in a series of books or on screen. They laugh their asses off. They grit their teeth. I have writer groupies for unpublished work.

But guess what? I can't get it past the first level of defense of the publishing industry. The always say the like the writing but there is some reason it won't work out. Nobody cares about life on the border, you can't have sex or violence or drugs in books that would be read by "young adults", the women aren't powerful enough. The women are too powerful. (And, of course, it's not the minority/feminist/coastal/Judaica that agents and editors lust for, but they don't say that. Or that "people" means "people in NYC with liberal arts degrees")

I spent a long time in periodical work and got hard evidence for my impression that people wanted to read what I had to say, but the editors were blocking me and the audience from engaging each other. Now I'm finding it even more true with novels.

So, there are a lot of ways to come to grips with something like that. What I'm doing is chipping away. Essentially trying to produce a book that those little Bennington bitches at the phone desk will pass on upstairs. Once you're in, you're in.

But I really, really, don't see where getting the opinions of a bunch of people around me is going to help with that. I already know what they're going to say.

If this is where you're coming from, then you and I are not so different as I'd thought. Before my current crit partner came along, who just happens to be my wife, came along, I got much the same reaction as you from most people. Whenever I asked people to critique my stuff, they came back with may a few corrections of typos and comments on the parts they liked and a few proclamations of love, but nothing at all helpful.

Then I came across my wife, who is the harshest critic I've ever known. But that's a good thing. Especially because she has read just about every book in the English language, and many dozens in various other languages. She may not be "industry," but she finds the only problems anyone ever has in my work. They're always the problems I've always known were there, but no one else I asked ever saw. And she always respects my voice, and would never do anything to jeopardize it, which is the concern so many here have about betas.

And I agree--I've never called them betas before recently either.
 

CheshireCat

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So, there are a lot of ways to come to grips with something like that. What I'm doing is chipping away. Essentially trying to produce a book that those little Bennington bitches at the phone desk will pass on upstairs. Once you're in, you're in.

You know, I'd try to persuade you that you're wrong, but why bother? With that attitude -- not to mention the casual use of "bitch" when discussing trying to break into an industry the gatekeepers of which are largely women -- I seriously doubt reason would prevail.
 

ORION

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Well I agree with CC. Attitude is everything.
The people who I have met in publishing have to guess what readers will buy. And it's not just readers. They have to guess what will appeal to reviewers, to Oprah, to Richard and Judy...
I use betas to make my stories better...I do NOT use them to guarantee being published. I want my work to be the best that it can be... ALWAYS.My betas enjoyed my first book. The editors and agents didn't.
As it happened, with my third book LOTTERY, I was in the right place at the right time and was fortunate enough to be published.
So I keep writing and keep using my betas.
NOTE: It's offensive to me when you use the word bitches in that context.
 

Thrillride

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Okay. I have to agree here. While trying to see the view from Dustry Joe's window, I tripped on his "Bennington bitches" phrase. I don't consider myself prude (I think I am, perhaps, far from it), but what happened in my mind right then and there was a subtle "click".

His credibility just went bye-bye for me. And for the puritans that don't like judgements based on an isolated incident, I will add that it wasn't just those words but the whole attitude in that particular post.

I am not being sarcastic at all when I ask, "Is there a possiblity that this holier-than-thou attitude (which is exactly what it is, even if the poster didn't mean it to come across that way) is coming across like this to the Bennington Bitches and their ilk?"

Speak honestly, lose the attitude.

~Thrill
 

Sage

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Everybody likes the stuff I write. I don't get any "sounding board" or "critique" or anything. People like it. They want to see those characters in a series of books or on screen. They laugh their asses off. They grit their teeth. I have writer groupies for unpublished work.

But guess what? I can't get it past the first level of defense of the publishing industry. The always say the like the writing but there is some reason it won't work out. Nobody cares about life on the border, you can't have sex or violence or drugs in books that would be read by "young adults", the women aren't powerful enough. The women are too powerful. (And, of course, it's not the minority/feminist/coastal/Judaica that agents and editors lust for, but they don't say that. Or that "people" means "people in NYC with liberal arts degrees")

<snipped for length>

But I really, really, don't see where getting the opinions of a bunch of people around me is going to help with that. I already know what they're going to say.
Then, maybe you just need a more diverse set of beta readers. Because I truly doubt you can find anything that everybody likes. Even among friends with similar tastes, you'll find various levels of enjoyment and constructive crits of a piece of fiction. There are plenty of fictional works that I personally adore, but can still offer a little criticism if asked. Not one of your betas had anything constructive to say?

And agents and editors understand markets, so if there's a market for what you write, chances are that one or more agent/publisher is looking for it. Either the work's not ready, or you're not searching hard enough.
 

ORION

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This is a really good point- My betas do not agree on everything- I have a diverse group. When my "boy book beta reader" liked Lottery I realized it might have wide appeal. (When he tells me I need an explosion in the first page I rarely listen to him LOL)
 

bethany

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Then, maybe you just need a more diverse set of beta readers. Because I truly doubt you can find anything that everybody likes. Even among friends with similar tastes, you'll find various levels of enjoyment and constructive crits of a piece of fiction. There are plenty of fictional works that I personally adore, but can still offer a little criticism if asked. Not one of your betas had anything constructive to say?

And agents and editors understand markets, so if there's a market for what you write, chances are that one or more agent/publisher is looking for it. Either the work's not ready, or you're not searching hard enough.

Sage said exactly what I was thinking, so I see that I don't have to post (except to agree :) )
 

Bubastes

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Ditto Sage and bethany. As my music teacher keeps saying to me, if you think you're doing everything perfectly, you're not stretching far enough and/or you're not being demanding enough about your work.
 

kuwisdelu

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Then, maybe you just need a more diverse set of beta readers. Because I truly doubt you can find anything that everybody likes. Even among friends with similar tastes, you'll find various levels of enjoyment and constructive crits of a piece of fiction. There are plenty of fictional works that I personally adore, but can still offer a little criticism if asked. Not one of your betas had anything constructive to say?

And agents and editors understand markets, so if there's a market for what you write, chances are that one or more agent/publisher is looking for it. Either the work's not ready, or you're not searching hard enough.

Sage has an excellent point. Lots of the beta readers I tried out never had anything constructive to say. They all liked my stuff. But that didn't satisfy me because I knew there must have been some problems, and I wasn't going to give up until I found them and figured out how to make my work better. Then I got lucky and found a beta reader who understands my work and always finds the issues with my stories, and I couldn't be more grateful. If I run into another one even half as good, I'll be even luckier.

I don't think it's possible to write a perfect story, even for ourselves. Sure, we can be satisfied by something to a certain extent. But how many of you--every single time you read a piece--can still find something you'd change, even if it's very small. Even if it's only the wording of a single sentence, I can never get away from seeing some problems with my own writing. And if that isn't true...well, I think MeowGirl said it best:

As my music teacher keeps saying to me, if you think you're doing everything perfectly, you're not stretching far enough and/or you're not being demanding enough about your work.
 
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justpat

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I think beta readers are very important, as long as they are not your spouse or someone else too close to give honest opinions. And of course, if you hear something negative from a beta reader, don't take it out on them. They are just telling you what they think. Either fix the problems or disregard them if you think the reader is wrong, but don't get defensive (which, of course, isn't always easy.)
 

althrasher

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I agree with most people on here, that I find betas very helpful. Of course, a lot of times I think betas call us on the things we were hoping to get away with.
 

ishtar'sgate

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Even for someone who's published (which I plan to be someday), using a beta shows you care about the quality of your work and you've not gotten heady about what you're doing. IMHO.
It has nothing to do with being heady. I'm as insecure about my writing as the next author but I want the writing to be mine, all mine with no one interfering with my style and voice. I've found that editors are very sensitive to this and their revision suggestions are quite broad, allowing me to retain my voice. Perhaps I'm in the minority but even when things were tough and agents and publishers were turning down my work, I simply paid attention to what they said and kept on revising until my novel was sold. There's a great deal of satisfaction in getting to the finish line on your own even if it takes a while to get there. They say patience is its own reward. I think they're right.
Linnea
 

kuwisdelu

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I think beta readers are very important, as long as they are not your spouse or someone else too close to give honest opinions.

That's true very often, but not always. My spouse happens to be my most honest and harshest critic, which I know is true for at least a few other writers on this board, because I've seen them post before. She only gives my emotions the slightest regard when telling me what's wrong with a story, so it's sometimes it's hurtful, but always best for the story in the long run. Of course, if you happen to have a spouse or close friend or relative who isn't able to be honest--in fact, even strangers who try to sugarcoat their critiques--then these aren't really the best opinions to go by....

It has nothing to do with being heady. I'm as insecure about my writing as the next author but I want the writing to be mine, all mine with no one interfering with my style and voice. I've found that editors are very sensitive to this and their revision suggestions are quite broad, allowing me to retain my voice.

I'm the exact same way. That's the reason I think the very best critics are ones who do the same thing. There are beta readers out there who are sensitive to voice and style, too. They're harder to find, I'm sure, but they're there.
 

bethany

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It has nothing to do with being heady. I'm as insecure about my writing as the next author but I want the writing to be mine, all mine with no one interfering with my style and voice. I've found that editors are very sensitive to this and their revision suggestions are quite broad, allowing me to retain my voice. Perhaps I'm in the minority but even when things were tough and agents and publishers were turning down my work, I simply paid attention to what they said and kept on revising until my novel was sold. There's a great deal of satisfaction in getting to the finish line on your own even if it takes a while to get there. They say patience is its own reward. I think they're right.
Linnea

I'm sure you don't mean it that way, but I think this response comes across as very condescending, and is exactly what the original poster was asking about as far as a negative attitude toward betas. Or to put it bluntly, an attitude that says, I did it myself, obviously, you can't/couldn't.

I kept revising my novel until it was sold, too. But I had Beta readers look at certain sections, discussed what wasn't working. And I'm confident enough in my voice to know that somebody suggesting that I change something isn't going to change it. Critiques give me something to think about, they don't alter my book until I decide to act upon them.

I don't think my satisfaction when I see my book in print will be any less than yours. And my critique partners and beta readers are all listed in my
acknowledgments, but they are not listed as co-authors for a reason.

I hope this doesn't come off as combative, but I am proud of what I have accomplished, even if I do have people read my work before it gets submitted :).

ETA, oh lord you can see where I had to use spell check, the font is different!
 
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Sage

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It has nothing to do with being heady. I'm as insecure about my writing as the next author but I want the writing to be mine, all mine with no one interfering with my style and voice. I've found that editors are very sensitive to this and their revision suggestions are quite broad, allowing me to retain my voice. Perhaps I'm in the minority but even when things were tough and agents and publishers were turning down my work, I simply paid attention to what they said and kept on revising until my novel was sold. There's a great deal of satisfaction in getting to the finish line on your own even if it takes a while to get there. They say patience is its own reward. I think they're right.
Linnea
But wouldn't it be better to go to the agents/publishers with a well-revised novel from the beginning? I'm not saying that you might not have to revise it anyway, but why cross several agents off the list because you weren't willing to listen to opinion before you got there?

Why would you change your style and voice because of betas? It's not like the beta suggests something and it's, presto, instant change. You have the discretion to decide whether the suggestions are right for you, and that includes the suggestions by agents/publishers. And how does listening to a beta's suggestions detract from the "satisfaction in getting to the finish line on your own," but listening to an agent's/publisher's does not? Revising based on advice from a reader is revising based on advice from a reader.

If betas don't work for you, that's cool, but dismissing them because they might suggest something you don't like is kinda silly. You're the author, the decision to revise is yours, whether the advice is from a beta, an agent, or an editor. Of course, in all cases, it might affect whether you get published, but that's true about a lot of choices we make about the novel, isn't it?
 

Thrillride

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But wouldn't it be better to go to the agents/publishers with a well-revised novel from the beginning? I'm not saying that you might not have to revise it anyway, but why cross several agents off the list because you weren't willing to listen to opinion before you got there?

Why would you change your style and voice because of betas? It's not like the beta suggests something and it's, presto, instant change. You have the discretion to decide whether the suggestions are right for you, and that includes the suggestions by agents/publishers. And how does listening to a beta's suggestions detract from the "satisfaction in getting to the finish line on your own," but listening to an agent's/publisher's does not? Revising based on advice from a reader is revising based on advice from a reader.

If betas don't work for you, that's cool, but dismissing them because they might suggest something you don't like is kinda silly. You're the author, the decision to revise is yours, whether the advice is from a beta, an agent, or an editor. Of course, in all cases, it might affect whether you get published, but that's true about a lot of choices we make about the novel, isn't it?

This was a nice, well thought out post. Thank you.

~Thrill
 

DancingMaenid

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I think betas and critique groups can be extremely helpful. For me, a lot of the help is knowing if what I'm trying to have come across actually comes across. I may feel really sure that it does, but if someone doesn't understand something, I'd like to know so I can see if maybe I should word something better, for example. I think it's good to know how an audience might react.

However, I think some things need to be taken into consideration:

- Maturity, confidence, and experience of the writer. I think people who benefit the most from critiques are people who are open to different viewpoints of their story, even critical ones, but also know what they want and are confident in their writing enough to recognize that not all advice necessarily needs to be followed. Also, writers with different levels of experience may need different kinds of input.

- Maturity, assertiveness, and experience of the beta. Someone won't do much good if they're scared to say anything negative, and they won't do much good if they're nasty, either. Also, different betas are going to be better for different things. If I wanted to know if the characters are engaging, people of any level of experience may be able to give some input. But if I wanted advice on a query letter, I'd want someone with experience in that area. Also, some betas may have trouble giving input on genre-specific issues if they're not experienced in the genre.
 

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Those writer groupies are your betas.

Not hardly. They are infatuated sex objects. Thank God. The idea that they would have anything to say that would make me change my work is laughable.


Then, maybe you just need a more diverse set of beta readers. Because I truly doubt you can find anything that everybody likes. Even among friends with similar tastes, you'll find various levels of enjoyment and constructive crits of a piece of fiction. There are plenty of fictional works that I personally adore, but can still offer a little criticism if asked. Not one of your betas had anything constructive to say?

Again, I don't do this shopping stuff around for comment. Occasionally I'll show something to somebody. Occasionally somebody will show something to me. I don't read work by amateurs and hopefuls because they don't really want to hear what I have to say aobut it.

And no, I don't run into anybody who doesn't like my writing.

I don't think you understand what I'm talking about here. I'm not trying to learn how to write. I'm trying to develop a market for something.

you're not searching hard enough.

How the hell could you possibly know that to be the case of not?????
 

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Another argument for betas (good ones...who don't try and change your voice...but are honest) - a very successful, respected author who teaches told me that agents and the publishing world don't necessarily remember you when you send out short stories that don't work, but they DO remember you if you send out a novel that's not ready to be sent out.

That's not an impression any of us probably want to make...
 
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