The Why and How of Beta Reading for Others

I really love beta reading.

Yes, it’s work. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it can be stressful. Telling your friend, family member, or acquaintance that they’ve made mistakes is tough. The thing is, it’s all worth it. Why? Because beta readers are better writers.

I’m currently beta reading my eighth book. These eight have come from three different authors, each with their own unique style, in disparate genres, and I have learned from them all. I am better for having done the work and the reason for that is distance.

The Benefit of Distance

“Practice makes perfect,” but we all know how blinded we can become to our own work. The proper phrase should be, “accurate practice makes perfect,” and it’s hard to be accurate after the umpteenth pass through your own manuscript. “We’re too close Goose, we’re switching to guns,” or rather, someone else’s work.

Reading your buddy’s stuff is beneficial because there’s a distance there. When we flex our critique muscles on someone else’s work, it separates our abilities as writers and our abilities as analysts. We can practice these skills, accurately, with out all of the baggage we bring with us into our own writing. With each successive book I’ve beta read, I’ve honed my skills and after each book, I’m able to slice through my own work with more precision.

How to Beta Read

The first rule of beta reading is that you are not proofreading. The second rule of beta reading is that you are not proof reading. Continue reading

Scene Collecting

The worlds we create belong to some reality. Those realities must have some form of physics that governs the actions within. These physics must be the type that can create and sustain life or at least things that are capable of having and conveying experiences within that reality. No characters, no story. These factors combined with our limited imaginations as 3D, corporeal, mortal beings means that the realities we create are almost always analogous to our own.

So what does this mean for our writing? It means the world, our real world, is a treasure trove of inspiration. If our writing is doomed to be analogous, why not hunt for some bitchin’ analogs!

I’m a lucky man and I get to travel a lot thanks to my rad wife’s rad job. Wherever we go, I always like to keep an eye out for intriguing settings or details from scenes that could one day make it into my stories. IMG_20190411_135351This, for example, is an actual Victorian surgical theater smack dab in the middle of London. As a writer of mostly dark themes, I had to check this place out. Who knows when one of these rooms will creep into a story. So, I hopped on the tube and bought my ticket and hauled myself up the narrow stairwell, through the gift shop, and up to the vantage point where I took the photo. That photo, however is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way I go about scene collecting. Continue reading

Through the Peepers of Others: Part 3 of 3 – Focusing the Feedback

We’ve talked about the importance of letting others read what you’ve written. We’ve talked about the way in which an author can make use of alpha and beta readers. Now it’s time to discuss the trickiest part of the process. Now we get to deal with the chaotic landslide of feedback.

And you should be hoping for a landslide. That was the point of using your alpha and beta readers. This feedback can come in a variety of forms. From notes they’ve taken for you (more common and necessary from beta readers) to notes you’ve taken yourself as you discuss the work with them (most commonly performed with alpha readers). Today, I want to focus on beta readers and their feedback because this is where you’ll receive the most volume. It’s also where the most detailed critiques will occur. But first, a note on alpha readers particularly those found in critique groups.

Writing critique groups are a great way to get your writing in front of others however, the efficacy and quality of this form of critique can vary, a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of multiple critique groups over the past few years and each was useful in its own way. One was a group where five fixed members attended once a week. We were thus familiar with each other’s work and with each other’s style of critique, making the task of analysing that feedback much more easy and consistent.

Another group I attended had a core cast of regulars plus a rotating cast of writers each week. This meant that, while always great company, not every piece of feedback was useful. This also boiled down to familiarity or a lack of it, both my familiarity with their personalities, preferences, and critique skills and their familiarity with my work. The feedback from a group like this can be and has been very valuable to me but I had to work harder to evaluate their critiques. It’s much more difficult to establish the necessary trust, though with some of the regular members, it was there in spades.

Okay, back to beta readers. Here’s is where the “fun” really begins and by “fun” I mean work. I’ve received anywhere from one to ten pages of notes from beta readers in the past and tend to provide between five and ten or more pages when beta reading for others. That’s a lot to sift through and sifting we must do. (Note: This volume reflects beta reading for a novel sized piece.)  Continue reading