Posts Tagged ‘beta readers’

Waiting on Other People (It’s Not Your Fault)

Oh, Squiders. Don’t you wish that you could do everything in a vacuum and never have to rely on other people? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I eat copious amounts of ice cream, which doesn’t really help anything, but is excellent at the time.

I have three different works out to beta readers at the moment. The first is my high fantasy trilogy. Yes, the one I sent out last April. I also have the first of my potential nonfic series out to a few people, and my YA paranormal novel to a few as well. I think the nonfic book has been out since mid-February, and the YA paranormal has only been out for a few weeks.

(For a definition of beta readers go here. For notes on dealing with beta readers, go here or here.)

The issue with having other people read your story is the doubt that creeps in as time goes on. This is especially evident when you have a reader who is so excited to read your book, so you send it to them, eagerly awaiting their comments, but then the deadline comes and goes, and there’s nothing. No word from your beta. In fact, they seem to be avoiding you. You start to become desperate. Have they started the book? Have they finished it and it was so terrible they can’t even bear to tell you?

That’s got to be the reason, right? Why would someone be so excited and then not answer your emails after? You’re a terrible writer, a hack, you should just give the whole thing up now, before you embarrass yourself and bring dishonor to both you and your cow.

This feeling can be compounded if this is one of your first stories.

Well, Squiders, luckily, in 95% of cases, it’s not you. It’s not your writing. It’s your beta.

Here is how things work from a beta’s point of view. They’ve agreed to read your story. This generally implies that there is some interest there. I do know a few people that will beta things out of a sense of obligation, but most people can’t be bothered about that. They get your story and…a big report becomes due. Their children all get the worst sort of stomach flu. They lose their job, or their significant other leaves them. They have to do more marketing on their own book than they thought. Their priorities need a huge redirect.

Basically, something comes up that makes it so they don’t start your beta, or they get pulled away in the middle of it. And it spirals from there. Your betas want to do a good job. They want to give you useful comments. So the excuses start to pile up. “Oh, I should work on so-and-so’s story, but it’s been so long since I’ve looked at it. I should really start over.” “I should wait until I can give this my full focus, so I can give so-and-so the feedback they deserve.” “As soon as this gets done, I can work on betaing that story.”

But things pile up. And then deadlines pass. And then you (the writer) come back along, and in a nice, friendly tone, ask how it’s coming along. And the beta feels terrible that they’re not done. And because of that guilt, they start to withdraw from you. And it spirals into a huge mess of guilt and avoidance and procrastination that just gets deeper and deeper.

It’s not you. It’s not your story.

If you’ve reached full avoidance stage with a beta, I hate to say it, but it’s time to cut them loose. At that point, it’s probable that it’s never going to get done. Just pat them gently on the shoulder, thank them for their work, and tell them it’s okay if they don’t do it. Sometimes removing the weight of expectation clears their mind enough that they will actually do it. More often you will never get anything out of them. Use what you got from other betas, find new ones if you need more specific feedback, and move on.

If a beta is late, but still responding and letting you know what their status is, then they’re okay. You just need to decide if there’s a point where you absolutely need their feedback by, and ask for what comments they have at that point if they’re not done.

You can’t control other people’s lives. And you can’t let other people control yours. Set boundaries and deadlines, and stick to them.

Got any beta reading tips, squiders, from a writer’s or a reader’s standpoint? Things that you’ve found work? Ways to draw out the turtling beta when it seems like hope is lost?

The Reliability of Beta Readers vs Length of Book

Ah, beta readers. An essential tool for most writers, and yet, sometimes, one of the most infuriating.

A beta reader, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a reader to whom you give a draft of your story, with the plan that they will read said story and point out potential issues to you. These can run the gambit from seasoned writers who can point out what is wrong and why, to friends and family who may be able to give you good feedback but also might just tell you they like it and how proud they are that you’ve written a story.

Anyway, I like them, because I like the feedback, and it helps me hone my editing process before I get started, resulting in fewer drafts before I have a viable manuscript.

But, as useful as they are, sometimes they can be a little aggravating, and this mostly stems from deadlines. I like to give my betas at least three months (longer for longer books) to go through my stories. Personally, if I’m beta-ing for someone else, I prefer shorter deadlines (a few weeks to a month) but most people I know just panic in those situations.

(I am talking novel-length stories–three months for a short story is a little ridiculous.)

If you ask someone to read a flash story for you, they will probably do it immediately. Short stories of a couple thousand words can get done in an hour or a day or two. And people stay on top of these sort of stories, no problems. But when you get longer–50,000 words, 100,000 words, or more–your response rate plummets.

(I admit the first time a beta didn’t get back to me I panicked–was she dead? Had she stolen my story? What on Earth was happening?–especially since she also seemed to be avoiding me, but I am old and cynical now.)

Still, with a single book, I’d say you get 80% of your comments eventually, though you’ll probably have to hunt down a few people and poke them with a stick. Some repeatedly.

I recently finished the first draft of the third book of a trilogy, and I offered all three books to some betas who had not read the previous books. Several people accepted. And here is where I have learned a new beta lesson.

Seven people got all three books. This was last April. I asked for comments by the end of October. Number of people who completed all three books within the time frame? One.

Number of people who have read all three books at all? Two.

Now, admittedly, a high fantasy trilogy is a daunting thing to undertake, and I understand that. I’m still hoping I will eventually get comments from the other five, hopefully before the end of February, because I really do value the feedback I get.

But in the future? I think a book at a time will probably be the max.

How about you, Squiders? Love betas, hate them? What sort of deadlines (or do you use deadlines) do you give, and how well does that work? Any tips or tricks to suggest?

An Addendum About Beta-Readers

You know, I’ve been around the block a few times, but I still occasionally make silly mistakes. And then I come and post about them here, hopefully to save you from making the same mistakes.

Last week (or was it the week before?) we talked about how to choose people to be beta-readers, and some of the pros and cons of different types of people. But I forgot something rather essential.

You need to tell your beta-readers what you want from them.

Pretty obvious, right? Sadly, it is often overlooked. You’re excited that so-and-so has agreed to read your story, so you send it to them and await their commentary anxiously, wondering if they’ll like it. And, finally, you get your story back with their notes and…it’s useless. It’s not at all what you wanted, what you needed.

(In my case, most of my betas are other writers, and they are lovely and give me all sorts of good notes without explicit directions, so I am spoiled, and then when I ask a non-writer to read a story, they tend to focus on correcting grammar for whatever reason–and I always beta first drafts, so the grammar is far from perfect, believe you me–so I get a manuscript back with a lot of “awkward phrase” marks and a couple sentences at the end about what they liked. Which is, sadly, not at all helpful.)

People beta differently. Left to my own devices, I tend to go through and leave a running commentary about my reactions to the story. So I’ll note where I’m confused, spots I thought were awesome, and then, at the ends of chapters, I try to articulate my overall thoughts on the story thus far and things I’ve noticed, good and bad. I know other people who read a whole story once before they leave any notes at all, or others that focus on characterization over plot.

No two people are ever going to beta alike. And, by working with different people, you can see who works for you. I have one friend whose beta style is so perfect I want her to read everything I write ever. And I have others who I will not ask again unless I have no other choice because they just don’t work for me. It’s very individual, much like everything in writing.

But you improve your chances on getting good comments from a beta by asking them to focus on certain things. If you want them to focus on flow, plot, characterization, or, hey, why not, grammar, let them know when you send them your story. They’ll still beta in their individual style, but they’ll try to focus on what you want instead of floundering in the wind.

Anything else I’ve missed, Squiders?

Choosing Beta Readers

(Psst. If you haven’t voted in Tuesday’s poll, please do!)

One of the greatest tools in a writer’s toolbox is the beta reader. I can’t be sure, but I imagine that they’re called beta readers much for the same reason that a game is in beta. Essentially, beta readers read your draft for you and let you know what they think. This can be helpful for identifying plot holes, confusing sections, blatant errors like characters who miraculously changes names, and the occasional misplaced comma.

Beta readers can be more useful than a critique group because, in general, they read and consider a whole work as opposed to a chapter at a time. (Though critique groups are helpful, especially for polishing.)

But beta readers vary in their feedback. Some are craft oriented, some story oriented. Some are more experienced than others. So how do you know who to ask?

I’ve compiled a basic list of possible beta readers. Realize that what you specifically find helpful probably varies from what someone else finds helpful.

1) Other Writers in Your Own Genre
Other writers can be some of the most effective beta readers, because they tend to be more familiar with writing craft and plotting, allowing them to tell you exactly why something isn’t working and offer possible fixes. Other writers in your genre also are familiar with genre tropes and trends, but you may run into issues where their personal preferences for certain tropes color their vision of your story, resulting in suggestions to change the story to what they like.

2) Other Writers in Other Genres
Like writers in your genre, writers in other genre have an understanding of writing craft that helps identify problems and fixes easier. They also can bring in lessons from their genres, helping you craft a better-rounded work. However, people tend to write in the genres they read, and you may find that writers of other genres just aren’t interested in your genre.

3) Readers in Your Genre
Readers in your genre can be helpful because they know and love your genre, and can help you judge whether or not your story appeals to your target audience. They may be able to point out areas that are confusing and voice concerns about arcs and other issues, but they may not be able to articulate what, exactly, isn’t working.

4) Friends and Family
Approach this section last. It’s really hit or miss whether or not they’ll be that helpful. The issue with friends and family is that, sometimes, they’re just so pleased that you’ve written a book, and they love it because they love you, and they may not want to give you criticism because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. That’s not always the case, however. My mother and sister are some are the first people I approach with a new novel because they’re both writers themselves. (When I finished my first novel, I was so pleased, but my mother pursed her lips and gave me an article about characterization.)

The nice thing is that after awhile you’ll learn who is helpful and who isn’t, and why, allowing you to select the best people for your purposes.

Anything to add, Squiders? Any pointers you’ve come across?