Earlier this week we were discussing ways to get help with your writing with minimal financial investment. (That is, without hiring a writing coach or professional editor.) Low-cost options for getting help with your writing include:
• Participate in a writers’ group.
• Connect with a critique group and/or partner.
• Look for a mentor.
• Cultivate beta readers.
In the last post we talked about the first three. Now let’s talk about beta readers.
Once your manuscript has been critiqued by other writers and is as finished as you can make it, you are ready for beta readers. Maybe three to five of them. These should be readers, incidentally, who are not related to or in an emotional relationship with you. Honest. Your mother, your spouse, your best friend—not good beta readers for you. Trust me.
A beta reader is someone who reads a lot and is willing to read your story and offer feedback. This won’t necessarily be professional-grade feedback, but that’s OK. You want gut feelings, initial reactions; you want to know what doesn’t make sense. Sometimes a beta reader will be someone with particular knowledge about your novel’s milieu. A friend of mine who writes Amish fiction, for example, has Amish beta readers, just to be sure she hasn’t written anything inaccurate about the community or its theology.
You should offer an honorarium to a beta reader (say, fifty dollars—or you can offer to be a beta reader when his novel is done), and if you’re wise, you’ll have some specific questions for him or her. You may have some particular plot point that’s bothering you, but don’t draw attention to it in your questionnaire. (One of my authors directed me to this blog post, which, although longish, makes some excellent points about what you should hope to get from your beta readers.)
Choose people who are 1) in your reader demographic, and/or 2) who have, perhaps, some knowledge for which you want their imprimatur, and/or at the very least 3) who are experienced, sophisticated readers.
Definitely seek out a writer’s group and/or critique partners; every author I’ve edited has been involved with a group of some sort, and I think it’s an important part of writing, this interaction with others. Your group can give you lots of editorial advice—and it’s free, aside from the investment of time. Note that while in-person fellowship is nice, your group could just as easily be an e-mail group.
“But,” you ask, “how do I find a group?” It shouldn’t be too hard. Many communities have amateur writers’ groups. You might find something more intense through MeetUp, the local library or bookstore, or college English department. Ask around in your book group. Your librarian is an ideal person to ask about beta readers; ask your writer friends too. And don’t overlook a professional organization you may already belong to—like SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), the Authors Guild, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), and on and on, both regional and national.
There’s strength—and wisdom—in numbers, kids. Find a group and get started.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”