Beta Readers

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How to find and appreciate people who give free feedback.

Who Are Beta Readers?

A beta reader can be a writer or an avid reader and can be anyone from your mom to a stranger on the internet.

What Does a Beta Reader Do?

A beta reader's purpose is to point out general flaws in your work. Real life family and friends don't always make good beta readers because they care about your feelings and the point of a beta is to give you bad news. A good one will give you the good news, too, but any beta reader willing to point out errors is going to help you improve.

You want to make sure you're explicit about what you want from a beta, particularly if you cannot handle harsh criticism, if it's your first time being beta read, or if you want them to go ahead and make you cry. You can also ask them to focus on only one aspect, such as grammar or plot or dialogue.

Get more than one beta reader to look at your story. Betas have opinions, and opinions are not always right, so you want more than one person providing feedback. If five people have the same opinion, that has more weight.

Where Are the Beta Readers?

I enjoy trading stories with other writers -- not only do you get a writer's point of view, but you're not the only one putting yourself out there. Also, a writer's own work doesn't have to be flawless for their feedback to be amazing, so keep that in mind.

If you really want to get feedback from your mom, scifi author David Brin allegedly gives his manuscript to friends and asks them to make a mark on it every time they get up to do something else, including biological functions. This way, they don't have to be super-betas for him to recognize when the story slows down enough to release the reader.

If you're still in school, talk to a teacher about looking over a few pages of your work, but don't get discouraged if they don't have time right then. Teachers are pretty busy.

Look for beta groups and writing groups online. I've connected with betas on fandom sites just by starting conversations with people whose interests are similar to mine.

How Do I Protect My Work From Theft?

Break your work up into parts and give different parts to different betas.

What If My Beta Reader is Mean or Unhelpful?

Thank them for their feedback and move on.

Asking for free opinions on your work means that some of those opinions are going to suck. But we, as writers, need feedback to improve. If we ask for someone to give us their opinion, we can't be picky about what we get back.

The only exception is if they're genuinely hateful or offensive. ("You suck and should die and/or never write again.") If you're both part of a group, you can forward their comments to the moderator for review. There are lines that any decent person shouldn't cross.

But you still have to move on. (After crying. I mean, you're not a robot, you get to have feelings.) You can't let one crappy opinion ruin your life.

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