Insecure Writer's Support Group: How a Beta Can Help

I was always resistant to having a beta reader. The only people who read my first two novels before they were actually for sale were on my publisher's editing team. Even when I used to write fanfiction, I did it all on my own, without a beta to edit (and it shows.)

I'm intensely private with my writing. I didn't tell my family about it until my first book was about a month from release date. (That was an interesting conversation, to say the least: "Hey, Mom, I took up writing... Have you ever heard of fanfiction? ... No?... Well, anyway, a publisher saw some of my stories online, and now I have a book coming out next month. Pass the salt, please.")

With my first two novels, I had one of my editors reading as I went. By the time the third novel rolled around, her job duties had become too much to allow her to read every day and I found myself a little adrift without her constant reassurances that yes, I could actually write a story. (I'd nominate her for sainthood, but I don't think she's Catholic.) She gently nudged me toward getting myself a beta reader.

It took a while for me to accept, as most changes do, but I finally engaged the services of a fellow writer, who's deep in the midst of editing her own manuscript for publication. She made an excellent choice because she's an experienced beta in the fanfiction realm. (There, betas do not only substantive editing, but copy editing as well, though some specialize in particular areas.)

What I discovered is that having a beta reader is an excellent confidence booster, for several reasons.

1)  A good beta reader will tell you, honestly, if the story isn't working. I was stuck in the, "It's crap, isn't it? Tell me: it's crap. I know it." stage. I have confidence that she would turn to me and say, "Well, hon, I think we need to reconsider some aspects..."

As such, you need to find someone who is honest, but diplomatic enough to keep from wounding you any more than necessary. Here is where your fellow authors can be invaluable. They can probably help you find someone who suits your needs from among their contacts, or can refer you to someone who can.
This is how I feel, sometimes.

2) A good beta will cut down on your editing time. My beta isn't tasked with copy editing, but she does find those little mistakes which impact the way the story reads: clumsily-worded sentences, the occasional missing punctuation, and catches those bizarre instances where I type homophones instead of the correct word. (Why did my fingers type, "Get out of my weigh!" Why?)

3) A good beta will tell you what your readers will say. My newest book is a historical romance, but being the big nerd I am, I can veer off into the "historical" part wand wallow in esoteric detail.  She gently, but firmly gets me back on track by reminding me my romance readers are going to want romance. She is also able to point out areas which may need more explanation or clarification.

All in all, having a beta is another of those things I'm glad I talked myself into accepting. I have more confidence in my manuscript, knowing that someone else is watching over it.

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You can see my other posts for the Insecure Writer's Support Group here, and visit the main blogroll here.


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11 comments:

  1. Great advice. I had no idea so many writers felt as I do.....insecure! I think it must be a quality we all must posses to write? Ha ha
    Hugs
    Katt

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    1. It's certainly a very common trait. I think it can be helpful, in a sense. It makes us strive to be better. That doubt makes us question every word, and that can make us better writers if we focus it properly.

      The authors who start to think they're awesome are the authors who have readers who say, "What happened? Her early books were so good!"

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    2. Like Stephen King...

      Yeah, I certainly have the low self esteem down. I remember, back when I was a teenager living with my parents, I used to cover up my screen/notebook whenever anyone walked by me. I was terrified of anyone reading my work. I still am, to an extent (especially after rereading a serialized novel I'd had up years ago and shuddering at how terrible it was...). I'm getting better and it helps when people read my writing and rave over it. Makes me feel all warm and tingly.

      On a side note, you only have one beta? I think I have a half a dozen lined up for when I finish proofreading. I figure, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and one beta will pick up things another will not. It's like Next Gen Sequencing. If you did enough to cover the genome once, you'd have giant holes (sorry for the science reference...). Now, if I could only finish proofreading...

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    3. Yep, just one. That's all I could bring myself to do so far. However, I have an editing team that goes over the manuscript after I submit it.

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  2. An excellent post and helpful for the future for me. Thank you, and I love this group....so many helpful people for so many of the insecurities we experience. sandysanderellasmusings

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  3. I'm glad you found it helpful. That's one of the things I hoped to do with this blog: encourage other writers.

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  4. I wouldn't trade my beta readers for anything. I have many for each part of the process and this has really made all the difference for me in indie publishing. I have the team that traditionally published authors have, but mine work for free (and are awesome and completely committed to my stories being a success). Glad you found someone to help with your writing. :)

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    1. That's awesome dedication from your team. You're very fortunate to have a group of people so passionate about your work.

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  5. Some nice advice here. Definitely something to consider when I get to that point in my WIP. I must admit that I know very little about beta readers, specifically how you find a good one for Christian speculative fiction and what the costs are if any. Any input? I can also check Absolute Write and see what they say.

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    1. I would start by getting to know some of your fellow authors in the genre. After they get to know your personality & writing style, they may know someone who'd be just perfect for you.

      As to whether the beta will want to be compensated or not, I cannot say. It all depends on the person, I suppose.I haven't seen a payment scale for betas as you see sometimes for editors.

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  6. I have two test readers and three critique partners, and they are all awesome! Don't know what I'd do without them.

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