To Beta Is To Be Bettah

I admit, I fell off the writing wagon a while back.  Illness, personal life issues, a major move and work stress were all contributing factors.  It wasn’t that I wanted to stop writing, blogging, beta reading for others, editing, tweeting, critiquing, etc…it just happened.  But you can bet your booties, I’m back at it (even if it only took me a few years).

My beta reading buddies are still buddies, but it’s been quite a long time since I’ve shared work with them and vice versa.  Beta reading for me was highly enjoyable – I loved it!  Mind you, not all MS’s I read were, shall we say, publish-worthy, but still fun to read nevertheless.  I’ve critiqued for several authors, some who are published YA authors, award receivers and contest winners.  Does that mean I’m the all-powerful critique partner who possesses publish-worthy advice?  Nope.  What it does mean is I am unbiased, optimistic and truly happy and honoured that others want to share their valuable stories with me.  And I am truly honoured many of the authors I critique for are happy to receive my MS’s to review as well.

Now on to the point of this blog.

Beta reading/critique partnering is a wonderful way to get some valuable insight to your MS.  Someone who isn’t vested in the success or emotion in your life’s work is a great person to give you advice on it.  Most beta readers aren’t professional editors, don’t have the education or fancy letters with dots after their names, they are common folk, just like you.  And just like you, they want to read a good story and will let you know if yours isn’t.  Because I’m in the process of editing my latest MS, I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately on beta reading and critiquing and with all the “professional” services out there, I think having an honest to goodness beta partner is invaluable (and free).  You may have to weed through some so-so partners at first, but once you find the select few you rely on, you’ll be oh so thankful.


Tips for being a beta reading/critique partner:

  1. Be committed.   What?  You thought Jane’s MS was only 8 pages long?  Why does she keep sending me chapters, expecting me to send them back?  So it took me 3 months to respond and all I added was “Keep up the good work!”  Being a critique partner is a commitment.  Be prepared to send a chapter and receive a chapter (or however you set it up).  Spend quality time reviewing your partner’s work and send it back within an acceptable timeframe.
  2. Set guidelines right up front.  Will you swap a chapter at a time?  How long for turn around?  Are we talking grammar/plot/character build/line edits? (God help you if you are)  How do they want your work?  Word attachment, PDF, copy and past into email, paper airplane?
  3. Be fair and objective.  Just because your partner’s genre isn’t your cup o’ tea, you still have to give it your best effort.  This historical romance is soooo not as good as The Hunger Games.  Well duh.  Even if it’s something you wouldn’t write, you have to remove yourself from the genre and writing style – period.  If you only want to beta read a specific genre, state that up front while you’re discussing point number 2.  Don’t be mean, don’t be overtly negative and don’t think for one second you rank among the likes of Stephen King or Margaret Atwood (or their editors for that matter).  Your opinion matters, that’s why they want a beta partner, so don’t lose that opportunity to be a beneficial and trustworthy helper.
  4. It’s nothing personal.  The word is critique – to be criticized, to be critical.  You will get the good, the bad and the ugly.  Hopefully the tasteful ugly.  And don’t give negative criticism back because you’re bitter about their critique.  You’re a grown person after all (well, in someone’s mind you are).
  5. A beta reader is NOT your editor.  Don’t give a partner any unedited work.  Make it your best and you will get their best in return.
  6. If you don’t mesh with your partner, be honest, but be nice.  If you’re not getting what you want out of your partner, explain to them what it is you feel you’re missing.  If you still don’t get what you’re hoping for, be honest to them, but be very thankful and very polite.  They didn’t have to waste their precious time reading your next Twilight.  I really appreciate all the time and effort you’ve given me but I think our writing styles aren’t compatible.  Would you mind if I recommend you to another writer if they are looking for a critique partner and share your great ability?  

Most of all, enjoy the experience!  Root for your partners, share in their successes, their set backs, their trials and tribulations.  It’s a solitary profession, after all.

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