Why Finding Beta Readers is so Bloody Important
If you guys remember from last week’s post, I entered the Twitter #amwriting community as a lost little chicken, desperately flailing my flightless wings in the murky depths of the writing waters. But that didn’t last for long, because I found my people. My #amwriting tweeps, to be precise.
Some of them I only know via public “chat” in the way of comment threads, but others I consider as close as kin. You see, not too long after I got my little writerly feet wet in the Twitter-verse, I stumbled across some gals with a chat group lovingly called “Romance Chat,” or “RChat” for short. It’s filled with some of the most amazing #amwritingromance ladies this side of any proverbial line you’d like to suggest. They welcomed me with open arms and before I knew it, I felt like one of them. A member of a group. Part of a true #amwriting family.
It was amongst these lovelies that I found my very first beta reader. And let me tell you, as someone who’d never let anyone read her words (other than those boring arse school assignments, which totally don’t count) that had to be one of the most frightening things in the world. Shipping my book baby out to the great unknown to be torn to shreds by a reader I barely knew pretty much sounded like the worst thing since before they thought to pre-slice bread.
Thankfully, the beta reader I landed also happens to be one of the most amazing humans ever known to man, and she’s now my total bestie. She very sweetly read through what I now know to be a painful manuscript, rife with head-hopping, filter words, crutch words, word echoes, third omniscient slips, info dumps, and pretty much zero distinguishing voice either from me as the author, or for either of my main characters. Yikes-a-bee. Does anyone else want to give this girl a hug and a plate full of fresh baked cookies? ‘Cause she totes deserves it.
Not only did she finish that steaming pile of what-the-bloody-H-was-I-thinking, but she also took the time to provide me with some detailed, kind, and patient—oh, the patience that must have taken!—feedback. After that? Ho-boy, did I ever step back and look at my folders and folders of completed and partially-completed manuscripts with a whole new set of eyes. A set of eyes that were suddenly horrendously embarrassed that I’d ever thought I had even the slightest clue what I was doing.
But guess what? My beta goddess didn’t let me fall into a pit of despair, never to arise again. Nope, no way, no how. Not her style. She picked me up by the bootstraps, gave me a couple of well-deserved writerly talking-to’s, and before I knew it, I was diving into an old manuscript—one of my favorites—and re-writing it from the ground up with all my flashy new knowledge.
Did that re-written turd sparkle and shine with a query-ready gleam? Heck to the no. Foul, wretched steam still rose off that bad boy like the freshly excreted pile of dog dung it was. However, some of my more glaringly obvious faux pas had been eliminated thanks to my beta bestie, and I was ready to move onto another set of beta eyes.
Thankfully, I had a whole pot full of brilliant betas to choose from, because my RChat girls don’t just shoot the breeze and procrastinate together, they also provide desperately needed support to one another, including beta reader eyes.
Three of those gals ballsed up and took on the challenge of my infantile writing. But before the first one had even opened the document, I was already having a total and complete writerly meltdown. I’d decided my words were complete crap and no one should ever, ever be subjected to reading them. I begged my ladies to delete their email and found a dark corner to curl into a ball and leak slimy, salty substances from all my face holes.
Enter before mentioned beta bestie. For the second (major) time, she dragged my butt back to the land of the living, talked some sense into my self-hating brain, and held my hand while I sent another message to my RChat girls giving them the green light to plow into my words.
Did that automatically mean all my fear, anxiety, and dread disappeared? Heck to the nope, nope, nope. But she helped me realize that, while opening myself to feedback was frightening, it was the only way I’d better myself as a writer. After the knowledge I gained from just her single beta read, I knew I had a long way to go before anything I wrote would be worthy of wending its way into the public’s hands. And the only way to get where I wanted to be was to put on my big girl panties and open myself to change. (No, I don’t mean laundry day granny panties; I’m talking my sexy, lacy writerly pair that ramps up my confidence and places a temporary bulletproof vest around my heart. Every writer should have a pair.)
After that initial freak out, all future beta reads have gone significantly smoother. With each critique I receive, I not only learn and grow as a writer, but I also thicken the armor that protects my tender, easily bruised little writerly heart. I’ve even withstood several rounds of professional editing now, and let me tell you, I would’ve folded like a deck of wimpy, damp cards had one of those edit letters come my way before my beta babes showed me the ropes and toughened my skin.
You see, the beauty of being a writer—especially one who isn’t closed off to feedback—is that you can grow. You aren’t stuck in your current abilities. In fact, take a minute and think about your favorite author. If you have some of their books readily available, flip through one of their earliest novels, then take a gander at their most recent release. I guarantee you’ll notice a startling difference. That’s because everyone—even the best writer in the world—has room to grow.
So, I challenge those of you who have yet to delve down that frightening beta reader path… reach out and find your first. I doubt s/he/they will be even half as awesome as my beta bestie—and, no, sorry, but she’s mine. I don’t share—but you might just land yourself someone perfect for you.
If so, perhaps you’ll even wind up with a critique partner out of it. Score! (More on the difference between betas and CPs in another post).
I wish you all the very, very best in your forward momentum, and highly encourage you to reach deep into your writerly soul and find the courage necessary to hand off that book baby to the loving eyes of a beta who might just teach you something spectacular.
Until next time,