Authors and Beta Readers

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Sorry writers.

My PA, Mariah Wilson, recently posed something interesting about authors and beta readers. Here is her exact quote:

Authors also have to protect themselves. Beta reading for just anyone isn’t a good idea once you get published…why? Because if you publish something that even remotely resembles a shred of an idea that was in a book you beta read 10 years ago…that person can try to sue you. Best to B-read for peeps you know. That’s why authors like Koontz and King won’t read ANYTHING you send them, unless it’s published. It’s for their own protection.

Plus it IS time consuming and it’s not like I would not have returned the favor…but I cant’ drive 2 hours to go to a lousy writers group. (I used to be part of a writer’s group, until, for some reason, we were expected to pay? But I never attended the writer’s critique circle. Too time consuming to read for others. Too many expectations in a writer’s group.)

I’ve been wanting to seek out a few beta readers for a contemporary fantasy I am working on, but when Mariah sent this to me during a Facebook conversation we were having, I immediately realized this was a bad idea. Mariah has been my only beta reader. She’s fantastic, but it also doesn’t hurt to receive another perspective. Now I am going to bring on a second beta reader because she is a part of my lit magazine and loved When Stars Die. Not only that, but she has actual editorial experience to boot, but I’m not expecting her to fully edit it. I don’t want her to. A beta reader’s job is not to do that.

I originally wanted to hire an affordable editor for this contemporary fantasy. Before Mariah, I had nothing but bad experiences with beta readers. I would look at their novels and provide actual editorial feedback in exchange for their reading mine, but they never finished, or suddenly found themselves too busy. This was frustrating for me. I gave them valuable feedback, and I never got anything in return.

If you have been following my blog since it’s inception, you’ll also know I stumbled across Georgia McBride, who basically showed me that past feedback I had been receiving for The Stars Are Infinite actually wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Even though I had completely changed the book from its original draft, she told me it wasn’t ready for beta readers. But that in itself is frustrating. It basically says that writers need to retreat to freelance editors first before finding beta readers. So I concluded that the beta readers I had weren’t that experienced in the first place. But they still provided actual feedback. They were honest, but apparently it’s not the feedback that my book needed.

How are you supposed to know that though?

This is when I lost my trust in beta readers. Georgia McBride taught me a lot about structural editing. Because of her, I had been going to affordable freelance editors for my books. All I had to do was pay them, and it was a guarantee they’d get back to me. Plus, I wasn’t expected to return anything other than money.

Even so, that’s not ideal, especially because I’m not seeking to self-publish my work. I just wanted a guarantee that my book would receive feedback in an appropriate amount of time, with no expectations of returning a beta read.

I posed a question on my Facebook page. How many beta readers do writers normally have? Here are some of their responses:

Elizabeth Guizzetti: Other Systems had 2, The Light Side of the Moon had 1 before it went to the publishers. The Martlet so far has had 3, plus a few people who helped me with specific scenes. So 5?  I guess the answer to your question is as many as I need.

Ryan Attard: Personally it’s between none, one or maximum 2. Including the people at the publishing house. But that may say more about my paranoia than it does about writing
Mariah Wilson (she had more to say): That’s precisely the reason I don’t beta for many people. Time. I hate promising something, then never going through with it. I only take on projects that I’m confident I can return in a timely fashion. Why? Because it’s infuriating to send a book to betas and never hear from them again.

And now that I’ve been a beta reader for awhile, and a writer for awhile, I think that the best beta readers are ones who you have established a relationship with. I think that there should be some form of trust. Trust not only that you will do what you say you will, WHEN You say you will, but trust that you will put forth your best effort and your unabridged honesty. If you offer anything less, you are useless as a beta reader. If I want someone to candy coat it and tell me how awesome I am, that’s what I have family and close (non writer) friends for.

As for me, I’m sticking with Mariah and this other beta reader. I don’t think I’m going to retreat to freelance editors, unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary. I’m not bringing on anyone else, though, and I won’t beta read, unless it’s authors tied to my publisher(s), and their books fit my particular tastes–and Mariah and the other one. Especially Mariah. She’ll actually receive full, free editorial services from me whenever she thinks her first novel is ready for it. Otherwise, I’m going to charge people who want me to look at their books.
Writers, how many beta readers do you use?
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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

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