Friday, May 23, 2014

Finished a Draft; What Now?

A.K.A.: Beta Readers

I can almost guarantee you that you will never find a writer who published a book without a BETA reader. Most have more than one, as well.

Because here's the thing: you finish one draft of your book. Odds are, you're going to go through another, and another. Maybe figure three or four drafts, with nobody's eyes on it but your own. (Note: I'm just generalizing. Some people give their draft away the moment they finish, or they want to do ten drafts before somebody else reads; that's okay. It all depends what you, the writer, are most comfortable with).

After a time, though, it's as perfect as you can personally make it. You've read and edited your manuscript so many times that you can't find anything wrong.

That's where Beta's come in. They're a fresh pair of eyes. They're not just getting snippets, you're not just bouncing ideas off them. Instead, this is when they get to completely read your book from start to finish and get the full effect, as if they're reading an actual published book. Then they come back to you with (hopefully) a report of some sort: what did they like, what did they not like, what jarred them, what needed more, what needed less, etc.

This kind of feedback is priceless. It'll help you, as the author, look at your manuscript with new eyes, which will allow you to make changes to plot, characters, setting, etc that will ultimately make your novel stronger.

Beta readers are essentially the greatest things in the world.

So how do you find one? Well that's where things get interesting because you can find them basically anywhere. I lucked out. Four years ago (god, that was a long time ago) I joined the writing community, Inkpop, hosted by HarperCollins. Not only was I able to really grow as a writer, but I met the people who are currently some of my best friends, even though the site's been shut down for about three(two?) years now. These are my writing group, and a few of them I've grown to trust with anything, so they're who I bounce ideas off of, ask for opinions and, eventually, send my completed manuscripts to.

I guess that means that writing communities are one way. You can also use social media like Twitter and Facebook to send out a call and ask for people, or you can use your friends or family. Maybe a teacher or a professor?

Here's the catch, though: you need beta readers that are going to be completely and brutally honest.

This is a two-way street. On the reader's side, they need to be critical and pay attention, not just read for enjoyment (although they can do both at the same time). They need to take notes, and tell you everything that they liked and didn't like, etc (see the list I gave way up at the top of this thing). This means that parents probably aren't a good idea, since they have a tendency of, "Oh, it's lovely, sweetie." You could possibly choose a brother or sister, since (in my experience) they aren't as afraid of hurting your feelings. Same kind of thing goes for friends: make sure they're not only interested in taking this seriously, but that they'll give you honest feedback instead of trying to be supportive.

Because, above all, whoever beta's your book should be supportive. If they're trying to pull you down then they're kind of useless. But you need somebody who is supportive and wants to see you improve.

On your side, you need to be able to take criticism. The literary world is harsh. Rejections abound, and you need to be ready for them. You also need to be able to take what notes your beta's give you with a grain of salt. Distance yourself from your own manuscript and hear your beta's out. Try to see it from their point of view. They aren't attacking you; they want to see you succeed and should be giving you an abundance of areas in which you could clarify, reword, etc your manuscript. Don't be afraid to ask questions, either.

And guess what? After you get replies from your betas, you get to begin editing again. And so the writing world turns.


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