So, you’ve written something and stared at it for hours. You’ve done whatever spit polishing you can with it, but it needs a fresh eye. You need a beta-reader, or a beta. You can even just call them B.A.s if you want to, because they are bad-asses, at least the best ones are.
How do you know you need a beta?
- You’re stuck in a rough spot with a project
- You’re done with a project
- You’ve been submitting your project that you thought was done and getting feedback like, “Needs depth/polish”
Betas aren’t proofreaders (though sometimes they will for you, if you offer cookies). Betas, likewise, aren’t infallible. You might disagree with some of their comments. What betas are, though, is a valuable resource and someone who can give clear feedback on big picture and small picture concerns in your book.
So, how do you find a beta?
I have a few betas and I found them in a few different ways. My most regular beta is someone I met at a local writing group. I also have a friend from college who I will trade work with, and a friend I met on the internet. Betas don’t have to be writers; they just have to be energetic readers!
You’ll often see the term “critique partner” in writing circles. Whereas betas often read finished products, CPs sometimes exchange chapters or short stories in earlier stages of progress. Cathy Yardley has a great post about 40 Places to Find a Critique Partner and Megan Lally will sometimes host an event on Twitter called #CPMatch that makes it easy to find a critique partner! Check her site for specifics.
Regardless of how you find your beta or CP, you’ll want to consider a few specific things when deciding to partner up.
Before you say, I do (want to read your whole novel)
Make sure you’re compatible for genre. Even if you read widely outside of your genre, your partner may not be comfortable critiquing outside of theirs.
Exchange a few messages/conversations about what you expect from a beta-relationship. If you’re CPs, will you exchange chapters weekly? The whole manuscript at once? How long will each person have to give feedback?
Discuss what kinds of notes you find most helpful. Big picture, looking for plot holes, character development issues, etc.
Be honest about how much criticism you can handle. Writing can feel personal, especially a first draft. While I love to have the bandaid ripped off, I critique for someone who prefers a complement sandwich. It’s all about understanding what works.
If you’re entering a CP or beta relationship, exchange a sample chapter. More than once I’ve been glad I took this step before committing to a full read. Sometimes voice or topic doesn’t click; some things in the manuscript might be triggers, or too close to what you’re writing about to feel comfortable beta-ing. Whatever the reason, be honest in your feedback for that initial chapter before shipping your whole book to Ohio.
Be kind to your beta and reciprocate. Like any relationship, the point of a CP/Beta is that it goes BOTH ways. Read and give comments, and follow-up if you’re going to be delayed. Also, again, cookies are always appreciated.
Happy, successful beta-reading!