Never Talk Back to Your Beta Reader

TIREFIRE

An actual tire fire. Curtesy of Mstyslav Chernov

So, say you’ve asked someone to read over a story you wrote.  What you’re looking for is reader reaction: how much enthusiasm does the average reader have for what you’ve written?  If something doesn’t work for them, they need to tell you so that you can figure out how to fix the problem.

It’s not a beta reader’s job to fix what didn’t work for them.

Read that again. Seriously. A reader is going to bring all of her own experience to your writing and it is going to form her opinion. If you get a bad review, better you know about it sooner than when that draft on the professional market. As you get better at writing, you are also going to be able to discern between actual problems with your story and an unreasonable misreading of your ideas.

And your job is not to fight a reader about their opinion.

And yea, that happens. I critique a few stories a week. Some authors are better than others, so if the author is pretty good I focus my review on their concept and point out things that I don’t think fit, always with the caveat of, “this is just my opinion.” And sometimes I get emails back from the author contesting my opinion.

Don’t. Do. That.

I don’t care if the opinion is rude, or says something insensitive like, “This story is a tire fire. Give up writing and go into middle management.” Beta readers are giving you their time and energy so that you can improve yourself.

The only things you need to say is THANK YOU, and then move on.

Need Beta Readers? Join Critters. Do It.

hemingway_writing_pubDomain

Hemingway, being a boss

I sometimes have panic-attacks about my writing: What if I really just suck and will never make it since I can’t go to fancy workshops like Clarion? I don’t have the time or the money, so am I sunk?  What if I’m just some delusional Millennial that thinks pure gumption will get me published?

Well, maybe those things are true, but what can happen is that previously unknown authors can score agents, or self-publish (with a great marketing plan) and make it. I think that the way to do this is to become a critical reader so that I, in turn, can become a good writer. I’ve written about getting beta readers before, but that can be a haphazard process if you’re just trolling forums and trying to get people to read your stuff via email. I do that for sure, but it’s probably better to submit your work to a secure, private group dedicated to critiquing writers.

Well, that’s what Critters is. I can’t believe it took me this long to join, but it’s been a great experience. I know the common objection to joining groups like this is, “Well, what if I end up just reading bad stuff?” I’ll argue that reading bad work is actually good for a budding writer. Can you articulate why it’s bad? Do you know enough about plot, characterization, POV, theme, setting, and structure to give a good and incisive review of someone else’s work?

That’s something that goes beyond good grammar and usage.

I’ll share a testimony from Matt Dovey here. This was sent out to all Critters members in an email with updates:

Matt Dovey, who sold his (Critter’d) short story, “This is the  Sound of the End of the World” to Flash Fiction Online. {A space opera in 992 words! It should be up in March, which will make it my first publication, just ahead of WotF32. The revisions requested by the editor were both things critters had brought up and I’d decided against, so let this be a lesson: listen to your critters, people!}

Dovey dropped some advice in a forum I was reading about how great Critters was for him as a writer, so I’m grateful he did that. Community, support, and a chance to get so good you get published? Sign up. You know you want to!

How to find Critiques and Beta Readers For Science Fiction

 Illustration of Gernsback's speculative article on what cities will be like in the futureAnne R. Allen has a great pots up called Beware Groupthink: 10 Red Flags to Watch For When Choosing a Critique Group.

Frankly, lots of it gave me the willies. The particular challenge I’m having with critiques is in finding someone who knows how Science Fiction works. I worked with a wonderful mystery author in 2010 who read all of my short stories. She gave me great pointers about plot and structure, but she often told me things like: “I’m trusting you with that electromagnetic radiation thing.  Can that happen? Beats me. I don’t read much Science Fiction.”

So, the challenge is not just in finding a good group of intelligent people who know how writing works, it’s in finding people who aren’t scared off by the expository writing found in most Sci-Fi. I’ll try to illustrate the problem. Let’s say, this is the opening line of a book:

“Sammy woke up to find the tiffrits out of the garden again, and she was very angry.

Sci Fi readers will say, “Oh cool, we’re going to find out what a tiffrit is!” These readers will expect me, the author, to do that without a ridiculous info dump that tells instead of shows through my narrative powers.

Non Sci-Fi readers panic. “What the hell is a tiffrit? Is this author high? Do I just not know what it is and everyone else does?”

I’m finding that this is a common barrier. Orson Scott Card advised that all writers have at least one “wise reader” that is nearby and willing to explain any confusion they feel to the author objectively. This works as long as they don’t try to re-write everything and understand what you are trying to do with your fiction.

So far, I have about three great beta readers that I impose upon: you guys know who you are!

If anyone would like ME to be a beta reader or do a critique swap, email me! I’m ready and willing, and plus, we authors need to help each other out. rebecca DOT Devendra AT gmail.

Excelsior!