What You Should Know About Beta-ing (Part I)

So you’ve completed a manuscript and you’re ready to let someone else look at it – someone besides your mother or your best friend. A person who may (or may not) tell you it sucks, offer suggestions for improvements, and fix your grammatical errors.

If you don’t have a local writer’s group, you may be able to create one from online resources. I’ve found beta readers at both Absolute Write and Writer’s Digest Community.

Now I’ve been lucky with most of my betas, and not so lucky with another. Let me teach you what I learned the hard way:
  1. This manuscript (ms) is your baby. You don’t let just anyone take care of your kids. Be nosy. Ask questions.
  2. A beta should read and be familiar with your genre. A person who only reads fantasy fiction will have a different opinion on how your literary fiction should be written.
  3. Every beta will have a different strength. One may correct your sentence structure, while another will point out plot/character flaws. You may need to find a few to help you perfect your ms (An article I read said that SEVEN was the right number. Two per each draft of your book and one to act as a final copy editor. That seems like a lot, but you’ll have to determine for yourself).
  4. Don’t expect your beta to agree with you…it’s probably better if they don’t.
  5. Don’t send your whole ms on the first day. A beta should audition. Send them the first three chapters. Look over their edits, and then you BOTH can decide if the partnership is going to work for you (Hey, they may hate your story and won’t want to read more than three chapters).
  6. Pretend you’re a private eye. Likely, a beta has posted some of their work somewhere. Research the things they’ve written, the comments they’ve gotten on their work. Where your beta is weak, they’ll likely miss those things in your manuscript.
  7. No matter if you agree with their edits (here’s a great article on dealing with critiques, actually written by one of my betas), you should be grateful for their work. Betas read for free.

Anyone else have tips for making a beta partnership work?

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