How to Find Beta Readers

I’ve well-established how I feel about the importance of a writer getting constructive feedback; I think it’s absolutely crucial. An author is simply too close to his work to catch everything, and the process of trying hard to create something perfect and having that work picked apart is the fastest way to improve.

That being said, where you do find critiques?

1. What helped me the most was a critique group. The live interaction and meeting face to face with other authors provides me with input and motivation that no other source can match. Go to meetup.com and search for writer’s groups in your area. If there isn’t one, consider trying to start one. Note that you’ll be required to critique others just as they critique you.
2. Every writing forum I found has some kind of method of displaying your work for critique. These are a great place to get a variety of opinions on chapters or short pieces of work. Don’t be a user, though. If you’re going to get benefit from the community, give back in the form of helping others and generating content for the forum.
3. I offer detailed coaching for short pieces on this blog (see Submissions). Frankly, I’m surprised that more people don’t take me up on it. Flourish Editing also offers to critique small samples for free every Monday. Take advantage of these kinds of offers. (If you know of any other blogs or editors that offer this kind of service, please comment with a link.)
4. There are many online critique groups. I haven’t used any of them, but a simple Google search can start your research.

All the methods above are best for short pieces or portions of your novel, and, even if you use any or all of them, you still need beta readers for the complete finished draft of your novel. Here’s how you find them:

1. Ask friends and family. I know that some say this is a bad idea, but it can work as long as you use this resource as only a part of the feedback you get. That friend or aunt may spot a mistake that you and your other betas missed or come up with a cool insight. You probably need to send your manuscript to four or five people, and supplementing other sources with this one is an easy way to increase the quantity.
2. Writing forums have hundreds of authors in the same position as you. The best way to get a quality beta reader is to become one and do an exchange of services. You read his novel, and he reads yours.
3. Editors are expensive, but there’s no better source for professional input on your work than paying for it. It’s my opinion that you’re best served waiting until you have an advanced draft that has already passed through several layers of revision and beta reading first. You want to maximize your money spent, and, if your uncle can point out your grammar mistakes, the editor won’t have to spend his limited time doing it. (Look for my two part series on editing coming as early as next week after I receive feedback on Abuse of Power.)

Five Areas to Consider before Joining a Writing Critique Group

Today, we’re honored to have Terry W. Ervin II as a guest blogger.  He is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is an editor for the speculative fiction magazine MindFlights and a guest contributor to Fiction Factor, an ezine for writers.

 Gryphonwood Press released FLANK HAWK and BLOOD SWORD, the first two fantasy novels in Terry’s First Civilization’s Legacy Series in 2009 and 2011. Look for the third novel in the series (SOUL FORGE) in early 2013 and the release of GENRE SHOTGUN, his first short story collection, in November 2012. 

Now, on with the post:

One useful activity a writer can engage in to improve his work is participation in a writing critique group.  While active participation in a crit group (whether online or in person) can take a significant amount of time and effort, the payoff can be well worth it—if the author finds the right crit group.

I suggest five areas to consider before stepping forward and joining a crit group.

1.  Motivated Writers

Being around other writers can be infectious. But, if one is going to spend time with a group of writers for support, insight, and advice, the focus should be the discussion of members’ writing projects. The writers in a crit group should have goals, and each member should be actively working to achieve those goals. A goal may be as simple as finishing a novel by a certain date, or achieving the submission of three short stories for publication by the New Year.

An effective crit group isn’t a social club. While friendships may form, the group’s main focus should be on writing. This may include networking, discussions on market trends, and sharing research in addition to reading and critiquing writing submitted by members for evaluation.  Keeping the atmosphere professional and on track will promote what the group was formed for in the first place—to improve writing and achieve goals. A professional, writing-focused, goal-oriented structure also makes it easier to dismiss a member for failing to live up to group expectations.

2.  Minimum Requirements

A crit group should have established minimum participation requirements. Clear guidelines (some would call rules) regarding submissions for member evaluation and guidelines for critiques are essential. Having them reduces misunderstandings and hard feelings. Guidelines should be structured to keep every member an active participant as well restricting one or two writers from dominating the group’s time and effort. The guidelines (or rules) must be enforced, including a mechanism for removing members that fail to meet the established guidelines. A method to alter or amend the guidelines should be included when the group forms. As any longstanding group will have some turnover, a clear procedure for adding new members is important as well.

A writer may argue that lists of rules are unnecessary. They inhibit creativity and the free flow of ideas. They are tools which an unhappy member can use to bludgeon other members over the head.  In reality, well-crafted guidelines will insure a fair, stable, and smooth-running group. If members continually reference a guideline infraction, either it was an ill-conceived rule in need of modification or they have a legitimate point.

3.  At the Same Level

While it may initially appear a blessing for an aspiring writer to be among a group of accomplished pros, the disparity in writing ability can easily become a barrier for success. How much will the aspiring writer be able to constructively contribute?  What weight will the aspiring writer’s input carry? A crit group should be a benefit to all members. Will the pro writers become bored with the aspiring writer’s efforts and frustrated at the time it takes to critique writing far below their current ability? Such disparity can lead to discontent among members, disrupting the effectiveness of the group.

This is not to say that varying levels cannot work. If the less experienced writers submit stimulating and interesting work and are quick learners, and if the more experienced writers are able to garner useful insight from the less experienced members, it can work. These, however, are major ifs.

4.  Good Mixture

Strong crit groups have well-read participants with a range of experiences and opinions. This variety of views and input is invaluable to a writer. Some things like punctuation, clear antecedents, internal consistency, and proper dialogue tags are straight forward. A writer can read his work a dozen times and still overlook these things. Other areas such as pace, plot structure, and characterization are more subjective. It’s up to the writer as to which suggestions and modifications they will implement.

While some writers work in pairs with a single dedicated critique partner, a crit group can be more valuable due to its broader range of experience and input.

5.  Interest Writing

One thing that should not be overlooked by a writer interested in a crit group is that the works of the other writers must be of interest to him. While the writing itself may be solid, there is little worse than having to read and carefully analyze something that totally disinterests the reader. A reader who favors hard science fiction may have trouble working through a classic whodunit mystery or a steamy romance.

Many crit groups are genre focused in an effort to avoid this issue.  They may consist of only fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, or romance writers. A writer who works in multiple genres or writes stories that straddles genres may have some concerns. But, in general, good writing that contains elements of a crit group’s specific genre focus is welcome.

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Membership in a critique group can have lasting benefits beyond the immediate assistance and opportunity for growth and development offered. Just be aware before joining one and don’t hesitate to move on if a group is dysfunctional or is proving to be less than beneficial. Beyond being a drag on motivation, among other aspects of writing, every moment dedicated to crit group participation is one less minute available to focus on a writing project. The time and effort put into the group has to be worth the input and assistance obtained from it.

 To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at: http://www.ervin-author.com/ and his blog, Up Around the Corner, at http://uparoundthecorner.blogspot.com