Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who Are Your Beta Readers?

After Monday's post on the evils ways of impatience, Margaret Yang initiated a discussion in the comments section about the handiness of beta readers -- those people who read your rough drafts, give you suggestions, and hopefully provide you with a dash of honesty mixed with a spoon-full of encouragement.

So. Who reads your work before you send it out? Whom do you trust? And perhaps most importantly, how to you know when and when not to take their advice?






128 comments:

Amber said...

I have a crit group locally I belong to. We exchange chapters, then when ready, there are a few who will sit and read the whole MS through.

I also have a great friend who devours books, so I like her take on it as strictly a reader.

There are some comments I get that make me feel like slapping myself upside the head ~ how in the world did I miss that?!

Otherwise, it's one of those things - If I was already considering something, and they bring it up, I make the change.

If it makes sense, I think about it, debate it, sometimes make the change, sometimes not. It all depends.

Elyssa Papa said...

My beta readers are my CPs. They usually do a line by line, catching grammatical mistakes that slip my eyes and offer feedback on lines/scenes that need more development, etc.

As to how do I know when not to listen to them... I go with my gut. If something seems off with what they suggest---and I know they mean well---I don't take it. There are certain things I won't change, no matter what since I know they do work in the story. But if A, B, and C point it out, I'm taking a second look and seeing how I can make the line work or cut it altogether.

Conduit said...

I've been incredibly fortunate in having a few very kind beta readers whose opinions I respect and trust. Best of all, they critique in very different ways. One (who is also an editor for a short story zine) mostly focuses on word choice, sentence structure, grammar, all the fine detail. Another seems to follow the ins and outs of plot logic, and A connects to B connects to C. And yet another looks at character and motivation, and what's inside people's heads. I couldn't ask for better, and I owe them more than they can imagine.

The ability to take critique is, to me, a fundamental skill for anyone that wants to write. It's right up there with being able to string more than two words together in a coherent form, and knowing where to put a full stop. It's vital, in other words.

Lady Glamis said...

I have friends and family read for me, some college lit. friends, and also strangers who don't know me at all (hence they're not inclined so sugar-coat their criticism).

This wide group of readers gives me a varied critical view of my work - from every age group and category. Their advice (sometimes silly, sometimes incredible, and sometimes hard to take - but that's the best kind) has been invaluable.

How do I know what advice to take? I look at what they say, write it down, discuss it with others, think about it, and decide. Pretty simple. You should never feel like you have to please everybody!

However, if a high percentage of my beta readers all make the same suggestion without talking to each other, chances are I'll make that change without question.

Anonymous said...

Literally anybody I know (or even sort of know) who is willing to plow through an unpublished manuscript.

The trickier question is which criticisms to accept and act on. For that, I try to rely on the lunar cycle, my gut and the preponderance of evidence.

LurkerMonkey

Lady Glamis said...

Oh, if you're wondering about the "strangers who don't know me at all" mentioned above -

I trust them because they are readers who know my trusted readers. I always make sure that anybody who reads my rough drafts can be trusted with my manuscript and ideas.

It would be scary if somebody stole my writing. Anybody ever have that happen to them?

bryan russell said...

Actually, I've written an article on this subject, as it happens. It's about the nature of criticism, and the writer's stance in regards to it, namely that the most important part of a critique is not the critique itself, but rather what you do with it. Hopefully, anyone interested can find the article here:

http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Vision44/ConfidenceofVision.htm

As for my beta readers, I have two separate avenues. One is family: my mother, who reads and enjoys; my sister and her boyfriend, who read and crit (and, you know, enjoy too); and my wife, who reads and crits (and occasionally is struck with enjoyment as well). My wife is the only one of these who is a writer, so I get some good crits simply from a reader's perspective. These crits don't tend to be super in-depth, but I do get some very useful bits here (it helps that I've convinced them I'm not too thin-skinned and won't bite their ankles in spite).

The second avenue I have for readers is through an online critique group. For novels, I'm in a little Novel Club, a private critique group of a dozen fellow writers (of various shapes and sizes, Lit-wise). We take turns putting novels up for critique, one at a time (about a two month period), and I've found this very effective so far. It lacks the immediacy of a live group, but it also avoids the distractions and dramas and we seem to maintain a nicely professional focus. For short work, I generally just use a more open critique forum (at Forward Motion for Writers - a great place for writers of all sorts. If you haven't checked it out before, it might be something worthwhile to take a peek at).

It's a pretty manageable format, really, and seems a good way to go. At least until you can harass a literary agent into offering feedback. That's good too.

My best to everyone.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I just did a talk on critique at a writer's conference this weekend, so obviously I think it's essential. I have a couple of online betas and a local group. They're all brilliant and focus on different things. I could never choose advice from just one.

I offered a 30 page crit as my session prize and five differnet people came up to me and said I had the best prize of the entire conference. : )

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I use a mix of readers and writers. And who do I trust? Whoever gives the criticism that sparks ideas and lays out a clear path to make things better.

Meg Wiviott said...

I've been a stalker on this site for about a month...but this is a topic on which I can contribute something.

I have been in a critique group for more than ten years. We all write for children, but in a variety of genres - picture book, YA, middle grade, chapter books, poetry, etc. We take turns submitting work. We can be brutal, but kind. And ALWAYS supportive.

i don't know what I would do without my critique group. I have learned what to take from each of them. Some are really good with line edits, others with plot or character.

Like elyssa papa, I use my gut when it comes to listening to them. If I "get" what they are saying and agree with it, then I make changes. If they ALL say the same thing, I know I have to listen even if I don't "get" it.

Michelle Moran said...

My husband. He's a tough critic!

Anonymous said...

In the book Tolkien and Lewis: A Friendship, Tolkien wanted Lewis to ditch the scene when St. Nick shows up in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Lewis chose to keep it. Every year I tell my fourth grade class about this decision, and they all side with Lewis. So, sometimes it's good to go with your gut, even if your partner is Tolkien:)

The Joiners said...

Definitely my husband. He has a good eye and an intolerance for ambiguous word choice/sentences. Whenever he starts to edit it, I resist at first, but always wind up liking the end product better - it's cleaner and more concise.

Heather B. Moore said...

I have a critique group, but I'm usually finished writing the book before I can drag each chapter through them. So there are 2 of them who I usually trade manuscripts with. I also have a varied arsenal of readers, depending on the genre, that I'll send the ms to. I always use 4-5 readers before submitting.

shariwrites said...

I have betas of two kinds. First, I have those who I have read just to gague whether they like the story or not. These are usually friends and family and not necessarily very critical. If there are story points they don't like or that don't flow or make sense then I make sure to address those.

The second group of betas I have are other writers. I have met all of them online. Honestly, some are better than others. Sometimes all I get is "I loved it, you're for sure going to get an agent." But I have a few who are very critical, and it's great.

As to when I change things based on criticism: When two or three say the same thing, then I really do consider it, and usually end up changing things. However, when only one mentions something and the others don't, then I really have to decide whether I personally like it better my way, or not. I really look into why they might have made the suggestion and whether it would make the story better. There have definitely been things I've changed only becasue one beta reader suggested it.

ML said...

Anyone have feedback on paid readers? I'm thinking about using the Litary Consultancy (UK)for feedback on my novel but it's pricy (£1.50 per page!).

Terra Chandler said...

I'm a bookseller, so I have tons of friends who love to read. I can usually get one or two to take time give me a good critique. (They know me well enough to critique me honestly.) And yes....my mum. She is honestly one of my best critics. She is great at letting me know if something "just doesn't sound right." She is also a punctuation nut. :)

wonderer said...

For me, there's a couple of different stages.

I do a lot of idea-bouncing with my boyfriend (also a writer) when I'm struggling with the big stuff.

I'm part of a local critique group whose members each have different strengths. We've been going chapter-by-chapter through several people's novels. My two WIPs still aren't ready for that (argh), but they'll definitely go through this group when the time is right.

At a different stage, I'll tap the people in my online writing community (who are also the people who keep me writing when the urge to stop is strong). No point in giving it to all my potential beta readers in the same stage.

Finally, I'll give the polished (I hope) draft to some non-writers for their feedback.

At least, that's the plan... *trudge, trudge, trudge*

Anonymous said...

I have 2 sets. The first just readers, people who like to read. They let me know if I have failed, but have trouble pointing me to where.

Then I have beta readers from an online critique group. These are the best, as writers they can let me know when I have strayed, POV and such, and also as they don't know me personally they can be brutally honest. I take their advice, by gut only, and when I know its real.

I had a beta reader tell me after my fourth chapter, that my MC shouldn't be so rough, and shouldn't say "ain't". Fine. I wasn't worried, becuase, 1)the reader was supposed to feel that way at this point, the secondary character was the reason to read, 2)my hero he is rough, cold, and unforgiven, until...chapter 5, the chapter I wrote to soften my hero. The beta reader loved it. Said he cried, and would cheer for the hero until the end.

The funny thing is, with 2 of my trusted readers, each one has a different reason for reading, which makes me think I pulled the story off. One likes the hero being rough and hacking his way through the world. The other loves the emotional baggage and inner struggles that the hero faces and relationship with the secondary character.

Anonymous said...

After waiting probably much too long to put ideas formally on paper (creative writing wise, anyway), I am relying thus far on friends and former colleagues with writing backgrounds...
In my case, this is typically a small group of journalists/former journalists and a few published authors.

My biggest hurdle: Figuring out how to find an agent/get published. I tend to view the process with the same scrutiny I have for those "Earn $80,000 now. Postal Service/Federal Govt. now hiring" ads...

-Tony

nomadshan said...

Depends on the work. I have a few online betas who have helped. My most recent book is YA, so I had several teens read it - great feedback. A grammar-freak friend catches mechanical errors. My husband reads everything -- he keeps me honest -- no pat transitions allowed.

Janet said...

My betas are a mixed bag, although pretty much all of them write or have written. One of my sons (the official cheese detector), a NaNo friend, a couple of friends from Absolute Write, a blogging friend, and someone with relevant expertise, whom I also met at AW. My crit group gets it one chapter at a time, but I can't wait the time it would take for them to get all the way through it.

I'm sending it out in 50 page installments, so as not to overwhelm them, and to make it easier to make changes that might affect the plot.

I respect all of them, so anything they say is considered. If a criticism corresponds to something I was already uneasy about, then I act immediately. If two or three of them are on the same wavelength, I act. But most of the time, they have very different reactions. So I stop and ask myself if changing things to meet their objections would make the work stronger. When they tug in opposite directions, then I realize it's entirely my personal choice. In that case, I try to think of how the majority of readers would be likely to see it.

And if the proposed changes would take me in directions I don't want to go, I ignore them.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I'm Beta Poor

It relates to the patience thing - I'm just now getting a copy of my finished novel printed and bound at Kinko's.

Yeah!

But, it's like my dad would say when we were little, and he'd just come home from work, trying to have a conversation with my mother, and we'd all be bouncing off the walls: Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

He'd say, more to himself than us, because we were bouncing off the walls! "Could I have 5 minutes to sit on my ass."

Uncouth father, what can I say.

But, you know, can I at least have 5 minutes to appreciate the completion of my first novel, and to think of my grandmothers who were frustrated in their educational AND artistic desires - can I have a few moments to savor EX-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick officially out of office - on the same day I pick up a copy of my novel at Kinko's?

I was talking to my friend the other day, about her detective novel - and it turns out we both have the '67 riot in our books. She said: "You have that in your novel?" And I said: "Wow, I didn't know you were including that." And she talks about 12th Street and Claremont, and I talk about Jefferson near Belle Isle.

Besides, Slacker Uprising is coming to Ann Arbor tomorrow! Can I have one day, one DAY...just to be a slacker? And then get on the finished-novel-beta-reader treadmill. Besides all the other treadmills awaiting me.

Exchange:

"I've got more electronic gizmos than you – iphone, blackberry, plasma screen..."

"Yeah, well I'm on more treadmills than you'll ever be on!"

The Wallace suicide still stings – this kind of thing always activates feelings about other suicides that have touched your life – you've got to beat those feelings off with a stick.

Marilyn Peake said...

My husband who's an avid reader, and sometimes other family members who like to read. I also send my published work to reviewers because I value their opinions as important feedback.

Polenth said...

My boyfriend is my beta reader (and I'm his). I can measure his advice against his personal preferences, which helps me filter the advice.

I usually take advice about something being confusing or hard to visualise. Other advice is a case by case thing. Whatever I decide, I don't like to rush into it. I leave the story and critique on one side for a bit. When I come back, I'm in a better position to decide what needs changing.

AJ said...

I belong to a local writers group with members from varying ages and backgrounds, and since the majority don't read (much less write)in my chosen genre (urban fantasy) I rely on them for grammatical and characterization problems.

I also belong to a small online critique group of writers in my genre who look mainly at big picture issues (plot holes, consistency, etc.). And I have two CPs that I use for final polishing.

As far as what I listen to, if more than one tells me the same thing, I'll at least take a look at it. Often these kind of observations result in those smack-yourself-in-the-forehead moments of "why didn't I see that?" But at the same time, I find critters, particularly fellow writers, can unconsciously try to rewrite your story as they would do it. They don't mean to, it's just something that writers do. In those cases, I thank them for their input, and while I may tweak something here or there, I generally ignore the advice.

I've had instances in the past where I've allowed too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, and edited the life out of something. Every writer has those little things they do that make their work their own [their voice] and they should never allow others to edit that out of their work. I think good editors know this, but often other writers (particularly inexperienced ones) tend to overlook that in the name of being "correct."

Caleb Mannan said...

My wife is is my front line critic and 'editor'( she is never too kind, but always encouraging). Then my brothers, mother in law, strangers, ect. Though I do feel critique groups are valuable, there is a danger of writing for your audience. I've found the best formula is to just get MY vision down on paper( with maybe one or two people as sounding boards), then let others take it to the mats. Some friends, family, and strangers do nicely.
The best rule for me: when there is a reoccurring theme in the criticism, make a change. If everyone believes a character is weak, it probably means the character is weak.

David Mosley said...

My best friend, who is quite honest, is one of my readers. He checks for some grammar but mostly flow and continuity. Then another close friend of mine reads the work for content and mostly grammar. I take their advice when it's grammatical in nature, as in I made a mistake. However, when it comes to content, I know where the story is headed and they don't so when they make a critique of an unwell explained item, I know not to take it if I plant to explain it later.

Vancouver Dame said...

My husband is my Ideal/first Reader especially for the scientific details (he reads physics books), and for the male POV. I have a few online fellow writers, and friends who will give me a readers' evaluation. I also keep in touch with a couple of published authors, via their websites, who will answer some of my writing questions. I find formal critique groups seem to take up a lot of time and usually produce diverse opinions. I listen to them all and evaluate their suggestions, but I go with my gut instinct nearly every time.

lotusloq said...

As I said with Monday's post my beta readers are mostly my nieces. I go with who I've got. I have a plethora of them and they are very educated and lit. savvy. 13 of the 19 nieces are between the ages of 19 and 27 and the interested ones in that group are the ones who read for me.

My mother-in-law has read for me too. I know call me crazy! She was very helpful though. My daughters read too. My 14 year old is the best at fixing grammar and punctuation. Go figure! She's very anal about it.

Right now my WIP has a few British characters and my daughter's best friend's mom is British. She is reading through my ms. to make sure the conversations of the Brits in my story flow and don't sound American trying to be British.

With her I take what she says. With the nieces and my daughters I go with my gut. If I agree, I change it. If I don't I still consider strongly what they say, or if a lot of them say the same thing. I really look at that like elyssa papa said.

Cat said...

I have a few select friends and occasionally a critique member read my rough draft. I often find that their comments are the things that were bothering me as well and their criticism gives me the impetus to make the changes.

150 said...

lotuslog: We call those "Britpickers." :)

Erik said...

I usually stand on a street corner looking disheveled, saying, "Read my book, read my boook! Please!" Then I get my first good night's sleep in about 3 months and ask some friends.

Seriously, I only trust people I know well. They have to be the kind of friends who have no problem telling my my fly is down, there's a stain on my shirt, or my characterizations are weak.

After that? I throw it to the world. More or less standing on a street corner again. Do yer worst, world, I dares ya!

Just_Me said...

My gang at critiquecircle.com

I met people there and now have a solid group of beta readers who have supported me from my first novel, through subsequent new ones, revisions, drafts, bad days, and getting query letters together. They keep me on task. They encourage me to keep writing. They've convinced me to submit. And I know they'll hold my hand through inevitable rejection letters when my faith in my own abilities waver.

Anonymous said...

no one.

Vieva said...

I have both a friend of mine who's a strict reader/cheerleader - he loves what I write and really encourages me to keep on going with it. (he needs his fiction!).

Then I have a critique group, and some other friends that crit, to actually go over the fiction for suggestions. I don't start there, though - I need the confidence boost to keep going first! People who actually critique don't get it until the first draft is finished.

Sophie said...

In the last few weeks I have given my sister the first draft of my novel. She writes herself, is an avid reader and is doing a very thorough job.
If we don't fall out over this project, she might have the job as my firstline Beta reader long term. She lovingly tells me she enjoys doing it, drastically reducing my guilt.
I'm trying to work out a strategy to select Beta readers for my next drafts. I'm very fortunate; I belong to a small writing group and a book group. I also have friends who have no aspirations to write themselves and yet have listened to me going on about writing at length, so I'm assuming they'll want to read a near-final version.

Madison said...

I am a Beta reader and have just given part of my mss. to someone to critique, but I'm trusting my best friend with my full. I'm the type of person that, if you like it, tell me, if you hate it, tell me. Don't hold anything back. I want to learn as much as I can and make my work as polished as it can be. This is one reason why I've been working on it for over 2 years and have never queried it off.

Laura D said...

I must really be old school. I wouldn't dare disrupt the creative process with such a thing as beta writers unless I was truly collaborating with someone. I still and always have been my best resource. I guess the only thing I trust is my instinct.

Amy Nathan said...

I have two categories of beta readers - and only 4 or 5 total. There are the writers and then there are the readers. The writers read and look at things like Show Don't Tell and character arc. They tell you where you need more conflict - and where they'd like to see more dialog. The readers read like they've picked it up off their nightstand, asking about things that don't resonate or that they don't understand. They want to know what happens next and remembered what happened before. It's great if you can get a combo of these in one Beta Reader -- but not always easy!!

Kalynne Pudner said...

I'm just taking in all these suggestions, with nothing to add -- except this: I would only choose one who knew to say, "WHOM do you trust?"

Loren Eaton said...

My wife, my aunt and a couple friends. I start making changes when they all notice the same issues independently.

Travis Erwin said...

I have a crit group of fellow writers and two avid readers vet my stuff, but ultimately I go with my gut.

Scott said...

Like many others here, I'm in a crit group. I also have a former crit group that dissolved a few years back, but I'll sometimes share chapters with some of the people from that group.

I've shared my manuscript with trusted teachers of the age groups the stories were meant for.

For one book that was set largely in a place I've never been, I shared key sections (and occasionally the whole thing) with a photographer I found online who has worked extensively in the area (for questions of scenery, light, etc.), somebody from a relevant department of the national museum of that country, an author of a book about a particular subject that was important in two chapters, and a top student recommended to me by a college prof who is much published and well respected in an area that was important to the story but who didn't have time to do it himself.

LitWitch said...

Two regular crit groups, various single crit partners, three friends who love genre and some genre-loving teens (target age group).

Add in an agent and an editor and I know it's gone through the mill!

What I listen to is when the same stuff keeps coming up again and again, what I ignore are the things that come up once, if at all. Then that's my own insecurities talking and I tell myself to "Shush!"

Angie said...

I don't use beta readers, and never have.

When I started posting my fiction on the internet, the term "beta reader" hadn't been invented yet. Quite a few writers had friends who read their stories for them before submission, but it was nowhere near the overwhelming standard it is today.

I've been in a couple of good online writing workshops, but nothing really significant in the last fifteen years or so. To me, workshops are a separate thing; even when I was workshopping, I didn't put everything through the process. The point (for me, anyway) was to improve my specific writing skills and help others improve theirs, not to polish each individual manuscript. And actually, I learned a lot more critiquing others than I did from critiques I got on my own stories. :) I beta for other writers occasionally, but don't feel a burning need to have anyone do it for me.

I've read hundreds of free-on-the-internet stories and most of them have a "Betaed by:" line in the header. Many times I've seen the writer give gushing thanks to their beta, or their two or even three betas, then read the actual story and found it riddled with basic mechanical errors. Needless to say, I'm not convinced that absolutely every writer has to have a beta, or that getting one will necessarily improve the quality of one's fiction.

In my case, I'm working without a net and I know it. The buck starts and stops with me, and it makes me absolutely paranoid about my work. I've become very good at going over my own work from a mechanics standpoint, and if I'm having major plot or character or other big-picture problems, I have a couple of friends I'll bang those around with in e-mail.

I'm sure there are many fantastic betas out there, who are smart and skillful and a huge boon to any writer lucky enough to work with them. But I know for a fact that there are many absolutely sucktastic betas out there too. I don't feel like sorting through the bin to find someone who's 1) good enough that it'd be worth it to work with them, and 2) not already up to their eyebrows in beta work -- especially since I've never had either a reader or an editor complain about the state of my manuscripts.

Angie

Anonymous said...

I have three. One of my beta reader's is a reviewer. Another is a e-pubbed author. The other is a professional proofreader.

I don't really have a CP though I have been looking for one, it's hard to find the right fit since I tend to lean towards the more sexy/sensual and erotic in my writings as well as GLBT. And on the flip side I also write YA so finding someone willing to critique both is hard. I've tried critique groups but they just don't seem to be the right fit for me.

I have a degree in english and have had some novellas published and gone through the editing process so I think I do alright on my own. But a second pair of eyes would be great.

Knowing what to accept from what they tell me about a particular chapter or manuscript? I just go with my gut. If we disagree too much, we talk it out, the whys and wherefores and hows of it all.

Anonymous said...

My beta reader is a Navy SEAL friend who is also a writer. When he gets done with me I feel like I've been through BUD/s training.....beat to pieces, but rock solid.

Brent Festige said...

I have this guy (Henry or Hank) who tells me what word mean (like beta) but he's drunk most the time and I think he makes stuff up. He told me that VOIP is the name of a skin fold in your wenis. I hate Hank so much some times.

Gwen said...

Well, what I'd like to know is...

How did all of you find your crit groups? How did you find your beta readers? If your critique group/beta readers are online, did you find them through a google search? An online blogging community, like blogger or livejournal?

Cam said...

My betas are the LLs. We're a group of professional writers, columnists, authors, etc... five women who spend at least as much time drinking wine and mojitos together and supporting each other through life's journeys as we do reading and critiquing each other's work. The fact that we write in different genres, with some crossover, is helpful in getting a wide perspective on work. I may receive critique or praise on one aspect of a work from one of the LLs that another LL would not even mention.

And of course there's my husband. The best critic (and the best husband) is an honest one.

Cam

Maureen said...

I utilize the women in my book club, neighbors, librarians and friends. They all give me different takes; some as editors, some as readers. I learn a lot from all of them.

LiteraryMouse said...

That's a really good question. My beta readers pretty much consist of my parents, my brother, a friend, and a neighbor who's working on his own book.

Surprisingly (well, not surprising to me), my parents are the most critical.

How do I know what feedback to listen to and what feedback to ignore? There are a couple of factors:

1. Does more than one reader make note of something? If two or more of my readers say there's a problem, I pay attention.

2. What is the basis of the critique? Is the reader reflecting his or her biases? Or is their concern more objective?

A couple of examples. My brother hated my story's prologue. He said the opening was cliched and that most books nowadays don't have prologues. I did some research and very quickly found out that he was absolutely right. I re-read my prologue and realized it really didn't add anything new to the story.

I then went to my parents and asked them what they thought of the prologue. They both thought it was well-written, but when I pressed them, conceded that it really wasn't necessary and hadn't contributed much to their enjoyment of the story. Out went the prologue.

Another critique I received was that my paragraphs were too short. This from a reader who enjoys writing in long paragraphs. I ignored that criticism, because it was an issue of personal preference and style.

Anonymous said...

"how to you know" typo much?

Carley said...

Friends, but they all tend to be too generous. My best critique has proven to be my brilliant mother. She's a veritalbe English/Grammar genius, and doesn't mince words. A combo that's perfect. I listen to what she has to say, then go with my gut. Really, there's nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. Besides, she's invaluable, when I think what I've written is great, she says, yes that's better, but.... I value her honesty because it makes her praise that much more vaild.

nancorbett said...

I have a friend who's a children's librarian. She reads my drafts. I trust her to tell me what she sees as popular trends and whether or not my work seems to fit into things her customers like. I trust her somewhat, but she tends to be too nice.

I also belong two online communities. I workshop my flash fiction on Zoetrope. It doesn't get any better than that, because there are some wicked good writers on there. So, I can learn by both receiving critiques and reading the work of others. It's a pretty tight community of writers at all skill levels imaginable.

I also belong to another small online group comprised of about ten writers. This group is the best for novel reads because we are all committed, we all know each other well, and we are brutally honest. They read my novel as I wrote it. I submitted each chapter as it was drafted (kind of a scary thing). I don't know if I would have finished my first novel if they hadn't prodded me along. The kept me on track and helped me stay true to the thematic elements and character traits. I also had to keep track of six teen-aged girls at different stages of pregnancy. That was the tough part, remembering who was 6 months along vs. who was 3 and so forth. They helped me do the math.

Jeanie W said...

I use relatives. They can be good at finding grammatical errors, places where I've drop a word (I do that a lot), or unclear patches. None of them write fiction themselves, but they read a lot of it. I use them mainly to see if the book's a real page-turner. I don't want my readers to be able to put it down.

Anonymous Gimp said...

I let my wife read first, because it is ALWAYS good to get at least one "I loved it, Mr. Sexy Pants!" before I get the real reviews. The real reviews come from a critique group I joined, called the Wordos. Even though it can be painful sometimes, they are brutally honest and my best tool. Even if they LIKE what someone writes, they STILL tear it apart and show them how it can be better. Brutal honesty is good, but it is great to have my wife to read and cheer me on.

-Josh

Anonymous said...

This question is off topic, but I'm curious to your thoughts on this matter.

With the current state on wall street -the Lehman Bros bankruptcy and other financial institutions going under- how will the publishing industry be affected?

Will less deals be made?

Will advances shrink even more?

Maria R.

M. Dunham said...

Oh hah. Usually I lurk, but I really wanted to answer this question. I have two good writing groups I belong to - one is a mixture of people who write on the side and professionally, a few editors, etc. My second group is comprised of two writing friends who are extremely tough, nitpicky, and not afraid to tell me when my work "sucks ass." Since they read the genres I write, it works out well. Each group contributes their own useful critique.

In regards to following advice, there are two rules I follow:

1) If no one can agree on what's wrong with my work, then it's ready.

2) No piece is ever truly finished, but abandoned.

Just as important as taking advice is knowing the point of when to step back, and I run off of those stopping points in order to make myself step back.

spinregina said...

I choose two to start; a dear friend who is kind but honest, and very well read, and a stranger through the writer's guild in my provice. (A province is like a state except in Canada, although I know the people reading this site would know that....right?).

JES said...

One of the main problems in finding beta readers is how, magically, to bestow time upon them so they can read, effectively, even small chunk(let)s of material. This automatically eliminates a ton of people I know who'd be fantastic beta readers, but simply have no time (what with family, jobs of their own, hobbies, charitable pursuits, and so on).

Which means other writers: folks in the same boat, who can somehow find one another.

Unfortunately, I think I've been spoiled.

Sigh...

K said...

kay hall said...

I have a writers circle in Manhattan that I attend once a month...otherwise it's my husband.

Silicon Valley Diva said...

Yes, I try to find other writers to critique my work. However, I also try to seek input from readers of the genre that I am currently writing in. I enjoy receiving feedback from these individuals because they are the ones actually purchasing the books.

I'm very open to feedback, especially since I seem to be my own worst critic. Yet sometimes I do listen to my gut.

Rachel said...

I have a couple of on-line betas I met at various writers' conferences. I keep a really open mind to criticism, so the more info they can give me, the better. As for choosing which advice to take...I either go with my gut or pay close attention to a piece of advice that more than one reader gives. If all else fails, I ask my twin because, really, she knows me better than anyone.

Tom Burchfield said...

I said this: http://tbdeluxe.blogspot.com/2008/04/shop-talk-5-hack-cut-carve-slice-trim.html

awhile back at my blog.

Kim Haynes said...

My first and most important reader is my husband, also a writer. He reads and re-reads as necessary and is willing to spend hours talking with me when a scene just went in a direction I didn't anticipate or a character won't behave. He doesn't hesitate to criticize, but he is perpetually encouraging as well.

I also have three CPs that I work with on an individual swapping manuscript basis. These three women all write mysteries, as I do, so they are helpful for more specific points of technique, etc, that my non-mystery-writing husband wouldn't notice.

Finally, I give my mostly-together drafts to my mother to read. She provides a "typical reader" perspective.

I struggle with some of my readers' comments, but I'd rather have them be honest (and make me struggle) than have them say nice things all the time. Ultimately, it boils down to what I want the book to say and who I want the characters to be. If a reader's suggestion doesn't fit in with my sense of the characters, I think long and hard before using it.

Marva said...

Husband
Critters (exchanging mss)
Target audience readers

Wherever I can find them. Except husband, of course. He knows it's worth his life not to read and give feedback. He has learned it's okay to say he doesn't like something.

Scott said...

My girlfriend reads my stuff word by word and is professionally qualified. Others read it when I can get them to, but they give feedback that's more akin to a book buyer, which are mostly visceral reactions to what I'm doing.

But like angie said, I've done a lot of work to be better at doing my own checking. I also need to move at a pace that most betas probably wouldn't satisfy before I'm onto something else. Not so much due to impatience, but if I'm happy and it reads without blips, I won't wait.

I also write a lot of my stuff "live" on my website, so I get feedback here and there which is also less editor and more reader. I've learned that I need to be careful not to be lead too much by online gulp sizes and keeping chapters too equal in length. On the other hand, I've been successful at keeping the act moving and holding their attention.

Another bit of luck I've had is being accepted by reputable online reviewers after querying them. And being able to use something good they've said to help push your book is a nice bonus!

A Paperback Writer said...

I write YA and I teach junior high. I have a ready-made pool of beta readers.
Since I'm an English teacher, I can catch 95% of my own typos, so that's not an issue. But the kids tell me which parts they like and don't like, where's it's slow, what they want to hear more of, etc.
After that, I try to give it to a few adults who write. On the last book I got one neighbor, one blog reader, and one author (David Cunningham, Scottish YA writer, google him if you like). They really tightened things up, but on the next ms, I'll still give it to the kids first.

Heidi the Hick said...

First, even though "they" say I shouldn't, I let my husband read it. He's known me since I was 16, he can be honest with me like nobody else on the planet can be, and he has a finely tuned BS filter. I trust him.

Then I have a few trusted friends --again, not recommended but I break a few rules. One friend is a teacher and catches my grammar, as well as an avid reader. Another is an artistic soul who tells me where it gets her the most.

Then I have a few important writing group partners who are soooo helpful. One group meets weekly, plus three of us who meet when we need encouragement or are stuck. REcently 7 of us met up online and formed our own writing group and I am amazed at how well it's going. We all write differently, but --I gotta say it --we're all amazing. We just are. We are able to constructively criticize in order to improve, and build up confidence in each other. It's been a total joy and a blessing.

I'd never let so many read my work before this past year. It's great. I highly encourage new writers to find good writers to share critiques with.

Anonymous said...

I think good critique is, well, critical, especially when you're new to the writing game. I have belonged to a number of crit groups over the years. The one I've belonged to the longest grew out of a fiction-writing class. It's a mix of genres, but all writers.
I've belonged to a couple of "open" crit groups that accept all comers. That gets to be problematic after a while if there is a lot of turnover. The newbies aren't much help in improving your work, and require a lot of care and feeding at first.
It's important to find a group with the same work ethic, e.g. who show up consistently having read the work and are ready to provide specific, constructive critique.

There are some links on my Website with tips for critique groups.
http://www.cindachima.com/Tips/tips.htm

CindaChima said...

Did not mean to post anonymously. One day I'll get the hang of this blogging game.

Cinda Williams Chima

Joseph L. Selby said...

I have an online friend that reads an absurd amount of books each month (averages 26/month--some of them quite large). I post a chapter in my journal when its finished and he tells me when I'm sucking.

marye.ulrich said...

So Nathan,

The three online groups that were mentioned were: Forward Motion for Writers, Absolute Write, cindachima.com, and zoetrope. Any advice? I have never heard of these and could use a beta reader ASAP.

Thanks. Mary

Juliette Dominguez said...

Nathan, great question. I'm in the middle of a YA WIP, first draft. Your Q came at a good time, too, as I was just weakening enough to consider letting someone 'in the door' -- to paraphrase Stephen King (ON WRITING) -- with the first draft, keep the door closed, to protect your voice. With the second/revision, open it.
I'm aiming to keep the door closed, which is the opposite to what I did with my first (adult fiction) novel, where the door was too open... My beta readers (once I have the first draft nailed) will be my brilliant, trusted agent (who happens to be at CB, too) and a couple of writers I really rate. Plus the director at the Writer's Room in NYC, who's also a good friend. It's a perfect beta-mix.

The Crystal Faerie said...

Actually, my beta readers change. Being in school, I have the ability to change that up often, so I like to hand some of my stuff to one teacher and three of the top readers in my classes. I also like to pick one or two people who don't do a whole lot of reading and may be lower in the class ranking than the others so I know I'm not only writing stuff for AP and Honors English students.
And usually, it's the criticisms (spelling there?) of the people who aren't in honors classes that I try to take more to heart, especially because they don't tell me how to write my stories, just 'There's something missing' or 'I'm not feeling it'. Believe it or not, that helps a lot.

GeekyQuill said...

My husband won't read my stuff. He says he's waiting for it to be published. But he does help with science and technology. He helped me design a special weapon for one of my characters.

My teenage daughter and 20 yr old niece are the ones I bounce ideas around with since they're in my audience.

I stopped giving it to my mom because she hates fantasy and any sort of violence and now, after reading it, thinks I'm crazy.
...she may be right.

Beth Terrell said...

I have a wonderful critique group--honest, insightful, and encouraging.

They give input on individual chapters until the book is finished. Then a few extremely generous souls read the book as a whole. (I do the same for them.)

Then I have three to four honest and insightful people who are not writers to read the manuscript. I also have a defense attorney, a homicide detective, and a paramedic who read portions of the books, which are mysteries, for accuracy.

Lauren said...

My beta reader is a woman I met online. She has similar taste in stories and a sense of humor like mine, though her writing style is a bit different than mine - more flowery. When we disagree, we talk it out until one of us convinces the other, or we find a compromise. Usually the discussion helps clarify why my idea wasn't coming across well, and I can tweak things to keep the idea but present it better.

Linda said...

I have an online crit group. The first year, we provided fine line-edits at the rate of 5-10k words per 2-3 weeks (for 5 novels). It was... intense. Writing and editing bootcamp, possibly better than getting an MFA. As we immersed ourselves in each other's stories, we started getting into global issues - characterization, story arc, rhetoric, believability. Now we're at the spit and polish stage, and have read much of everyone's stories twice. All of us marketing or writing those query letters and synopses in prep.

I have two other writers who I rely on to read at one sitting. They've read through my first novel three times. So two very different types of readers, both invaluable. BTW, I've only met two of the seven. In some ways, online allows an honesty that face-to-face sometimes mitigates.

I always write the first draft in isolation; and usually a 2nd and 3rd draft go by before I share with others.

If one of my readers notes something and I get slightly panicky, I pay attention tothe comment. I feel in my gut whether the crit is spot on. Often times the comment does NOT result in a major modifcation, but only after I've spent considerable time, energy, and angst figuring it out.

Peace, Linda

Twilights New Dawn said...

My beta readers are anything from a professor or two to my friends. I tend to opt for a friend who is all about grammar and the likes... one who has no interest in my type of story... one who likes to read anything... and somewhere out of that group of friends at least one has to be blatantly honest.

I normally take to heart all comments from them but if it's a random comment that is just based on their likes and dislikes I kind of toss it aside. "I don't like this character" type of stuff, you know.

leesmiley said...

I have a few right now. My wife is always available to offer a bit of well-meaning criticism, particularly the small detail things that can't escape her semi-OCD nature. A couple of friends are very good at giving "big picture" advice concerning the resonance of the story.

My most valuable reader, though, is a lawyer from New York I've never met in person. We met through an online fiction site and she's fantastic. You haven't revised until you've had a lawyer scrub your manuscript until it bleeds.

Adaora A. said...

My beta reader is my twin sister. She's not into writing at all and I know she'd give an honest, readers perspective. She's my twin but she's the complete opposite (to me) when it comes to interest in career. She's done pharmaceutical bio-technology in uni and I'm doing professional writing. I'd then give it to a friend who can give me the gramatical and structure (bearing in mind the plot and story) go-over. I think it's important to have both those perspectives before you send it out.

George Fripley said...

I tend to vary readers. Some of the best advice I have had has come from John Harman, an author who runs workshops over here. I have to admit that it is harder to take criticsm from people too close to me, so I have cultivated on-line relationships instead - and these have been very beneficial.

George Fripley said...

I write a bit of satire and I find it crucial to use people who are on that wavelength. I have found in the past that well-meaning readers were not sufficiently tuned-in to the genre and consequently did not provide useful advice.

From a purely grammatical perspective, I have found an editor who will look at articles as long as they are not too long.

piggydiva said...

Who my beta readers are depends on what I have written and what I want my beta readers to do for me.

Recently, I gave copies of my unpublished YA book to 5th through 12th grade students complete with a specific questionnaire to fill out. It's a YA book--kids will tell me if the book is honest or bs. Kids will also tell me what they liked, what was confusing, etc, and I can tweak the book before adults see it.

For adult satirical work that I write, I'll send it to educated friends (for content) and a couple of my writer friends (for obvious holes, etc).

hyperbard said...

I've belonged to Critters for about a decade now, and I know a few people there who I read regularly and vice versa. I also work with a few people at Baen's Bar. Usually, though, I have three beta readers: my bf who's got a very critical eye, a friend of mine in PA who's sort of a beta reader/writing buddy, and another friend who lives out in CA.

I like the Critters group because of the diversity -- sometimes it's a bit too diverse I'll admit. I like the Baen group because it's teaching me the value of really working at a piece to make yourself stand out in the slush pile. (oddly enough, it's something that never really sank into my skull with the Critters folk). I like my friend in PA because he can give me a read that is more "writer-to-writer", while my bf will agonize over spelling, punctuation, whether a phrase has the right sound to him... and my friend in CA gets even more technical with it!

Thomma Lyn said...

I have several writer friends, all of whom write in different genres, different styles. Each is a marvelous Beta reader in her unique way. I love getting a wide variety of perspectives on my work.

I appreciate all feedback, but I especially appreciate feedback that makes me think, helps me consider how I can make a good thing better.

And respect is paramount -- agreeing to disagree when necessary. Personal attacks or patronization should never be tolerated. Had a horrid experience along those lines last year.

I'm lucky. My Betas are real jewels, and I cherish them.

Other Lisa said...

"How I found my Beta Readers."

Well, there was some huge writing workshop group that solicited me on Yahoo. I am not sure how they harvested my email address. I joined and realized that it was a come-on to get you to sign up for various fee-based groups and newsletters. There were so many people in this group that the conversations were impossible to follow and it felt like a real waste of time.

I posted a query: hey, is anyone here writing novels? Got a few responses. Started a little online group. There were many fits and starts and psychotic behaviors. Eventually sane, talented people found the group, and now we have a really neat little situation. I respect everyone tremendously and love to get their feedback.

I accidentally started a much larger online group of writers, which is more of a community than a critique group, but that has proven to be a tremendous amount of fun, both online and now off, as we meet each other in real life.

I have other friends and relatives who read my stuff, all of whom bring different perspectives to my work. Some of them give me great feedback, others give me the kind of basic support I need to poke my head above the covers and write another day.

Finally there is a newer relationship, my agent, whose insights and enthusiasm have been so helpful that I hardly have the words to express my appreciation.

How do you weigh all of this advice? That's a tough one. For me, it comes down to going with my gut. Sometimes I won't agree with the substance of a critique but the fact that readers are having trouble with aspects of the story tells me that I need to pay attention, even if the solutions they offer aren't necessarily the right ones.

The best critiques are those where you know the reader gets what you are trying to do in a larger sense. They may not have the solution for you, but they know where the problems are, and that alone is incredibly valuable when you've read your MS so many times that you don't even know what it means any more.

Vin said...

take my current advice, you misspelled "who do you" with "who to you"

Julie Weathers said...

I belong to a small, private writer's forum and we exchange critiques. Different people have different strengths so that helps greatly.

I'm also finishing Barbara Rogan's Next Level workshop. The workshop was outstanding and I've learned a lot. The students have decided to stay together and continue critiquing each other. We all have radically different books, but the "eye" each one brings really makes the revisions strong and balanced.

Compuserve Books and Writers Forum has an excellent novels workshop if someone doesn't have a good crit group.

I once asked a lady who is a retired editor if I should cut THOUGH I SHOULD DIE to the bone, like a commenter had suggested. She detested the detail and multiple characters. The editor said, "It's a wild-eyed, fun-filled, sprawling adventure. Why would you want to change that?"

Another author cautioned me from taking advice that would change the voice of the story and lose the fun.

I think that's what we need to keep in mind. Find crit partners who know what they are doing. Listen to every piece of advice and then weigh the changes. Does it improve the story? Do the changes keep the story true to the dream?

Barbara suggested I lose my prologue, spice up my mc in the opening and change the ending.

But I love my prologue! It's beautiful, emotional and action-packed.

I think her being gentle and shy in the beginning suits her. Boring? My mc is boring?

What do you mean I can't murder my heroine? But it's so dramatic they way she dies.

Yeah, well the prologue works great in chapter eight with some judicious changes.

Giving her some fire and grit has turned a ho-hum opening into an adventure.

Yeah, ok. I agree, the ending is much better now without the dramatic death scene.

Sometimes changes are really hard to swallow, but if you're honest, you know in your heart they are for the best.

That's when you find some lovely chocolates to send to your very patient critters.

Julie Weathers said...

For those who don't have access to crit groups, you might check this out.

Books and Writers

There is a writers workshop for short stories and novel chapters. You trade in so many crits on other work for posting one of your chapters or short stories. No need to spend a lot of money when you pay for it with your own comments.

There is also a fantastic YA and children's section.

Plus there is a great exercise workshop and research section. Want to know how far a horse can travel in a day? Ask and you'll find out.

I sincerely believe a strong crit group helps a writer take their work to a much higher level.

Jovanna said...

My little sis, cos she also likes to write and she is usually the most honest... and very good at picking up my grammar and spelling mistakes. My mum when the story's morals agree with her, my other siblings when i just want a general idea.

I usually don't take criticisms which interfere with my storyline (altho i keep a open mind to their suggestions)... such as someone saying something like 'why did you do that to that character? that's so mean! i like that character! you should hav done blah, then that character can...' and try changing the story into their own story with their own style and their own story line because that's the only way stories should be written...

but my stories are mostly for my own reading. i hav a hard time finding good books cos no access to a good library or bookshop, and no one i know can refer good books to me anymore... who wants to read manga all the time? so when i want a good read, i read over my own stories... and then get frustrated cos i don't kno the ending! it's funny.

Maris Bosquet said...

My betas include opinionated co-workers and the neighbor's kids, who are sick of HP and vampires and are always looking for something different to read. (The opinionated co-workers are just sick of everything, heh-heh...)

Anon said...

I'm fortunate enough to have one friend who has an MAW, is a published poet and an english teacher. Another friend who used to work in editing. They get everything. I trust their opinion and their judgment.

If they suggest something that makes sense to me, I go for it. If something seems wrong I always ask for the reasoning behind their thinking. Like one of the gals thought I should remove the prologue from my book. Ultimately, I felt it was a wrong move.

Maris Bosquet said...

OH, I forgot to add something! I've heard horror stories about online crit groups. Apparently rival writers have been known to fabricate negative criticism or offer criticism designed to ruin a story. Very scary stuff, that. That's one reason why I avoid crit groups.

Maris Bosquet said...

Additionally... (Yes, I'm off to a slow mental start this morning.) If the suggestion makes sense and fits the story, I'll follow it. And, I always fill holes and correct sentences words or clauses missing. (Sorry for the object lesson!).

But if the suggestion goes against the character or where I mean to take the plot, I'll let it pass, telling my beta why.

Chatty Kelly said...

I have 2. One is a friend of my husband's who would always tell me the errors in my emails. (Typos and such - a perfectionist I'm not). I came to realize he had a real eye for finding things and asked if he would look over my Christian writing. He called it pseudo Christian pap. Ha! I knew then he was the perfect Beta reader.

The other is a girlfriend who has experience in the journalism field. She is good at getting me to be more concise.

Scott said...

With my latest project, I had a complete stranger - well, stranger to me, but he's an acquaintance of my sister - and two really good friends read the manuscript. The one thing I knew about my friends is that they would not hold back with their criticism - and trust me, they didn't. The stranger was probably the most help - he didn't know me, he didn't care about my feelings, and he was very honest.

I listen closely to their comments, but - like Elyssa - go with my gut on certain things.

Scott

Renee Collins said...

The MoMos!

Best Betas ever.

Kiersten said...

It's true, the MoMos rock.

What's been nice (besides having two awesome girls who also write YA look over my stuff and help me strengthen plots) is the support system. We're all doing about the same thing--either editing or submitting--and it's invaluable to have people going through the exact same thing to complain and celebrate with.

Scott said...

Julie (and george), I like the way you detailed some comments and the back-and-forth between you and your beta. It shows me how dangerous it can be to your psyche if you're handing something over to someone who isn't on the same wavelength.

My sister who was a literary agent for TV started to read my novella and because my heroine had a quick wit, immediately thought "Juno!". Well, no, not exactly. After that, she couldn't get it out of her head. So it never clipped along at the pace she was expecting, and found it "hard to read". I eventually won her over halfway through, but I could see notes galore that would have totally missed the point.

In the end, I think you really have to trust your vision, which is why you're putting finger to key in the first place. I love to return to my ms because there's a tone there that I'm craving. The trick is to translate that to someone walking in from stage left.

I'm doing some things right now in my new book that just sparkle for me but may buck a trend here and there. If I find an agent or publisher who isn't more interested in filling their funnel and uses a formula stencil they got at an agent seminar to do it, I think I can entertain the hell out of them. I think that because I'm entertained, and I just have to trust that I'm being objective enough and critical enough of my own hand.

Voice, voice, voice. From page count to rhythm to chapter structure. I'm still trying to get my career going, but I have this feeling I need to protect it at all costs. To do that, my beta has to get that, too.

Anonymous said...

I am a total slut when it comes to sharing my manuscripts, and I have a wide variety of readers. Some are other writers who will give it to me straight and let me know when something doesn't work. I value these readers' advice greatly, but I still pick and choose which of their criticisms I will actually use. In addition to the constructive critics, I also need those cheerleader types who say nothing but great things about what I write. These are usually friends and family who aren't working on novels themselves. I keep the cheerleader comments in a special folder in my inbox to look at when I get discouraged.

Gaabriel said...

My husband reads everything I write first. This is mostly because of his amazing grasp on grammar, and secondly because he is really good at being able to say, "I know you meant to say ___ but it comes across as ___".

After that I revise, and pass it off to a few friends.

Simon Haynes said...

I had 14 beta readers for my last novel, and that included my wife and both kids. I acknowledged them all in the thank-yous, because they all did a great job highlighting things they weren't sure about or pointing out the slower parts of the book so I could rev them up.

Mon Chéri said...

In truth I probably trust too many…First off, I offer it to friends and family, then by word of mouth, I end up having more people requesting to read it. (These are people I don’t personally know very well but my friends know them and have asked permission to share.) These betas also offer their help in finding the typos that I tend be blind to. When it comes to taking the advice, I generally trust the more qualified readers, the English majors for example. But I have gotten some brilliant advice from my teen readers as well. Generally I know, by instinct, right away if the advice is good or not.

Anonymous said...

I occasionally get asked to beta-read by people who know my writing style and/or reading preferences. I also get asked by writers who like a review I wrote on their piece. They don't know me personally but our initial interactions usually stem from shared interests: like...an online community for a genre. That's how it starts.

I think it's best to start there and sift through a bunch of beta-readers. This process takes a while but it pays off. Personalities should be taken into consideration b/c it's still a working relationship of sorts.

Generally, I get asked to give general feedback on plot, characters, pace, theme, figurative language, etc. I usually request they ask someone else for syntax. Syntax is very tricky, especially in creative writing. It's a different story when the "rules" are breached.

If the intended audience is a broad range of people, I personally think writers are limiting their work if they only ask people they know to read it. Many commentators here seem to do so.

Mon Chéri said...

Actually some of my most helpful beta readers have been other authors. There’s nothing like swapping with another writer and working on their book while they work on yours. I’ve met some of those through querytracker.net and at writer’s conferences. (Oh, and about that typo in my previous post, see that just proves why we need beta readers. It was intentional, I swear. LOL)

Anonymous said...

I have NO critique partners or beta readers!


WHERE ARE YOU FINDING people to exchange ms with?

I've tried using the SCBWI chapter in my area but there were only two and both were already defunct by the time they answered my email. I've also tried a few online YA writers I know in cyberspace, but they had no openings in their groups, either.

People say start your own, but how, where?

nona said...

Nobody. I don't want anybody phunkin' wit me head.

bryan russell said...

RECOMMENDATION!

Since some people are asking where to find Beta readers, I'll recommend the one place I'm familiar with (and to which I belong) that's suitable for any writer with online access. Forward Motion for Writers is a large online community (almost 12,000 members, I believe) of writers from across the world. Any and every writer is welcome. The main goal of the site is to help writers towards publication, but there's hundreds of other aspects to the site as well. Dozens (hundreds?) of private crit groups are run through the site (though openings come up all the time in these groups, and are advertised on the site), and there's also a forum for connecting with writers who want to trade and crit manuscripts, as well as opportunities to form entirely new crit groups. On top of this there's also an open critique forum available to any member (and the membership is entirely free, by the way), where people post writing and return crits.

So, anyone looking for readers/critiques/a writing community... this is a good place to check out. I can personally vouch for the people there, and how helpful and professional everyone tends to be. It's a very positive place, really, and I recommend it. It also has a lot of other interesting areas, as well. There's chat rooms where writers hash over the craft (among other things), there's dares and workshops and free classes, there's forums for every genre and every area of the craft. There's areas available for professional advice, for workshopping queries, for questions about publishing, agents and editors. Really, it's a big place, with lots of resources valuable to a writer. And I stress again, the atmosphere is positive and supportive, and constructive criticism is available.

Check out Forward Motion for Writers (google that and it should come up lickety split). Again, it's a large community with a variety of resources, and membership is free.

Plug over. (And no, I am in now way involved in running or managing the site. Simply an appreciative member.)

Anonymous said...

Qualifier: I write non-fiction -- travel books.

I don't let anyone read anything until the first draft of the book is done. It interrupts the flow for me, and since I write very quickly, I can't handle the interruptions. It is a distraction. But, when it is all out on paper, I have my husband read it. He is great and comes to my writing from a VERY different perspective -- he only reads fiction, largely thrillers. We have totally opposite reading tastes.

I also have a good friend who is a former newspaper editor. His comments on my last manuscript were invaluable. And again, his perspective is totally different from mine.

Ultimately, I think it is important to have people who come to the manuscript with different perspectives. After all, if I have done my job well, few of my readers will be travel experts. So, to have readers who don't know much about the subject give me their comments is tremendously valuable.

Raethe said...

I take a number of classes at university, and the focus of pretty much all of those classes is workshop. It's really useful because it means we get critiques from a number of people of varying tastes and denominations.

How do I know when to take their advice? It's pretty much what other people have been saying - if it's something I've already been thinking about, I'll probably do it. If it makes sense, I'll consider it pretty carefully, even if I don't like the idea that much at first, before I make the decision. If a number of people point to the same thing, it's worth considering.

One thing I do when I'm waffling with a piece of advice is just rewrite the paragraph/scene/story in question. There's no better way to see if a suggestion works than to try it.

Chumplet said...

My first two novels were read by my father and his wife, and my neighbour Carol. They all offered limitless advice about characters, plot, what made them excited and what made them confused. They are all a great help to me.

My crit partners over at Romance Writers Unlimited go over my chapters one at a time with a fine-tooth comb.

I don't know what I'd do without them! Who ever said writing was a solitary experience?

Anonymous said...

No one.

I only take advice from the people who are paying me.

wonderer said...

Where to find beta readers?

I found my first few critique groups through creative writing classes. You may hit it off with some of your classmates and want to continue meeting after the class finishes, or the teacher may know of some local groups - both have happened to me. (Do find out before you sign up for the class whether the teacher's genre preferences match yours, though!) Even if you don't sign up for a class, do check the bulletin boards in the English department of your local university or college, as well as at your local indie bookstore. That's where I found my current in-person group.

Later, I joined NaNoWriMo (Google it if you haven't heard of it). The NaNoWriMo forums have sections for editing, so you can probably find critique partners there; the age distribution skews pretty young, but there's a significant number of mature, committed writers as well. I'm now in an offshoot writing forum of mostly NaNoWriMo alumni.

I've heard good things about Forward Motion, the Online Writing Workshop, and Critters.

One last thing to mention - IMHO there's no reason to pay someone to critique your novel (or to edit it, but that's another discussion). There are plenty of people who will give good critiques for free, especially if you're willing to critique theirs in return.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Wonderer -

There are plenty of people who will give good critiques for free, especially if you're willing to critique theirs in return.

Ah, but there's the rub. I don't have the time right now to critique anything by anyone else (and thus I don't feel that I have the right to ask anyone to critique mine).

Luc2 said...

I live in the Netherlands, so i need to go online for critique partners. I've found great people on critiquecircle.com. Very varied community, but once you've been active for a few months, you'll make a connection with some very good critique partners/beta readers.

wonderer said...

Tracey - Yes, that's something I'm struggling with right now. I'm critiquing but not writing. Have I gotten too far into the critiquing mindset and paralyzed myself; is critiquing taking up the time and creative energy that I need for writing; or am I just being lazy? I don't know.

One thing to keep in mind, though: critiquing isn't just a service you do for others. As previous commenters have said, learning to spot problems with other people's writing is invaluable in helping you to spot errors in your own work (or not to make them in the first place - at least not the same ones!). Critique partners can also be a good source of support around writing-related issues. So they're useful in more ways than one.

Alicia said...

I have a mixed-genre writing group that I belong to who critique my submissions and then I have two outside friend who read it as well. I also recently joined Crit Partner Match.

If the majority of the group finds the same error or has the same problem, I definitely take that into consideration and remove/revamp because usually there is a problem with it. If only one or two people pick up on it, then I consider the source.

Anonymous said...

All my beta readers have agents now--except me. They keep telling me I'm so close but then self doubt creeps in and punches me.

Gotta keep going.

coll

Crystal-Rain Love said...

I have 2 critique partners who write similar genres, and my group of "fan girls" who are friends/co-workers that love my stuff. They give me the boost of confidence I need to keep going and my CP's are the ones who tell me when something sucks. LOL! I think every writer should have at least two good CP's, ones who will be brutally honest without totally slamming you. There's a nice way to tell somebody something in their story isn't working. Sometimes finding CP's are like trying on shoes. You have to keep going until you find that perfect fit (and NO, a CP who tells you what you want to hear isn't a good CP. They have to be HONEST in their critiques). And I don't advise having a CP whowrites a totally different genre from you (an erotica writer is not going to be a very good critiquer of yur inspirational... and vice versa 9 times out of 10).

Belletristic Bloggette said...

I've had my bumps of beta readers along the way, but each circumstance lead to an awareness of the best readers to trust; before that awareness, I relied solely on gut feeling.

One bumpy instance was when I had just joined a new critique group and was anxiously waiting, after I read my story aloud, to hear comments.

The first remark from a frustrated critiquer was, "Why is the main character a male?! They (the publishing industry) always want us to write about males so that they can increase male readership! You should change this!" Arms were flailing at this point (not mine).

Um, that was the last time I went to that critique group (Example of relying on gut feeling).

Anyway, through some other interesting experiences, I found the best beta readers were people who were well read.

I have always been surprised at how many critique group participants were not well read within their own writing genre. I could see a vast difference between their feedback (spelling and grammar error corrections and male readership rants) and the others who were voracious book hookers (plot, character suggestions).

Sometimes I'll even have people outside of the publishing industry read my stories too. People who just like to read for pleasure and who do not write, edit or do anything of the sort. The feedback I have received from these types of people have been (cliche warning) worth their weight in gold.

Bottom line: People who are well read either consciously or subconsciously know what makes a good story and can make wonderful beta readers.

ChristaCarol said...

In the beginning, I didn't know when to stop taking advice and suggestions, pretty much trying to do what everyone else mentioned would work better.

Then I came to the realization I will never be able to make everyone happy, because everyone has different perspectives, tastes, etc. and if I tried, I'd never complete the book.

So I decided to take what I felt moved the story in the right direction while still keeping my voice.

As for who, I've been privileged with several through the time span of my latest piece, from two different writing groups.

lyricallies said...

I trust my friend. She has the patience in our friendship to actually sit and weed through my work.

rosemary said...

Librarians--ones I know, and even a few I don't. They are usually quite happy to read and respond; they are, after all, a built-in audience. They love books.

And besides booksellers, who knows better what goes out each week, what gets renewed, and what gets returned with a shrug?

They champion books they love and love having writers around. Ya gotta love 'em.

Bearlytimetoscrap said...

My friends. Some of them. Ones I can trust will tell my the truth LOL
I know I should let my mom read my books, she continually harasses me she wants too.. but I'm afraid.. so very afraid.. cause I know she'll tell me the truth and be very very blunt about it! LOL

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