Beta Readers Are Your Alpha Support System

Pretty much all my posts on the ol’ Spellbound Scribes have been about my writing journey or about what it means (for me at least) to be a writer. I’ve talked in the past about the importance of a good support group to help you along in the hard times (because good lord will there be a whole bunch of hard times)

Hard Times Gif

Today I want to talk about one particular support group, probably the most important of all – Beta Readers and Critique Partners.

I’m at the point in my current manuscript – THE MANY FOES OF AURORA OVERDARK – where I’ve sent it out to beta readers and am eagerly (fearfully?) awaiting their feedback. A few have given me some initial thoughts (which have been very positive and very affirming) and one has returned a full edit back to me (also super amazing – thanks Shauna!)

I’ve seen websites or Twitter mentions about matching up complete strangers as CPs and BRs and that idea has always made me kinda nervous. A stranger reading any early draft of my manuscript? How about no? I would have a hard time sending my work to someone I don’t know – mostly out of fear they would just hammer the hell out it, because I’m a stranger to them too, so why should they care? I’d generally prefer to send it to someone I already have a relationship with – that I trust – but also know will be honest with me. Trust and honesty are the most important part of the CP/BR relationship. 

Sometimes your stuff sucks.

You need to know if your stuff sucks.

CM Punk Gif

A good CP/BR will tell you if your stuff sucks and how to make it better, not just trash it without reason. Constructive criticism is the greatest gift your read can provide. When I was still trying to find readers, I thought I could trust and build a relationship with, I sent my first manuscript to someone I was somewhat friendly with on Twitter. About a month later she sent it back. She only read the first couple pages and tore them apart, littering them with pedantic and nitpick comments. Nothing constructive. Nothing of value.

That experience put me off to sending my work to a relative stranger. That hurt. I didn’t want to experience something like that again. Putting your stuff out there is terrifying, even to people you know and trust. But you have to. You have to be ready for them to tell you it’s not great. The first time I got beta feedback I was upset with a lot of the comments. I loved my book and thought it was perfect. I was wrong and after that initial sting of criticism, I realized that I was wrong and there was a lot I needed to fix. You can’t take negative feedback personally. Which is hard, because there is so much of YOU in that manuscript. But if you trust your CP/BR, you’ll know that pain is ultimately for your and your story’s betterment.

Over the years, I realized I needed to get over my fear of having strangers read my work. Sending my second manuscript in for Pitch Wars was a big step. The biggest. Getting into the contest was basically having your manuscript sent to CP who was a complete stranger (CS?). It was a pretty terrifying proposition, but it was probably the best chance I’ve taken with my writing. Now I have another amazing beta reader in my PW (lot of acronyms in this post, huh?) mentor Hayley! She gave some of the best feedback I’ve every received and completely changed the way I approach writing novels. It would have never happened if I held onto that fear.

Macho Nod Gif

This post has been kinda all over the place (as I feel like mine sometimes can be) but I guess the summation is you need people you trust and know will be honest with your work. That person might be someone you’ve known for years, but it also doesn’t hurt to try out your stuff on a complete stranger – who knows, maybe that person will be someone you can always trust in the future to give you the feedback you need.

As an aside, I feel weird sometimes deciding whether I should call the folks I send my work to “beat readers” or “critique partners”. CPs have a more serious feeling, like there’s some kind of reciprocal blood bond or something between you and the reader. BR feels more casual, but I’ve read the works of some of my beta readers and some not. What do you all think? 

What your experience with BRs/CPs, friends? How did you meet them? Nightmare experiences? Let me know!

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