To Beta or not to Beta
The following post is just a glimpse of the information provided in the group Author Central. I wrote this for Authors unsure of the beta process and the pit-falls and rewards to having Beta readers. This posting will be updated when we get the prospective of the Beta and the Author who doesn’t use Betas.
To Beta or not to Beta… The Beta reader experience from Erica Chilson’s POV. Pit falls – invaluable. Please share your experiences from both sides of this process and I will update the doc.
The Beta process is scary for both the Author and the reader. You both have expectations and fears. The Beta worries that they don’t possess the necessary tools to help the Author, and the Author fears the reception of their work.
Choosing a Beta is a difficult process and it is on-going. I’ve been through a lot (more than 10) Until I’ve found my core group of Ladies. & they are invaluable to me and a large amount of help. It is a learning process for both the Author and the Beta. It is tempting to chose Betas that will kiss your bum and tell you how wonderful you are, but that defeats the purpose. Constructive criticism, while painful, is necessary for you to grow within your craft. Watch out for the fine-line between constructive criticism and bullying.
You need several different types of Betas. My ladies are broken into categories. Since my genre is very narrow I chose a newbie to the genre that had questions about themes in the book. This meant that a new reader to my series would have similar questions, therefore, I resolved the issue by simplifying the text or adding an explanation. Several are experts in my genre and they inform me if it’s too simple for the expert reader. If it went way over their head… I better backtrack and fix it! The Beta doesn’t have to be a grammar Nazi or professional editor either. <—- That is a huge fear of the Beta. I’ve Beta-ed before and I was so scared that I would fail my Author. It was so stressful that I froze and couldn’t help. Assure your Beta that any help is invaluable- and it truly is.
A huge benefit of Betas is that as we edit our own work we know what it should say or we already know the reason inside our own minds. The Beta will say, “huh?” and you realize you never explained your reasoning. The Beta will pick up the missing words that your mind replaces as you read. Every Beta notices different mistakes. It always amazes me that the edits I receive are never the same from one beta to the next.
Your Betas have to be your target readers. I’ve had Betas want to read for me that were unfamiliar with the genre or the content disturbed them. The best advice comes from the fans of the genre. They know the ins-and-outs and can tell you when you go off course. They know what their fellow readers of the genre are looking for.
Bullying vs. Constructive Criticism:
It is a very fine line. While you need someone to call you out and make you think outside the box, some Betas feel the need to rewrite your story. & if you haven’t found one of these Betas during the process… you will eventually- trust me. It is the most horrible experience on the planet. My experience was a Beta who collared me. I didn’t chose them. They wanted to review my book and instead I got Beta comments and revisions. A lot of revisions- including KILL this character, why did you do this or that. Upon explaining why I do what I do, they fought me. Let me save you so much grief. If it turns to bullying, immediately tell them their services are no longer needed and move on. Having to justify YOUR story isn’t part of the Beta process. My response to the bully: Write your own book if you know better than me. Also there are nuances to a story. It can’t be perfect grammar-wise because characters should never speak perfect grammar and diction. It’s unnatural. Comma usage for me is like poetry. I read the it line-by-line as poetry and add the comma. Obviously you must follow the rules of writing and grammar, but in these instances do NOT argue with your Beta- do as you wish. Bullying is de-motivational, uninspiring, and detrimental to your muse and creative flow. While you don’t need a bum-kisser, NEVER keep a Bully.
Don’t expect too much: Betas have lives and they need to live them. Even giving you a few sentences of their thoughts will provide you will a lot to work with. Don’t be angry or confrontational if they don’t meet your standard. When the next round of Beta-ing comes around, just don’t ask for their help. Betas are human and they have lives, personalities, and faults. And sometimes you just rub each other the wrong way. It happens and it’s unfortunate. Betas are working for free and you must be thankful if they give you 2 minutes or hours of help. They do NOT have to help- be grateful.
Bottom line: I find the Beta process a rewarding experience for me and my Betas. I love interacting with them, discussing my books, and I believe I’ve found a few friends for life. All Authors dream of making it to the big-time. If I ever elevate to that status the first thing I want is to have all my ladies meet in person. It would be a wild time had by all!