Beta readers part 2

So I’ve been pretty busy lately. If you don’t know, I work at a school. The year is winding down, and I’m trying to keep everything in order. I’m also a minister, and that means with the ending of school comes the beginning of summer. Or as I like to call it, the beginning of keeping a bunch of teenagers occupied and out of their parents’ hair for a while. But it’s all good.

However, I haven’t written a story in a few weeks. Which is odd for me these days.

But what I have been doing, is just as important as writing new stories. I have been consulting with several of my beta readers on some of my stories. It’s been really great to get so much feedback, and it gives me a chance to fix any problems in my writing. I’ve also been doing some beta reading myself, so I get to tell them how terrible their writing is too! >:)

Not really. I enjoy beta reading and giving feedback just as much as I like getting it. I know how much it helps.

So we’ve talked about how important beta readers are, and some things they can help you with. Now let’s break down how to be a good beta reader, which will help us choose even better ones!

Read the work more than once

If you read something more than once, you will catch things you missed the first time. This will greatly improve your critique, and give you something to tell the author. Really get into the text and ask yourself how you feel about it. Which brings us to the next point.

Ask a few questions

It’s important to know what you’re looking for as a beta reader. If you have just started reading an author’s works, then they are basic:

What is the overall style?

What is the voicing?

And once you get to know an author’s style and voice, you can get into some more in depth questions:

What is the plot?

Where is it going?

Do I like this plot?

Do I like the characters?

What’s missing?

Questions like these will help you make a good report for the author. If you answer these questions, the author will most definitely appreciate your feedback. and remember to give it a positive spin..

Be Kind

Authors are fragile (well most authors). If you’re mean and nasty about their writing, you won’t be getting any more free manuscripts to read. And that doesn’t mean suck up and tell the author that their work is awesome when it needs some retooling. We (authors) need to know when something is wrong or bad. But it doesn’t have to be:

“Hey this sucks.”

And this is coming from someone who has been called the most insensitive human on the face of the planet!

(When one of your best friends comes to you with misty eyes because you attacked them instead of gently correcting, maybe you can understand what I had to go through to gain some kindness. Being a jerk all the time is what’s terrible.)

So be kind and lead your author to conclusions. And obviously this will ebb and flow with your author’s personality. One of my beta readers asked me how I wanted one of my stories critiqued and I said ‘shred it’. I knew the story needed work, so getting heavy editing suggestions wasn’t going to hurt my feelings.

But unless that happens, be kind. Your unsavory comments could destroy the will to create and end a career.

Keep Reading. And Writing. And Reading.

I hope this encourages you to be a beta reader. And that goes double for authors. You need to stay humble and help others out. And who better to go over manuscripts than a fellow author who knows about writing? Strict readers are always welcome, but writers will definitely help move the story along. Consider this: two of my readers had read the same story. I got an hour long phone call from one, who isn’t an author, and he wanted me to develop one aspect of my story. The other reader, who is an author, sent me a very detailed email wanting me to further develop a different aspect of the story. Both were great suggestions, and came from two different ends of the reader spectrum.

So keep writing in order to keep reading in order to keep writing…

Get it…?

Capturing An Idea

Initial Capture

What do you do when you get that idea that is OMG THE BEST IDEA EVAR?!?!

I hope you capture it in some medium.

I like my phone’s note pad. It let’s me jot down some quick notes so I can come back and flesh it out later. Because, like most people, I’m busy. There’s always something to do.

Sometimes I get ideas for stories while I’m writing other stories.

Oh, and this is the WORST:

So how do you keep track?

The main thing to remember is that you will have ideas as a writer. It’s inevitable. I decided last week that I was going to take this week off from writing. Guess how many story ideas I’ve had? At least two, because I finished one story and sent it out to my beta readers and I got over 1500 words done on another one today. Oh the life of a writer.

If you don’t have some way to log your story ideas, get one. You don’t have to have a notepad on your phone. I also have a leather bound note/sketch pad that I carry around sometimes as well. Just having something to put ideas down on is a must.

Taming the Monster

So once the idea is captured, how does one go about taming it?

Well we do the aforementioned fleshing out.

A lot of writing guides don’t really tell you how to flesh out an idea. And it’s simply because they can’t. There are too many variables to create an accurate equation for writing. Voice, tone, word count, point of view, characterization, plot; and many many more go into your writing. If you haven’t figured out how you do all of that yet, then you need to write more. And write in more than one voice, using many different voices and tones etc. Your cool idea will never become a cool story if you have not honed the skills needed for your craft.

I run into the same problems with young musicians I work with. They all want to play rippin’ guitar solos and try to go at it as fast as they can. The only problem is that they suck at playing guitar. They haven’t practiced enough to play that well.

If your beta readers and editor aren’t impressed with your skills, go to the woodshed.

Releasing the Beast

When your idea is fully down on paper, or hard drive…whatever, then you need to do the last part. Which is editing. Let me make this clear: no matter how hard you work on your first draft while you’re writing, it NEEDS to be edited. Whether you get a professional editor or edit it yourself is another story, but i assure you it needs to be edited. I edited a story the other day to be submitted to a publisher and it was FULL of mistakes. Not just spelling, any decent word processor will catch most of that stuff, but grammar and sentence structure were terrible in some places. They made very little sense within the context of the story.

Here’s some advice on editing if you’re going to do it yourself. Put the story away for a while. At least a couple of weeks, if not longer. You need to forget the story so you can go in fresh and catch your mistakes. If you haven’t yet, you should read ‘Let’s get Digital’ by David Gaughran. Great book on self publishing and the digital revolution. Pick it up and read it.

The art of capturing an idea and completing it is one that many people haven’t mastered. Take this for example:

Battleship Destroyer

Go ahead and read the ‘Look inside’ portion. I dare you. You won’t make it without laughing. This is an example of what can happen if you don’t follow step 3. Don’t be that guy. And don’t forget that repetition leads to mastery. (Not that I’m a master. By ANY means.)

Keep writing! I know I will.

Beta Readers

If you are a writer, chances are you have a certain fear that all writers have:

Rejection.

The ugly reared head of criticism.

Of it’s not good enough.

Of the word, No.

Which is why you need a standing army of people to tell you that before you make your writing public. With a steady second group of eyes to go over your work, your success will surely be greater.

Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

But this is for editors!

Wrong. If you send your work to an editor with a bunch of silly mistakes, the editor is never going to work with you again. you want your editor to focus on more important things like structure. With beta readers, your mistakes will become more prevalent. If three or more people are reading your manuscript, they will find your mistakes. Cleaning up your manuscript before it ever goes to an editor is professionalism, not tedious extra work.

Story

One of my beta readers recently called me and gave me a detailed critique of one of my stories. He said he was ‘entranced’ with it until a certain point. At said point, he became very confused and wasn’t thrilled with the rest of the story. Good criticism. Prompting me to rewrite that chunk of the story. This particular reader is a fan of hard sci fi, consequently the genre this story is in, so he had a lot of expertise on how to fix it.

Choosing

I had a beta reader who always said my stories were bad. They didn’t really give a reason, they just didn’t like them. In a later conversation, I found out that this person did not like reading short stories. Therefore, they are not a beta reader for me anymore.

When choosing beta readers, there are a few things to keep in mind other than the mistakes they can catch. They should be people who enjoy reading the genre you write in. Hopefully that genre is Sci Fi and you have an army of nerds awaiting your next creation!

Be careful with family. If you have a cousin or sibling that likes reading, by all means let them read for you. But your mom probably won’t give you any good constructive criticism. Make sure that if you have beta readers in your family that they will be beta readers and actually help you become a better writer. And being a better writer is what we are all trying to achieve.