Friday, March 28, 2014

Do you use beta readers?

I've used beta readers before, but recently I got them from a difference source. For once, they were readers and reviewers instead of other writers. And they were strangers, sort of. I knew them from review sites, and Goodreads, where I try to at least act like a professional and not the neuroses-riddled approval-junkie that I am. I mean, other writers get that, but with readers I try to act just a little bit like how I imagine a grown up should act. Sometimes I even pretend I'm wearing shoes when I email them. 

And there are things you can say to writers when they beta your stuff, that you can’t say to readers who beta. The main one being: Is this okay, or is it absolute shit?

Writing’s a bit like an embroidery. From the other side, it's messy. 

source

And sometimes we writers spend so much time picking at the knots at the back, we forget what the picture looks like. We get so interested in the technical aspects, in all the stuff it took to put it together and all the stuff that threatens to make it collapse into one massive plot hole, that we lose all perspective about the things that matter.

My co-writer and I spent so much time worrying about the little stuff --

Are the chapters too short?

Is using Roman numerals above our tiny little scenes artistic, or is it pure wankery?

Are we trying to hard to push this metaphor?

-- that we forgot about what counts for the reader: the story and the characters.

And the feedback we got about those was solid. It was good. It was enthusiastic.

They liked this character.
They wanted to know more about this one.
Can we put some more back story in?
This villain is a monster!

Feedback from readers is very different than feedback from writers.

Get both.

*** 

Have you used beta readers before? Did it work out for you? 

7 comments:

  1. Great analogy with the embroidery having two sides.

    I still get all of my feedback from other writers. Haven't branched out beyond my little pond of contacts yet, but good point about stressing too much on the minuscule "writerly" stuff. I may have had an insecure moment about short chapters recently too. :)

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    1. Other writers are invaluable when it comes to getting feedback, but you have to share it with straight up readers as well. Because they only care about one thing -- the story, and whether or not it works.

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  2. Insecurity is part of being a writer, at least until you become a bestseller, but we certainly don't want that to show in our writing. Betas are a great idea.

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    Replies
    1. I like to think that even if I become a best seller, I'll still be insecure!

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  3. It's so true that the things that drive writers up the wall, like characters looking in a mirror to describe themselves, don't bother most readers 'cause they care more about what's happening, and who it's happening to, than how it's delivered.

    It's like fellow musicians can help a great deal in writing a recording a song, but to see if it connects to people, you need to fire it up in a club of strangers and see if it makes them dance.

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  4. I like the musician analogy! I may have to steal it :)

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  5. There's a lot to be said to getting the feedback of both writers and readers. Both of them bring something essential to the task of honing your writers. You definitely want to connect with the readers on a story-telling level, but you also want your writing skills to shine before showing your work to an agent or editor.

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