Early in 2012 I fulfilled one of my goals to do more public outings and to give back to the writing community who I sincerely wish I could spend more time cavorting with. I proposed, planned and was able to give a panel on one of my favorite subjects, Beta Reading. Like some writers can talk for days about world building, plot structures, characterizations, I love to dig into Beta Editing. OCD Alert, I love speaking about the tools, the processes, the degree of attention, the degree of cooperation involved. I have to admit that most of my study has been born out of dreams of the perfect beta reader. As a writer, I have this hmmm…selfish motivation. I wish that I could just crank out tomes and spend less time editing. Have a reader who could not only point out my inconsistencies, spot my errors and help me to stick to the damn plot. It would surely save me time and embarrassment but well…finding beta readers is not always easy and finding good ones is even rarer.
Now, I don’t toot my horn often, but I believe that I’m a pretty good beta reader when it comes to content. Back in the day when I didn’t have a good deal of writing assignments, I did a great deal of Beta reading for other authors and I loved it. Dissecting a text, writing up a summary, offering suggesting, pointing out brilliant bits and highlighting the awkward portions—Oh but it takes me back to my college days, scribbling notes (okay entire paragraphs) in red on the borders of “The Dubliners”...Yeah so, I am wiping the tears of nostalgia from the corners of my eyes as I peer at my writing schedule and how far behind I am.
So recently, my go-to beta reader asked me, “Do you think that I’m a good beta reader?” Thinking back to all of the times she has ripped into me about bad choreography, character inconsistencies, lack of action and sometimes the atrocious grammatical and punctual errors that I make, I have to say “Hells yeah!” Not to veer off topic but I often have people ask me how did you get published and I tell them that the most important commodity to have is a thick skin. (Not as thick as Jamie’s but thick).
Everyone likes cheerleaders, sure, but I don’t covet my babies, I send them out into the world to fend for themselves, so I would rather someone tell me that my kids are wearing mismatched socks and are lacking deodorant before they reach the door. Anyone who can’t take criticism and is afraid of the color red, has a hard road before them in writing. Submissions, Editors, Publishers can be (okay, mostly are) more keen on tearing your work apart than any Beta Reader. So my goal is to shoot for the least amount of embarrassment when I send off a new submission.
Let me tell you, the fact that my Beta reader is opinionated and picky helps immensely. Every writer’s needs are different, but I expressed to her that plot and choreography errors were my greatest concerns, that I wanted first impressions and opinions and she gives me that in spades. Do I need help with mechanics? Sure I do. [I am currently seeking a grammar and punctuation Nazi as a second Beta] but the fact that every story is a piece of clay which needs to be molded, hewn to the closest perfection before being taken to the kiln is undeniable.
I know several writers who have gotten discouraged over criticism and rejections, but I will always embrace it. I KNOW that there are flaws that I can’t see. I also know that I am often too close to see said flaws and so I love, adore and will do everything I can to encourage more readers to become Beta readers!
So from time to time, I will be posting Beta Reading topics and tools as I wait anxiously for my next opportunity to do a panel…which is also a New Year’s resolution.