From the Archives: Beta Readers

One of my favourite (and best) beta readers was my dear Aunt Norma. Now that she’s gone I’ve been thinking back to all the reading she did for me, and remembering her insight and tact, her encouragement and wisdom. Beta reading isn’t easy, either for the writer or for the reader.

I’ve drawn from the Archives again, from January 2009, for today’s post.

~

One snowy Sunday afternoon as wind-driven snow whipped over the backyard peaks and valleys, fashioning them into anonymous mounds, I settled in by the fireplace. It was time to begin reviewing notes made by the long-suffering people who agreed to be beta readers of my current novel.

Beta reading is a necessary tool in the path to publication but I find it nerve-wracking. This is the point when a story first goes public — someone other than me gets to probe my creation, poke into its structure and pass judgment on its credibility and readability. I want and need honesty from the readers, but I cringe at what their opinions might reveal about my storytelling effort.

Few of my readers are impartial. Family members and friends have a built-in bias — they are predisposed to a positive response. More experienced critique partners can sometimes be the opposite, nitpicking to the extreme as they identify all the ways in which the story isn’t told as they think it should be. I’m not obligated to accept any of the criticisms or suggestions, but I value every one. Once the story is published (notice my positive attitude here!), I may never know what the majority of readers think of it, so getting feedback now is desirable.

But still, there is a small chill of uncertainty within me. I suspect it belongs to the icy heart of my I.C. (Inner Critic) as she circles close by, subtly trying to cool my flame of hope for the success of this story. Is it really the best it can be? Is there even a market for it?

As the evening begins to descend, the outdoor lights come on for one last pre-Epiphany sparkle and I put aside my pen and the comment sheets. I’m choosing to spend the rest of the evening curled up with a book… mine.

I wonder, can I be one of my own beta readers?

Evening descends ~ January 2009

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5 thoughts on “From the Archives: Beta Readers

  1. HelgaB says:

    Carol, expecting and then accepting feedback on one’s writing is tough at first. I remember the first time I shared my writing with others and it is unnerving. But it gets easier. My critique group is sort of in between what you describe, not as kindly and subjective as family readers but not quite as nitpicking to the point of hurting my feelings either. We had to learn the middle road though. Egos are easily bruised, especially writers’ egos. In the end, it is you, and you alone who can make that judgment call whether to listen to your critics and make suggested changes, or to ignore them and plow ahead because you know your writing works for you.
    Receiving positive feedback is important and can go a long way to build confidence, yet there may be times when one has to accept criticism if the writing is just not good enough. Especially if more than one person says so. It’s happened in our own group where we simply had no way to avoid telling one of our members that this book is going nowhere. Tough to do, but we saved that writer a lot of time and trouble later on.

    • Carol says:

      I agree, Helga… sharing gets easier with time, but only if the sharing experiences are positive. I don’t mean full of glowing praise, of course, but ones where the recipient feels the reader has been fair and has offered constructive albeit tactful suggestions. Beta reading isn’t the same as critiquing.

  2. Sharalynn Anderson says:

    Hi Carol. I am a teacher of English to a wonderful group of grade 8 students in small town Alberta. I have just finished “beta-reading” first drafts of stories written before the Christmas break. I am wondering if I may share your thoughts as they look at their work for a second time? I would like them to hear from you – as a free-lance writer and as one who still relies on others to revise and edit . . . I appreciate your comments regarding the uncertainly of writing and the trust needed to put your work into the hands of someone else. It made me consider my role – am I predisposed to their success or am I nit-picky to the point of discouragement. Looking forward to your response.

    Sincerely,

    Sharalynn Anderson

  3. I wish I could tell you it gets easier; and in some respects it does because you can’t help but grow as a writer over time; BUT that inner child is more than likely the force behind your stories and she will always be a bit skirmish when it comes to hearing criticism. I think what you’re doing is a perfect remedy. Acknowledge the fear and continue writing and submitting your work anyway. God Bless!

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