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Posts Tagged ‘criticism’

Using Beta Readers

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Earlier this week, I received a two-part question:  Who are beta readers, and why should I be using them?

Beta readers are people who read early versions of your manuscript.  In general, they should be in your target market (e.g., if, like me, you’re writing a book in the fantasy genre, your beta readers will tend to read lots of fantasy).

Their job is to:

  • read your entire work
  • let you know what parts they found boring, unnecessary, confusing, or conflicting
  • look for specific problems that you’re curious about (consistent characters, believable sequence of events, etc.)
  • give you an overall rating of your book…ideally, “I would recommend this to a friend”

Note that beta readers are not critique partners.  It’s unlikely that they’re writers, or have knowledge of how to construct a story.  However, they are likely to “know good work when they see it”.

You should use beta readers when you think your book is nearing its final form.  For example, I am nearly finished with my novel, so I plan to use some beta readers starting in mid-February.  If you still have major revisions planned for your work, you probably should not be using beta readers.

With any beta reader, you should always set expectations up front.  I plan to send the following guidelines to my beta readers.

Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for my current novel.  Since this is a work in progress, I am looking for your feedback on the following items:

  • Did you stay engaged in the book?
  • Were the characters interesting enough to hold your attention?
  • Were there any parts that seemed long and/or boring?  If so, where?
  • Who was your favorite character?  Was there a reason you liked him or her?
  • Was there anything that made you think: “There’s no way that would happen!”?  If so, please describe.
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?  If so, could you describe the person you would recommend this to (no names please)?

In this case, I value honesty more than my feelings.  We can still be friends even if you hate this book.

What other questions would you ask?  Do you disagree with this approach?  Have you used beta readers successfully?  Share your experiences below!

Should I write only for money?

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Last week, I participated for the first time in #writechat on Twitter.  #writechat was created by Julie Isaac (a.k.a., @WritingSpirit – Follow her!), and it’s a weekly event every Sunday afternoon from 12-3PM PST.

For all you writers out there, this was a valuable use of a Sunday afternoon.  You can dispense advice or ask questions from dozens of writers from a wide range of experiences.  You should go.

One of the topics that came up last week was whether someone should write only for money.  One participant indicated that she always writes with the intention of getting paid.  There’s a lot of financial sense in that: why would you spend your time working on non-productive tasks?

While I applaud the concept, there are some other reasons to write with no expectation of money:

  • A story for a family member or friend – They, particularly children, love having a story crafted just for them
  • A letter for a loved one – There’s still no beating the rush of receiving a personal letter in the mail
  • To try out a new style – When you’re just trying out a different writing style, there’s often no market to sell to
  • To expand your horizons – When you’re trying to make sense of a new technology, experience, or person, sometimes writing it out will bring clarity
  • To preserve something for posterity – A journal can be an invaluable asset for your surviving family members when you go
  • To help build a relationship – Sometimes a letter is just the right thing to help you get that new client or learn more about a family member’s past

In some cases, you may still be able to sell your writing.  However, for the most part, I think this is unlikely.  However, you’re still investing in your own skill and helping others you know, so there’s a lot of non-monetary reward.

Does lack of a financial reward lessen your drive?

When there’s a purpose, I think we’re driven to write better.  Sometimes non-monetary rewards are those that will help drive our for-profit writing to even higher levels.

What do you think?  Should a writer only write for-profit?  What other places might a writer’s efforts be spent on that are more valuable than money?

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