1. KatieValino
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    KatieValino Member

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    Beta Readers Letting Me Down

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by KatieValino, Mar 8, 2014.

    I don't know how to find people who will actually read my work to help me edit it. I really do know it is a big ask, I have a ton of friends who request the same from me and I do it. However, none of them are willing to return the favour. They will tell me to give it to them, (sometimes I don't even ask, they ask me) and then a month or so later I get told they have lost it or they haven't started it yet.

    How do you find people who would actually read it and offer feedback?
     
  2. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A tip for dealing with your current betas: don't read anything by any of them / give feedback on it before they've done the same for you. Or you can give the first feedback (like on their 1st chapter) but don't send anything before they crit your 1st chapter, then crit their 2nd, wait for them to crit your 2nd etc.
    We (KaTrian and I) have had bad experiences with betas who've magically disappeared midway through reading our MS as soon as we finished reading and commenting theirs. Hence we no longer complete any crits until we've gotten enough feedback for our own MS (or unless we actually know and trust the betas).

    And keep looking. There are plenty of great people here who are great beta readers. It's usually a good idea to hang around here a bit and get to know the people since that way you're much more likely to find suitable beta readers who not only understand your genre and style, but appreciate it and who are glad to read your stuff because they've grown to like / respect you through your interaction with them in here.
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Might be an interesting thing to start here. Allowing people to swap beta readers. You could go by a chapter by chapter swap. And maybe to keep members interacting in the site they could post an occasional before and after paragraph.
     
  4. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    They're called professional editors. You have to pay them.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Doesn't an editor differ from a beta reader with one looking at the grammar and structure and the other looking at story elements?

    I've had good luck with a critique group, but you may have to try more than one before you find one that is a good fit.
     
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  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem may not be your beta readers, but rather your expectations of them. You can appreciate that it is a lot of work without truly appreciating it.

    You can't expect professional services without paying professional fees. But if you want a reader, and you've done all the self-critique you could accomplish,why not make your next reader an agent or a submissions editor?
     
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  7. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I once agreed to be a beta reader for a nice lady who I owed a favor. The writing wasn't bad, but it wasn't close to being publishable. It was pure torture. In a page I knew what her major problems were. In a chapter I knew what she needed to do. But I'd given my word.

    Never again.

    But here's the thing. If people aren't willing to be your beta reader that, in and of itself, is an answer, especially if they've read a chunk of your work.

    It might help to read this.

    My personal view is to worry about the first chapter. Post it and ask for reactions. See if people ask you to post more. If not, dig into the craft and improve it. And when you do get people asking you to post more, there are your beta readers.
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think that's a tad over-simplistic. As somebody who has beta-read for many people AND benefitted from others beta-reading for me, I'd say it's a very valuable part of the writing process.

    A beta reader is somebody who is willing to read your novel and let you know what they think—if they enjoyed it, if they just couldn't get into it at all, what they think might improve it, where they got stuck, what elements they found confusing or unbelievable, what parts they particularly enjoyed reading, etc. Then it's up to you to go back and deal with whatever they said.

    You don't really know how your writing will sit with ordinary readers, until you ask them.

    The good thing about beta readers, as opposed to paid editors, is that you can often get several of them to read for you. Either they are fellow-writers, whom you offer to read for in return, or they are interested friends or family. Or friends of friends, etc. The more the merrier. The more people read for you, the more you get a variety of opinion. This gives you an idea of who your target audience might be, when you finally go to pitch your piece to an agent.

    And for people who caution against letting friends and family loose on your manuscript—it's up to you to filter what they say. If they are specific in their responses, rather than 'gee, this is great, now when are you going to get published,' you can use their feedback just as much as you would if it came from a stranger. Just pay attention to what they say. They may well bring up aspects of your story you've not thought of yourself, or point out problems you didn't realise were there.

    A beta reader isn't necessarily going to 'edit' for you, or go through your manuscript with a red pen and a fine-toothed comb. They are simply going to 'review' what they've read, but their feedback is real. It will give you a measure of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
     
  9. KatieValino
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    KatieValino Member

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    I understand that, but my point I was making, was that people are asking me to read it, I'll give it to them, then they never even read it, and I'm wondering how you guys go about getting genuine beta readers.
     
  10. KatieValino
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    KatieValino Member

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    Did you even read what I put? I am not asking these people to read it (only person being my mum who is happy to oblige as she birthed me). They ask me if they can read it, I'm very wary to let people read my novel because I am full of self doubt and don't like sharing such an intimate part of my life, but the couple of people who have read at least the first 4 chapters (only just finished it) have loved it, have demanded more.
    The problem is these people who ask for it then don't even read it and it makes me curious as to what you guys do. Posting it on here would remove publishing in English rights right?
     
  11. KatieValino
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    KatieValino Member

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    So much this, I'm not deliberately seeking people to read it, BUT if someone asks, then I would like some feedback from them, that is literally it xD
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would still just give them the first chapter. I might even insist that only the first chapter is ready to read, so that they don't feel obligated to beg for more. With just one chapter to read, it seems to me that the odds of some sort of response might be higher.
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I always just give out the first chapter and see what happens after that. If they're interested, they'll let me know they want to continue. (So far, most of them have done, which is cool!) I always tell them they're under no obligation, and if it's not their thing they can just say so. It will not affect our relationship at all. I've had a couple of friends who did not like my story enough to continue. And quite a few who did. The reaction is instructive either way.

    Incidentally, I have never asked for somebody to read my novel. I don't put people on the spot. I wait for them to ask me, so that's one hurdle jumped right at the very start.

    I've always said the great beta readers are not the ones who go on about your writing style (unless your style is a big problem.) The valuable ones are the ones who get into your characters and the plot. They want to discuss what happens in the story.

    These are the people you should pay attention to, because these are the ones who 'get' your story and what you're trying to do, even if some of what they say is negative. If they think a person is acting out of character, or think something you've written couldn't possibly have happened that way, or certain scenes move too slowly or too quickly—stuff like that. These are your target audience, and theirs are the opinions you should take on board.

    I think there is no excuse for a beta reader ignoring your work, if you've swapped stories for critique. That's just self-centered rudeness.

    However, if your beta reader is just somebody who begged for your story, started reading it, and then didn't follow through, I'm afraid you can't do any more. You can ask them to pinpoint the problem, of course; it's great if they can articulate WHY they didn't want to continue. However, most of them don't have this ability to critique in a helpful way, and will try to be kind and make excuses unrelated to the story, like they are busy, don't have time, bla de bla. They aren't going to say, "I thought it was boring," or "I really hate that kind of a story." You just have to accept that you just didn't grab them.

    Many published and award-winning authors would have the same effect on these people, so don't be too discouraged unless EVERYBODY reacts that way! Don't take it too personally. Just accept that these people aren't your target audience, and tell them they don't need to hide every time they see you coming, that you're not mad at them. Just like you can't expect everybody to share your taste in music or art, writing is also subjective. Some folks will like what you do, others won't.

    Concentrate on the people who are willing to give you feedback, and who do finish reading what you've written. These are the valuable betas, and they really are golden.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2014
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  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use my husband in the first instance. he has excellent eye for details, so he helps me weed out any semantic and SpaG issues, and also gives feedback about specifics. Then, once he looked it over and I polished it as far as I could, it gets passed around other friends and family. But only chapter by chapter, I never overwhelm them with the whole thing. That's a great deal for me because none of them are fiction writers so I don't need to return the favour. Once I'm happy with it, it gets sent out to agents and the a whole new level of re-write occurs, but that's a whole new kettle of fish.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2014
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  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Someone asking to read you manuscript doesn't qualify him or her as a beta reader. I wouldn't hand my full manuscript over to anyone for feedback, other than a publisher or agent, unless I had an extraordinary confidence in that person's insights. That means someone from whom I've received excellent on-target critiques of short excerpts, and who I know can switch gears to beta reading.

    I wouldn't expect, or want, a beta reader to put the writing through a microscope. That's for writing critique. What you want from a beta reader is for that person to read from beginning to end, and from that perspective comment on the work in toto. Now, part of that might be a tight-window critique of a representative passage, if there are problems with my writing style, It might also include a tight-focus critique on a chapter or scene that isn't up to the quality level of the rest. However, the focus of a beta reading should be how the entire piece holds together and grabs and keeps the reader's interest.

    By the time you are ready for a beta reader, your overall writing skill and style should be already buffed to a high polish, so you don't even need to ask at that level. You could still be wrong about that, but your writing, and you confidence in it, should be well beyond the point where you are looking for paragraph-level feedback. If your writing still needs that degree of help, you've no business expecting anyone to slog through a full novel's worth of it.

    Given all that, I can't see a great deal of value in a beta reader who isn't in a position to make a go/no-go decision that has teeth. So when I suggest putting it into the submission mill, I'm not being dismissive. If it's ready for beta, it's ready to start the submission process. It may still need work, but the opinions you receive at that point are on an entirely different level.
     
  16. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The first thing to remember: Nobody cares as much about your writing as you do. Not your spouse or sibling, grandmother or children. Not your agent or editor or publisher. Not your crit partner or your closest co-worker.

    With that said, many have the best of intentions, but don't follow through. Some because they don't realize the commitment and time they would have to devote. Some, because once they start reading, they don't have the heart to tell you that it's not their cup of tea, or really not very good. Some, because they just don't know how. Do they mark grammar? Do they give nebulous answers about characterization, trying to remember back to high school or a college literature class? They know you want more from them than, "It was good, and I enjoyed it." You want why.

    For one set of beta readers, I set up a mini questionnaire, that asked specific questions. I broke it down by sections of the book that grouped well together. Some used it, others didn't, and others, it gave them an idea what to do.

    As for the friends who you've read for, and they don't return the favor? Sometimes that's why friends are not the best people to work with in such an endeavor. It could be due to some of the reasons above. Or it could be that they're just lazy and ungrateful and self-centered. As was said, I wouldn't read something of theirs again, ever. And point out why when/if they ever ask you to do so again.

    Initially I had about a 50% follow through with beta readers. I just moved on, didn't ask more than once or twice after an allotted time. I could tell by the answer. I don't hold it against them. They just couldn't/didn't do it. Now I have a solid core of beta readers. I ask each, based upon the work (story or novel) which I know they'll be likely to enjoy content wise. I also have different expectations from the various readers. Some are grammar oriented. Others are big picture and them related, others plotline and character related.

    What I have done in the past is to take the individual out to a decent restaurant, and use part of the time to follow up with questions I have (clarification) based upon their reading and comments. The readers really tend to appreciate that.

    Good luck as you move forward.

    Terry
     
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  17. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    You titled this thread: "Beta readers letting me down." Then you said "I don't know how to find people who will actually read my work to help me edit it."

    Clearly, you have no clue as to what you're doing. But that aside I told you how to find real beta readers. Friends are useless for that function because they can hear your voice as they read, and will insert the emotion they know you would put there, as they read. People here, or on another site like this don't have that advantage. and will react as readers. But again, the best way to get them is to hook them the same way you hope to hook a publisher, by giving a sample and then waiting for them to send the entire manuscript.

    You asked the question, and asked it poorly. Don't complain when you don't like the terms of the answer.
     
  18. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    @JayG I think that's you're most grumpy post on this forum yet, and that's saying something ;) Not sure if that deserves a like or not. . . haha.
     
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  19. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Probably is, but it's been that kind of day. Besides, at my age I'm supposed to be a curmudgeon.
     
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  20. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    If you read their work they aren't obligated to read your work. If you're calling in a favor then that's a different story. If I word it that way, that I'm calling in a favor and they flake...that's when the friend cuts are made. I have no patience for dead weight.
     
  21. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Sorry, I can read your works, but can't edit them, because :
    1- I am not a Beta reader ( Maybe Alpha or even less)
    2- My English is not adequate to do that.
     
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  22. KatieValino
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    KatieValino Member

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    I did title it poorly I apologise, I'm no expert at asking for help I guess ;)
     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's a point, and some friends WILL do this. But I've had amazingly helpful feedback from other friends. These are people who are avid readers, and who pointed out places where my story didn't hang together quite as it should, where some events weren't believably presented. They also provided insight into some of my characters, what worked and what didn't. They pointed out my over-use of certain words. In other words, they did exactly what a beta reader should do. They gave feedback.

    As to recognising my voice ...one of the best reactions I had from a friend : "By the time I was three pages into it I totally forgot it was you who wrote it."

    So don't dismiss friends and family. Just be aware they DO know you, and judge their reactions accordingly. I think if they go into detail and want to discuss the story at length, you've grabbed their attention and their feedback is valuable. If they just go vague on you, don't finish reading, or read and tell you it's wonderful without being more specific, then you do need to be aware they may feel they're in a 'position.'

    Overall, I'd say the feedback I've received from betas thus far—both positive and negative—is evenly split between people who know me and people who don't. I honestly can't see any difference in the type of feedback I've received from either group. Well, with the possible exception of my sex scenes. But it wasn't a friends/family versus strangers split. Oddly, it was a cultural split instead. My English and Scottish betas were often uncomfortable with any straightforward sex scenes, preferring the 'closed doors' approach. On the other hand, my American betas (which included family as well as friends) and other Europeans quite liked them. As they are an integral part of my characters' development, the scenes stay. Go figure. :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2014
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  24. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    How can you tell? Because you like what they said? If the piece hasn't yet sold you can only hope it was useful information. A reader is good for reaction, but anything they say, other then that they didn't like a given section is meaningless so far as identifying the actual problem.

    Case in point: I've seen a lot of places where the beta reader says, "You need to talk more about the setting, because I didn't really picture it." In every case where that was said, I found not a setting, but a POV problem, in that the reader didn't know what the protagonist was reacting to, as that character perceived it. So the comment was useful in finding where the problem was, but not learning what it was.

    That gets worse when friends read because if you make the mistake of assuming the reader will "know what I mean," friends will know because they know you, and may come from the same background, and their reaction will be skewed from that of the general reader.

    Actually, it wasn't me dismissing them. It was something I first heard from Ben Bova, and have seen many times from other writers. What Bova suggested was to give your work to someone who doesn't like you, because if you can impress them, and make them say they liked it, you may have something. But to quote Sol Stein, who was a writer of great skill, a playwright and screenwriter of matching skill, and an editor and publisher, "Readers won't recognize POV errors, they'll just sense that the writing is lousy."
     
  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Publishing is a goal for most people - but lets be honest, publishing is about timing, about getting the work into the correct hands. Books/authors can be rejected ad infinitum - Gertrude Stein waited 22 years. Did that mean she was constantly getting better and better and was finally worthy? Or did someone finally recognized her piece as worth publishing. What about Beatrix Potter - the original self publisher? A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times then went on to win three awards.

    I know what you're saying and I agree with the Sol Stein quote but come on - not all of us can find great/professional people willing to read our stuff, we have to work with what we can, which means it's up to us to read books with relevant advise and do the research to make sure the advice is correct. Because the above paragraph shows you that even a publisher who can tell J.K. Rowling not to quit her day job is of no help to her despite his/her credentials.
     

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