Beta readers: Who are you? Where are you?

I have a confession to make. All of you agents to whom I’ve already sent queries, please turn the other way for a moment. I’ll tell you when you can begin reading again.

I haven’t beta-tested my manuscripts yet. It flat-out didn’t occur to me. I’m naive, remember? And I’m not really sure how to find good beta readers, or whom they should be. Or what to ask of them. I somehow overlooked all the cautions from many agents that they want the manuscript beta tested before the query arrives. I’ve had a couple of family members alpha test it — that is, read a chapter here or there while I was actually writing, and give me feedback.

But no one’s gotten the whole manuscript with the instructions, read it, tell me what you think, be brutally honest, please. It seems to me that’s a lot to ask of someone, and I just didn’t bother.

OK agents with my queries in hand, you may resume reading again here. Thanks.

There’s a lot of advice out there on finding good beta readers, and what they are, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus.

Belinda Pollard at Small Blue Dog Publishing has an excellent list of characteristics of the optimum beta reader. Someone in the target audience demographic. Someone who is opinionated but not harsh enough to kill your dreams. Someone not close enough to you to pull punches. Someone who is a frequent reader, maybe even a writer. Savvy in the publishing field. She offers a few other helpful ideas as well. Not Mom, she warns. Or significant others.

That narrows down the people I actually know to about zero. Well, I could stretch it to two or three, including people I don’t really like. Pollard doesn’t actually offer advice on WHERE to find such people if you don’t already know some.

Paranormal author Jami Gold takes a different tack. Anyone can be a beta reader, she suggests. The key is to ask them to do some things that ordinary readers would do: Mark things that take them out of the story, pacing issues, emotional feedback, etc. “Beta reading is not about the reader’s knowledge of the craft of writing, but about what works and doesn’t work for them as a reader,” she states.

So, OK, Mom, you’re back on my list?

Finally on Literary Rambles I find some practical advice on where to find betas. Casey McCormick suggests we sign up for literary forums such as Absolute Write and post requests in the appropriate forums. Her readers posted comments suggesting other places, such as OnlineWritingWorkshop, ForwardMotionWriters and QueryTracker. I’m pretty sure Mom isn’t in any of those, but maybe that optimum beta Pollard talked about is.

Acquaintances in writers’ groups and people we’ve met at writers’ workshops also may be possibilities, but I gather they’re in the same pickle I’m in. Maybe quid-pro-quo is the answer.

But then there is this advice: Michelle Davidson Argyle’s Writer Blog urges us to find someone we trust. That sort of rules out all the strangers we met at WritersForum of the Southeast Orange County Writers Conference. So where, then? Friendships! she suggests. Make requests through blogs and social networks. And now I’m confused again.

Pollard said we need 2-4 good ones.

Well, you have to start somewhere, so here goes:

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. Anyone interested in being my beta reader for The Murder Plague, let me know. Work pays nothing and will require a careful reading of an untested manuscript. Brutal honesty is a must, but I reserve the right to ignore anything you say. However, I will be forever in your debt. Apply at ScottMichaelPowers@yahoo.com.

2 thoughts on “Beta readers: Who are you? Where are you?

  1. Thanks for linking to my blog! And yes, I understand the confusion about beta readers. 🙂

    People say not to go with your mom because most moms aren’t going to want to pick on our work. A few of my friends have English teacher moms who go “red pen” all over their stories, but they’re probably the exception. So anyone who is able to read with a CRITICAL EYE can be a beta reader, whether they’re a friend, writer, reader, etc.

    I typically go the quid-pro-quo route with other writers. I’ve heard good things about Critique Circle (http://www.critiquecircle.com/) and my friend Janice Hardy just said she’d help organize a forum for matching writers together (http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/03/are-you-looking-for-critique-group-or.html).

    As far as the trust issue, I’d suggest starting with just a chapter from people. That’s not too much to ask, if they enjoy the story they won’t mind reading the rest, and most importantly, you can test out their feedback. Are they able to critique without attacking? Is their feedback helpful? Do they “get” your voice? etc., etc. 🙂

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