Today I want to talk to you about getting a beta reader. In this article about your prepublication checklist, I defined it as someone who reads your work objectively to point out its strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate purpose of a beta reader is to make your story better. Note that I said to “make your story better”, not you. What does this mean? If you will receive the services of a beta reader, you must be willing to accept criticism. Continue reading “4 Tips On Getting A Beta Reader”
Writing is a lot harder than people think, especially for budding writers. You think that all you need to do is to write, until somebody tells you that your story is not so great, that it has loopholes and that your characters are not well developed. So, you go in search of writing tips because you want to get better. But it doesn’t get better, because suddenly, you’re bombarded by tons of writing advice and trying to adopt them all!
I know it’s crazy, and that’s why I’m here to help!
In this article, I’m going to share five tips that I genuinely think will help you. You don’t have master all the advice you’ve read online or elsewhere, just master these.
Ready? Let’s go!
There’s no going around this, if you want to be a good writer, you have to read. And make sure you’re reading the right stuff. Read good books by authors who have mastered the craft of plot building, character development, and language use. You might ask, “How is a newbie supposed to know this?” Well, this is my advice, read classics for a start, you can hardly go wrong with these. As you do this, you’ll get a sense of what’s good and what’s not.
Maybe this should have come first to stress its importance, but you need to write. Write often, practice what you’re learning from your reading. I always tell my StoryCrafting students that writing is like building a muscle, the more you do it, the better/stronger it’ll get. I suggest that you write every day, if you can. You may start by writing a page, two, three, as far as you can go, just make sure you’re consistent. Do this unfailingly for six months and see if you will not recognize improvements.
3. Let A Good Beta Reader Critique Your Work
Now we’re getting to the hard stuff. I saw somewhere that submitting your work to be critiqued is like giving someone a sword and telling them to take a stab at you! 😀 So let me just tell you now, it takes a great deal of courage to give someone your work to critique, and no, I’m not talking about a family member or a friend who’s afraid to hurt your feelings. I’m talking about someone who knows how to identify plot holes, weak characters, faulty themes, weak sentences, and other shortcomings. Someone who’s not afraid to tell you, that the story doesn’t work and you should do a rewrite or abandon the idea altogether.
I am working on a post on how to get a good beta reader so look out for it. But the general gist is this, a beta reader (or just someone) will give concrete advice to strengthen your work. A beta reader is a fresh pair of eyes, helping you to see what you can’t see and noting the improvements in your skill. When you know that your work will be examined, it compels you to work harder at it. If you have this as a budding writer, it is priceless.
4. Follow And Subscribe To Magazines
When you follow reputable magazines (such as The New Yorker, or Catapult), it gives you insight into the quality of work that you should aspire to. Some of these magazines have helpful interviews and podcasts that you can read and listen to, and they can be like a mini-workshop experience. You discover writing processes and ways that you can improve on yours. I remember once reading an interview of Maya Angelou, where she mentioned that she read portions of the bible for the aesthetic language. I found that interesting and made a note to study those portions as well.
Following these magazines, also gives you insight into how the industry works, and what you need to do to succeed in it. The more you read, the more you’ll recognize patterns and industry secrets.
What I love the most about following literary magazines however, is that you will find writers whose writing voice and style are similar to yours. This helps you to refine the list of writers you wish to understudy. Let me say this, it helps when you find a writer whose themes and writing styles are similar to yours. So, don’t try to reinvent the wheel claiming your style is “new” and “fresh”, read their works and learn their techniques.
5. Permit Yourself to Grow
I tell my students this cold hard fact, my course is not going to transform you into an overnight genius writer. It will guide you, but you still have to do the work of studying and writing. Too many writers (myself included) are impatient with themselves, trying to achieve perfection after a short time of practice. You need to find your writing voice, and when you do, know how to employ it. So give yourself the permission to grow, and make mistakes. So long as you continue to read and practice, you’ll do just fine.
Trust me when I say that these five tips are really what you need, but note that you cannot do them without study, discipline and commitment.
I hope you’ve found this helpful. Please share your thoughts below!
You’ve just finished writing the first draft of a story and you’re excited about it. You have set your characters free, so you feel relieved. Now you can’t wait for the world to read it, you hope they can understand the world you’ve created and that they care about your characters.
Before you send that work out however, read this!
1. Go over the story.
A first draft is what it is, the first. As you revise your work, you might discover that you have not considered an angle, explored the theme to the best of your ability or underdeveloped a minor but significant character. You want to be sure that your work is saying exactly what you want it to say, so it is important that you go over it several times before you share it with the world. I have sent out work that I hadn’t thoroughly revised and I was sorry for it, so read that story one more time.
2. Share it with a beta reader.
A beta reader is basically someone who reads your work objectively to point out its strengths and weaknesses. Such a person should understand what to look out for. So I’m saying, don’t share it with someone who will only flatter you. He/She should understand characterisation, theme development, setting, language and plot. You might not find all these qualities in one person, so it’s alright to have more than one beta reader. A good beta reader will look out for the little details that your story lacks. I have a beta reader who points out my weak sentences and another one who points out my long ones! If you’re reading this and you don’t have a beta reader, you should get one!
3. Have it edited.
This is super important! You need an editor to correct grammatical errors, proofread and ensure the coherence of your work. I have seen too many people whose works have little to no consistency or order rushing to get published. In the first draft you’ve dumped so much information, some of which is unnecessary and needs to be taken out. A good editor identifies these and helps to polish your work. No matter how many times you read the work, you cannot see all your errors because you wrote it. Don’t be afraid of editing, in fact, embrace it as a necessary tool for the refinement of your work.
I know the thrill of wanting to share your work quickly, and I have published work I am not very proud of, because I didn’t take note of these three tips. Don’t be like me, do better!
Got any questions or comments about anything you’ve read here? Feel free to leave a comment and share your own experiences!