Writers, Embrace The Pain! (Or, Why A Good Beta Reader Is Worth Their Weight In Gold)

by sjbgilmour

Writers need editors.  That’s a given.  But, they also need beta readers.  Now many writers don’t use them.  Some have them, but don’t really know it – many of the traditional publishing houses out there still use in-house editors and copy editors who also serve as beta readers.

But, some writers don’t have beta readers at all.  Some believe they don’t need them.  I call “Bullshit!”  Really.  They’re just chicken.  Scared of getting their precious egos bruised.  They need to harden the fuck up.

Get beta readers.  I don’t care how you do it, but get some.  If none of your friends can string two words together, you’ve got the wrong sort of friends, and you should also look a bit further afield.  There a squillions of literary groups out there whose members also need beta readers and manuscript assessors etc, and will also provide those services in return.

Some of you may have friends who are also writers.  Some of them may agree to beta read for you.  If so, oh, lucky you.  Rejoice!  They are just the people you want going over your work.  They’re likely to rip it to shreds.  They know the rules.  They can point out mistakes your spellchecker doesn’t pick up, (oh please tell me you haven’t relied solely on a spellchecker), and  also tell you which chunks of text can be cut out completely.

Now don’t get all precious about the risk of some of these people stealing your idea.  They’re all quite busy with their own next big thing to worry about pinching yours, thank-you very much.

What you can expect from a good beta reader is pretty much what you should also expect from a good editor.  Expect.  The.  Worst.   Expect red ink.  Lots of it.  And, you whiney drama queens, don’t you dare complain when you see it.  Instead, look at it and be grateful.  You’ve now got a whole heap of ways to make your book better.

Every line of red through a word, every sweeping circle of highlighter, all those scribbled notes down the side of the page…  They’re not personal digs at you.  What they are, is one bigass collection of protection against 1-star sledgings on Amazon and Goodreads.

Do not panic.  Do not take offence.  You asked for it, so you got it.  Don’t look at it and groan.  Suck it up and start making those edits.

A good beta reader will not only point out spelling and grammatical errors, they will highlight things that are wrong.  If you use certain phrases too frequently…  If your diction sucks …  They will tell you.  If they don’t, if your beta reader praises your every word, then they are not true beta readers; they are fans.

Love your fans, by all means.  Without them, we would not survive.  It’s even possible that some fans may be capable and willing to beta read your work, but really?  Do you really want them to?  Trust me, the last person you want proofing your manuscript is a “yes man.”

If you can’t cope with that, well, I’m sorry but you’re not a writer at all.  You’re just a dreamer with a hypersensitive ego.  Grow some balls.  Welcome criticism.  Learn from it gladly.

If you do this.   If you really do want to improve your work, instead of just showing off to others by saying “Read my work and tell me how wonderful I am!”, you may just produce something people actually want to read, instead of a manuscript you have to beg others to “look at.”

There.  Now that I’ve vented my spleen, if anyone wants to take the red pen to my work, please feel free.  I know I could do better.  I know I don’t always follow the rules, (see what I did there?), and I know my own writing will always benefit from a good slash-happy copy-editor.  If you want the job, I’ve got the cookies.