Hunting Wild Beta Readers

I’m about a week, maybe two, from finishing the second draft of Shaken. It won’t be perfect, but it will be ready for fresh eyes not yet jaded by the detailed readings my fiance and I have given it.

Honestly, it’s just words to me now. I killed a darling sentence awhile back, and since then, I’ve been ruthless: deleting right and left, adding where needed, and generally trying to turn a rough draft into page-turning urban fantasy mystery. But I know the story so well that I can delete things and still understand what’s going on and why—things someone less familiar with the story may not follow.

So I’m starting to hunt the wilds of my life for potential beta readers.

Hunting pedestrians in a car is probably easier than hunting beta readers.

This girl wants to read it, but she doesn’t really read urban fantasy and may not have much feedback to offer. This person will love it no matter what. This person will be so harsh I may have to jump off a bridge when I receive notes.

One person in my sights seems promising, but asking someone to beta-read seems  like a big commitment or something. Do I want to reveal to him my deep artistic vulnerability? Will he have time to read my novel in the next six days, let alone six weeks or even months? Will he love me enough to keep reading my book after the tenth time he’s seen my inconsistency in capitalizing a world-specific word?

Another person I’ve been stalking for awhile, circling my prey and trying to gauge if I can separate her from the herd of reading-exchange-buddies. She doesn’t seem weak enough to fall for the writer’s equivalent of the bird-call, the offer for a beta read in exchange… but perhaps if I could lure her into my trap with an offer of cookies and coffee?

Beta readers are no easy prey, friends. One may look plump and weak, but then gore you with its horns. Another may flee at the first sign of a split-infinitive. Still another may stand aside and offer you not just hunting tips, but also plotting strategy and better names for characters, and, really, she could have done it better than you if only you’d come to her sooner.

No, be wary when venturing into the beta reader habitat. A beta reader might have told me to stop mixing my metaphors in this blog post, but perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten my ironic sense of whimsy—and if I changed it to suit his wishes, would I kill my voice and just be writing to please him? Or worse, if I refuse and preserve my voice instead of taking his advice, will I discover that my voice is pitchy enough to make ears bleed and therefore unpublishable?

I tell you, readers, this is a safari into the deepest wilds of friendship and acquaintanceship. If I haven’t come out of the jungle in a month, tell my cats I loved them.

How do you find beta readers, readers-who-are-writers? What do you look for in a beta reader?

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19 thoughts on “Hunting Wild Beta Readers

  1. I’ve had a hard time finding Beta readers for my finished stuff and worse of all those who have pleaded to read it then fall mysteriously silent which just makes it worse. Although I would mind if you tell me it sucked, at least you told me. The not telling part? Not cool. 😦

    1. Right there with you. I’ve had people beg to read stuff and then once I send it they never even open the fire. It’s frustrating. I have my first novel with a beta right now, but I don’t know when I’ll hear back.

  2. I find it so hard to find willing readers, I will take anyone. I don’t actually choose my beta-readers, but that’s an interesting concept I will have to explore in the future.

    My beta-readers are all fellow writers who need beta-readers too. We exchange.

    1. I don’t exactly have potential readers lined up outside my doorway. I’m more just trying to decide who I’ll approach, who might actually enjoy the book and be able to give me some feedback. Sadly, I don’t have too many writer friends I’d be comfortable asking to exchange. You’re lucky you have that. 🙂

  3. Hey Kristin! I will happily beta for you. 🙂 I love urban fantasy. I have an urban fantasy of my own looking for a beta reader, so if you’re interested, that would be awesome. 😀 My email address is adriana@adrianaryan.com.

  4. I have a secret list of beta readers, when my rough draft is finished – and I’ve given it a thorough edit — I will appear to them in a dark cloak, and drop a Level 5 Guilt Spell on them. I won’t warn them in advance, as that will give them time to prepare their defenses.

  5. I’ve never made it to “Beta,” sadly. I keep breaking the first rule of writing: WRITE.

    Who would I approach? I have a short list consisting of maybe 3 people. None of my current friends really read anything, and when they do, it’s not what I write. I do have two or three prospects (one who owes me a read in return for editing his own work, two who’ve made me read their works over the years). In short, though, I’m at 6.

    I’ll beta anything you want.

    1. Add me to your short list! I’ll beta for you any time you’re ready. 🙂

      Oh, and trust me, you’re already on my list. Mwahaha….

  6. It’s really hard to ask friends, isn’t it? For the reasons you said – they may be too nice, or they may be too harsh and you will BELIEVE them and go jump off that bridge.

    In time you will find reliable betas. Until you do, there are always contests. I belong to the Romance Writers of America http://www.rwa.org and they have tons of contests in all genres. You usually get read by 3 judges and you get comments and score sheets. Often the results are all over the board, but if you get 3 judges saying the same thing, then it’s time to listen.

    And, since this is anonymous, if you don’t like what any of them say, you can just write them off as jaded, and then you won’t have to jump off that bridge!

  7. Friends are great. They’ll read your stuff and say, “Wow, aren’t you clever?! Look what you did!” And that’s great, because then it makes you want to write more. The beta readers that have done me the most good are a couple of women I met at a fiction workshop last fall. They like my stuff (woot!), but they also tell me what doesn’t work, and that has done worlds to make it better. If I’m serious about getting a piece read, I’ll send it to these girls or look for someone who’s a) a writer and b) someone I know well but not so well that they can’t be honest.

  8. One thing I’ve found helps when using friends (besides finding friends who both love to read so they know books AND love you enough to be honest) is to give them just one or two chapters at at time. I tend to write then edit each chapter multiple times before going on to the next chapter, so I can give them something fairly solid to read. If they come back fairly quickly and want to know why I’m allowing myself to have a social life when I could be at home writing the next chapter — I know I’m keeping the book flowing along well.

  9. I’m terrified of having to eventually find beta readers. I have several people that want to read the finished product, especially those who have been keeping up with my blog posts, but I’m not sure I trust anyone to be honest about the corrections I know I need.

  10. I dunno — I haven’t had much luck myself. Two of them eagerly said they would read and never followed through. Two should have never read them — they weren’t the right readers for the then book. One was a romance writer who was vehemently anti-gun, and that book was a thriller set during the Civil War. She hated the book, and her kindest words were “Your prose is clean.” The other person read only non-fiction and wanted all the dialogue removed because “narrative told the story” and wanted a summary of the war’s events at the beginning of the story.

  11. Ha! Great post, and so true. I think it is just a slow build, keep your eyes open, chat about your work and build that beta-readership. Some may turn into your biggest fans.

    I thought I had a few at one point, but a number of them were co-workers and we suddenly got really busy at work… So much for that prospect.

    Perseverance. Darnit if there isn’t a better option.

    That said…I’m looking, too.

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