Beta-readers.

When you reach a point in a project where you really need to know if a story makes sense to someone who lives outside your head, to whom do you normally turn?

 

I've got a few friends who are often willing to give feedback, but all to often reading a novel isn't on their priority list.

 

One of my friends, as an example, has a copy of every book I've ever written, and has never read any of them. He got a few pages into the children's book while riding an airport shuttle, but fell asleep (not because the book was boring; he's narcoleptic).

 

So what do you do to get that all-important outsider's view?

Comments

  • potetjppotetjp Professor

    I come from a large family not much given to reading novels as they prefer newspapers and magazines. I send a copy to three relatives, who generally read part of the book, and just tell me if they find it interesting. Surprisingly enough, one of them read Maître Tace (my French translation of a Filipino novel in Tagalog) to the last page, and found it very good.

    Friends are offered to buy my books with a rebate. I think giving them away would be a mistake for it is well-known people have no esteem for what is free; only what they paid for is valuable in their eyes. The few who buy them, do read them, and report enjoying them.

    A learned old friend of mine, now dead, would read my articles and make intelligent criticisms. I wish he were still alive to give me his opinion on my Lulu books.

  • I never trust the opinion of friends and family. I don't think they'd tell me if it stunk.

     

    I used an on-line service for an unbiased opinion. Can't remember what it was called now (it was a long time ago). I think it cost me about £60, but I got an in-depth report on the quality of the writing. I count it as a good investment.

  • Em_PressEm_Press Professor

    I had my novella sent to strangers in different countries to read. I had no idea what to expect. They were considering hiring me for ghostwriting so I knew their feedback would be honest.

     

    The comments came back positive. Wow, I thought, people actually liked it. They did mention grammatical inconsistencies and typos, and I fixed them.

     

    It marked me. The idea that others thought my story/writing was good. Objective comments are invaluable.

     

     A citizen of the world.

  • I found a writing group that would meet a few times a month, and after about a year of on again/off again meetings, I had a few friends from the group who were avid readers/writers. This group disbanded (or, more accurately, was absorbed by another group) about three years ago, but four of us formed a little beta-reading/sharing group. Now, when I have a manuscript, I send it to them for an outside opinion. 


  • Paul_Lulu wrote:

    I found a writing group that would meet a few times a month, and after about a year of on again/off again meetings, I had a few friends from the group who were avid readers/writers. This group disbanded (or, more accurately, was absorbed by another group) about three years ago, but four of us formed a little beta-reading/sharing group. Now, when I have a manuscript, I send it to them for an outside opinion. 


    Now here's the key question: If you write something that truly stinks -- and as writers, we often can't tell: It made sense to us! -- if you write something horrible, will your writing group say so?

     

    They can be polite, of course: "*ahem* Paul, what exactly were you trying to achieve in chapter three? Why on earth would you kill off the housekeeper's second cousin so soon?"

     

    As Richard says above, friends and family will be nice. "Oh, *you* wrote it? Then it's very very good!" But what we really need is along the lines of, "I like what you did in chapter two, but chapter three is boring, and chapter four -- you can't make that model of car spin like that.

     

    I even had one friend pick apart a reference to beers, because I made a pun on Stout with reference to lagers and pilseners. YES! Just what I needed! Unfortunately, that was all he said, good or bad, about the entire story...

     

    So is your writing group willing to be brutal? That's the question.


  • Em_Press wrote:

    I had my novella sent to strangers in different countries to read. I had no idea what to expect. They were considering hiring me for ghostwriting so I knew their feedback would be honest.

     

    The comments came back positive. Wow, I thought, people actually liked it. They did mention grammatical inconsistencies and typos, and I fixed them.

     

    It marked me. The idea that others thought my story/writing was good. Objective comments are invaluable.

     


    And what helps the most is that they were strangers. They had no interest in saying that they liked it if they really didn't.

  • That's precisely why I gravitated toward these people in particular. One of them, let's call him Bill, read a short story I'd submitted to the group for review, and while the handful of other readers approached it with the politeness we generally expect from a friend or family member, Bill went at it with the red pen, crossing out lines, bluntly telling me where he got bored, where I didn't make sense, and left me a note at the bottom that said, "nice try, good idea, the writing is lacking."

     

    That note hit me hard at first, but after letting it settle, I realized I wanted this guys opinion on all my writing. Not everyone who reads my early works is this brutal, but I like to have a spectrum of opinions, and I definitely do not want flowery congratulations on completing a manuscript without any comments about inconsistency, stiff dialog, or poor grammar. 

  • oncewasoncewas Librarian

    I don't bother...I simply publish. If it stinks it sinks. If someone likes it, they buy it.

  • Bravo, Paul, on finding "Bill." Every writer needs a brutal red-ink editor.

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