Beta Readers! Where are you, Beta Readers?

An alpha reader or beta reader, also pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.
Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.
— From Wikipedia, retrieved March 13, 2016

I have no pride – I ask friends and strangers alike for their time and energy and insight and ideas. I learned early to ask for help, and I'm really glad.

They offer me help in spades. It's humbling, really. You see, in some ways, writing is a solitary, lonely art. And in other ways (especially since the invention of the interwebs), writers connect with each other and create quite a community. Which can help keep us sane. (I wish I was an artist, and could include a line drawing selfie of me, at the computer, pulling my hair out. Alas, no fine visuals.)

In February I finished my most substantive rewrite of my manuscript. I reduced its volume by nearly 30% at the urging of two professional editors who helped me make wise choices about who to include, which story lines mattered, and how to make hard decisions. 

Then, following some great workshops at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, I was empowered to learn about writing The Hero’s Journey.

Which gets me back to beta-readers. After I finished my edit, and bragged about it on Facebook, I asked for help. Many friends and strangers said maybe, and a few said yes, and now I await their feedback.

A very strange flower and seed on a beautiful plant - a Japonica I loved. May its new gardener like it as much I did. And take really good care of it.

A very strange flower and seed on a beautiful plant - a Japonica I loved.
May its new gardener like it as much I did.
And take really good care of it.

What did I ask them?

  • To tell me where they got confused or frustrated in the story. And why.
  • Where they got bored.
  • When did they put the story down?
  • Was the ending satisfying? Believable?

And finally (because I, like all writers, have bad habits that I can’t see myself)

  • Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?

I remember what it felt like when I sent my last two kids to kindergarten. I was terrified at what people would think, but at the very least they were darned cute.

My manuscript doesn’t have cute to fall back on.

I hope the generous people who read the story for me are honest, brutal and truthful in their critique. Because that’s the only way my writing (and the story) improves.

Next steps?

Waiting to hear from the beta readers. Then to copy-editing, cover design, formatting…and e-publishing.

Learning more about publishing…from friends and strangers. This life is nothing if not an adventure.

And thank you, everyone who has agreed to read and critique my manuscript. 

Even if I die a little inside when I push "send" and let it loose. Because more than anything, it's REALLY important that I know the truth.