THE ABC'S OF BETA READERS
Writing is a solitary effort, but writing well takes a team. So how do you find and train that team?
First on the list,
Alpha readers are people who read while you draft. These gorgeous monsters are your accountability partners and cheerleaders. They do not read to find problems, they read to keep you writing. A good alpha reader is someone you trust, because new book ideas are fragile baby deers and one wrong word can make you abandon your story in the woods.
Alpha readers can be anybody. Sometimes alpha readers are the writer's spouses, sometimes they are CP's with a specific instructions, sometimes they are beta readers on try out to become critique partners. Treat them well, because a good alpha reader is worth their weight in nutella. Make sure you choose someone who can give you the right amount of enthusiasm without it feeling like pressure, and make sure it's someone committed to seeing you succeed. I think the best alpha readers are people who share in your success, or people who you offer this same service in equal measure.
How to find them?
You don't find them, you train them! Look at the people around you who love you and who are enthusiastic about your success. Find your personal Leslie Knopes.
Look at your beta readers who always respond, or are overly eager. Give the specific instructions to be as positive as possible. Repost their favorite lines. Ask for chapters by specific deadlines because they need to know what happens next! Tell them to ask questions, and give theories on where they see the story going from here. Ask them what do they want to have happen next, and then give it to them! (or twist it so they are surprised!)
Alpha readers should be equal in ambition and word count, but they do not have to be at the same place developmentally. Being an Alpha reader is a great way to learn. Imagine being an accountability partner for one of your favorite authors, to see what their first drafts come out looking like, and then to watch to see them change and grow! I've learned so much by being accountability partners with someone who is a better writer than I am.
Often you find the best alpha readers by offering to be one for someone else.
With all these writing relationships, it is important that you don't use people, because that is the quickest way to use them up. A long lasting relationship is one where both partners give and take. Remember reciprocation in all things!
If you are new to this term, you may want to think of them as beta testers. Whenever a company develops a product they have possible consumers come test the product and give their opinions. Beta readers are very similar. Once you have a complete draft, and you've made it as good as you possibly can, you send it out for testing. Beta readers give feedback, or they find problems, they say whether or not they would buy these products, etc. And then you collect that feedback and readjust your product to be marketable.
I've found it's super important to select your beta readers carefully. You want to make sure they are the marketbase for your specific book. You want to make sure they can be honest, helpful, and that you feel safe accepting their feedback. I personally don't like having family members (or say my husband) be beta readers, because negative feedback from family hurts, it just does.
You do not have to subject yourself to pain in order to send your book to beta readers!
My personal secrets to finding joy while receiving feedback, is to remember that my ultimate goal is the best book I can, and that any usable feedback is a gift.
Beta readers are not there to teach you how to write, or there to rewrite sections for you. They can give possible solutions, but most importantly, they lead you to the problems in the book and hopefully give you enough feedback, that you are able to do the work and solve these problems before sending your book out to the world.
How to find beta readers?
Finding your pool of beta readers takes time and putting yourself out there. The first step to finding readers who like the kind of story you tell, is learning what kind of stories are you here to tell. That work takes time and risk and focusing on what you love. While you are doing that work, join social media groups, participate in twitter contests, follow people who seem interesting and interact with people. You can participate in #CPMatch. You can join local chapters of writing groups, you can go to conventions. You can hang out at Barnes and Noble or Starbucks and watch people type on their laptops. Find your fellow weirdos. Do that work!
I always find it helpful to start a new beta reader relationship with a first chapter exchange. One, because then you can see where they are developmentally, and see if your brand of feedback is helpful to them. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes you're not in the market pool for them, and again reciprocity in all things! Two, it's really a great way to find out how long it takes for feedback, it's a great time to chat and see if you click as friends and readers. Three, if it's not a good fit, you've only spent one chapter worth of time on each other. So you can leave a friends, even if it's not a good fit.
Sometimes betas ghost you, and that is kind of to be expected, IMO. I usually send my book out to six people, and hope to hear back from at least three people. Betas are volunteers. They are not free developmental editors. Any feedback you receive is a gift and a favor, and should be returned.
I'm working on being more friendly and interactive with my betas before and after sending them a manuscript. I sometimes get scared that they will hate me for making them read my book, (my brainspace is a lovely place to be, let me just tell you) and I'm an introvert, so I have to fight feeling like I just said 60,000 words to them so I need to take a nap. I'm trying to work past that, so I can make more friends out of my betas.
I also think it's a good idea to send your book to betas in waves. It's always good to get fresh eyes on revised books. I do not suggest sending your book to a beta more than once, unless you've established a really friendly connection, and the beta might be a potential CP.
Make sure you say thank you, and always make sure you ask first. Even a beta who has read for you a lot might not have time, or be in the right mental place to read. Or you might write a book that is just not for them. Always respect your readers right to say no. If you push too hard, then you can lose a reader, but most importantly, you can lose a friend.
Critique partners are in it for the long haul. They are here for you through several books, and often end up reading your book more than once. I usually read my CP's books about 4 times.
Critique partners is not a one-sided partnership. Find CP's who are at a similar place developmentally, and also similar in ambition and goals. Communicate often about your goals and dreams for the book. Make sure your partners are cheering for you and want you to succeed. Also talk openly about making sure the partnership is equitable. Sometimes your story will be the star and sometimes it is their turn, but make sure you both have the opportunity to shine. Make sure you are honest about their story, or problems within it, but don't take over. Share things you learn. Read writing books together and talk about it. Learn together, grow together, and dream together.
How to find a critique partner?
In my experience, critique partners grow from beta readers. Critique partners kind of evolve naturally. When you ask someone to beta, talk to them about what books they love to read, ask them about what heat level they feel comfortable with in romance, etc. And when you read their work, you've got to be a fan of it. Critique partners are beta readers who are really good at fangirling.
You love their work, and they love yours. You basically just are fans of each other, who love and support each other, and learn and grow together, and then one day get published together! In order to find your team, you need to be on other people's teams too. These relationships take time and effort and forgiveness, and sometimes letting go and moving on. But it's worth it. Go make friends and go make stories! Happy 2018! ~Sheena