Revisions part 4: the Beta Read, #amwriting

There comes a point in every manuscript where we have done all the revising and self-editing we can do. You may think that after one round of revisions you’re done.

I suggest you don’t rush to publish just yet. If you are smart, the external eye comes into play before you get to the final round of revisions.

It’s best if you can afford an editor. However, as I said last week in my post, Revisions part 2: Efficient self-editing, there are ways to make a decent stab at self-editing.

Regardless, you should consider having your manuscript looked at by a trusted member of your writing group or consider paying for what is known as a beta read. Beta reads by professionals are far more affordable than professional editing. A good beta read will point out the areas in a so-so story where it bogs down or gets confusing.

An unfortunate truth is that some indie published works are clear examples of work by authors who don’t realize the importance of working with an external eye. Those who have had assistance from readers in their writing group are more likely to turn out an enjoyable novel.

What is quite disappointing to me is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category. I’m at a loss as to why this is so.

So, what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?

Beta Reading is done by a reader. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys novels in that genre. Strict attention is paid to the overall story arc.

Beta reading is meant to give the author a general view of its overall strengths and weaknesses. The beta reader must ask himself:

  1. Were the characters likable and did the reader empathize with them? If not, why not?
  2. Where did the plot bog down and get boring? They should note the places where they wanted to skip forward.
  3. Were there any confusing places? These places should also be noted.
  4. What did the reader like? What did they dislike?
  5. Did the ending satisfy them?

Beta Reading is not editing. Editing is a stage of the writing process. A writer and editor work together to improve a draft by correcting grammar errors and making words and sentences clearer and more effective. Weak sentences are made stronger, nonessential information is weeded out, and important points are clarified.

Sometimes, major structural issues will emerge in an edit that must be addressed. If your work was read by a conscientious and kind reader, you will have addressed those areas first.

Editing is expensive because it is complex and time-consuming.

Therefore, whether you choose to self-edit or hire an editor, you should consider having your work beta-read after your first round of revisions. That way, you will be aware of the larger areas of concern and can address them first. The second round of revisions will go more smoothly.

No one writes flawless work without going through some sort of editing and revising process. Even with all that effort, when I get to the proofing stage, my sister, a retired educator, finds errors in my work.

I’m fortunate to have a good writing group and am friends with fellow authors who will beta read for me before I send a manuscript to my editor for line editing. I do the same for them.

Don’t ask a fellow member of a professional writers’ forum to read your work unless you want honest advice.

They will be kind, but they will point out areas that need work. And something for you to remember is that even if they don’t “get” your work, they spent their precious time reading it, taking time from their own writing.

Choose your readers carefully. Sometimes, no matter how close your friendship is, some people are not cut out to be beta readers. Perhaps they are not cut out to be readers at all.

Some people are like one of my aunts was. She found fault with everything, was proud that she shot from the hip, and her blunt comments took no prisoners. I got on with her only because I never asked her opinion of anything.

Be warned! If you offer your work to a person like Aunt Jo, don’t be surprised if she eviscerates you as well as your work.

If you have offered your work to a reader and then discovered they had nothing good to say, don’t feel guilty for not asking them to read for you again.

As difficult as it is to experience, negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional.

Never be less than gracious to a person who reads and critiques your work when you communicate with them.  Remember, they have taken time out of their life to read your work, and you did ask for their opinion.

Sit back and cool down. Consider the areas they find problematic and find ways to revise and work out those problems. You might find that your second round of revisions goes quickly because you have targeted and resolved the larger areas of concern.

Above all, keep the finished goal in mind and keep writing.


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