On Revising, Part 4: The Subject of Beta Readers

One of the cool bits about writing is how much of it is an activity that doesn’t require a lot of collaboration.

Unlike, say, movies, you don’t require a lot of collaboration from actors, directors, producers, and technical crew, not to mention additional writers. The financial budget of producing a novel, no matter how you classify that, is going to be insignificant compared to the budget of even a grade-Z film going directly to digital distribution. It’s not a coincidence that George R.R. Martin first started writing his A Song Of Ice And Fire series after being frustrated with the technical and financial limitations television had put on his ideas as a Hollywood screenwriter, ironic since that series would inspire one of the most expensive television programs in history. 🙂

Being your own boss as a fiction writer has tons of advantages. You don’t get into any arguments over whether a character or plot twist makes sense, or whether your story should be set in Los Angeles rather than an undersea colony, for example. You set your own deadlines, as well as the size of your work (within reason unless you are willing to pay to get it published).

However, one area where collaborative effort can play a significant part in writing is during the revision process. Whether you call them peer reviewers, first readers, or, as is now the fashion, beta readers, having another set of eyes to read what you’ve written can be the difference between an OK revision and a great one.

Why is this? Simply put: you as a writer are not going to be able to find every plot point not wrapped up, every unrealistic characterization, and every unfinished scene, not to mention every misspelled word. You don’t need a village to write a book, but I think you do need more than one set of eyes to revise it.

Where do you find these beta readers? Unfortunately, most of us don’t happen to live in the household of Stephen King, which wound up producing four different published authors.

So, you have to look around. I’m lucky enough to have a local writing group that I participate in. This next month, I’m actually hoping that some of them will do me the honor of reading my latest WIP. There are many online groups that have people willing to look at WIP’s, although the quality of this help can vary. I’d recommend developing acquaintances with members online before asking them to beta read.

Sometimes you can be lucky enough to get a professional critique. I’m hoping that my visit to a local writing conference will provide that to me later this month. Unless you have the resources, however, I wouldn’t spend a massive amount of money doing this.

As far as when in the revising process this should take place, I would say it should happen before you seriously consider adding and/or subtracting major portions of your manuscript. By that, I mean the heavy lifting.

Whatever form it takes, having more than just your eyes and viewpoint revising your work is key to making sure you don’t leave anything needed out and that you don’t keep anything that you don’t need.

2 thoughts on “On Revising, Part 4: The Subject of Beta Readers

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