Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pick Your Beta Readers Well

I’ve spoken at length about the need for beta-readers.  Beta-readers can give us an objective view of our work and allow us to see flaws that we might otherwise overlook because we’re too close to the work.  Unfortunately, not all beta-readers are created the same.

I recently gave my work to six different people who volunteered to read it and give me feedback, and I’m kind of sorry I did.  Out of the six, only two wrote me back.  I get that times can be crazy and people have their own lives, but we’re talking about only 10,000 words, and it has been over a month.  The four people who have gone silent should’ve said that they had no time.
But beyond that, of the two that gave me feedback, only one of them gave me anything worth a damn.  One of those who provided feedback missed the entire point of the novel(in this case, the book is about Satan winning Armageddon and what that world would look like, so don’t go evangelistic on me and tell me that Satan isn’t God’s equal…you just took yourself out of the pool by acknowledging from the start that you are incapable of providing an objective view).  The final beta-reader actually gave me something useful by pointing out where a character’s words and actions didn’t coincide, so I can appreciate that.
Yes, we’re all supposed to be grateful for anyone who reads our stuff, but that’s not a license to do a shitty job or blow it off entirely.  If a potential beta-reader feels up front that he or she can’t do something well, then that person should simply pass on the offer.  Being free and doing a favor doesn’t mean you should take it lightly.
I know I sound frustrated, but that’s because I am.  Too many view such a request as if I’ve suddenly become Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of gruel.  This is supposed to be a back and forth based on mutual respect.  If you don’t feel you can handle it, or you take the request so lightly, then just turn me down when I approach you.  If reading what I have is an inconvenience or you’re unable to break out of your preconceived world, that’s fine – just let me know so I don’t waste time and effort on you.
I think we writers are so desperate to get advice sometimes that we take any old crap that gets sent our way because we’re afraid of offending those who took up our offer.  I say screw that.  If I put myself out there, the least someone can do is take me seriously.  If that’s too big a hassle, then don’t volunteer.

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