The Scribble Mates

Friday, September 18, 2015

Care & Feeding of Your Beloved Beta Readers

A great question landed in my email today from a fellow author.  She was writing to me for advice on how to locate beta readers that would give her a useful critique.

All I can offer are my experiences with betas and how we work together to get that 'better book' in the end.  I hope this will help steer you toward your perfect betas too.

I think most of us go into an author/beta relationship like this:

Author invites loyal fan to beta for them.
Fan squees and author is ecstatic.
Fan reads and finds mistakes/plot holes/errors in flow/etc but doesn't want to hurt the feelings of the author.  Fan decides to spare the author's feelings and sends back the shining critique:  I LOVE IT! surrounded with hearts and stars.  Author appreciates the positivity, but knows the story could be made better and knows they need more.  Author is afraid to ask and Fan is disappointed with the book when it is published.
 Fan reads and finds mistakes/plot holes/errors in flow/etc and feels really let down.  This is their favorite author- where is the polish, the beautiful metaphors, the bits of sheer brilliance?  This stuff is crap.  Fan sends back a tough critique, telling Author what must be changed in order for this book to be satisfactory.
Author reads the wire-brush critique and worries that the entire manuscript is garbage.  However, some suggestions don't ring true.  Author makes the revisions the author deems necessary and disregards the rest.  Upon publication, Fan sends author an angry message for not 'fixing' the story and for wasting their time. 
An important note: 
A wise author told me a long time ago, when you ask your most loyal fans to beta for you, you are doing yourself and them a disservice.  Fans love your work.  It's a beautiful thing.  They are sweet little snuggly kittens that adore your books and beg you to finish the next release early because they simply can't wait to read whatever comes out of your head...

and these are the fans that will also go absolutely cat-shit crazy if anyone insults your work.  They are your most amazing fans, who take on the trolls, whether you want them to or not.  They plaster your new releases on all their social media sites, talk you up to their friends, tattoo your quotes on their arms.  They defend your work because they love it so much and they'll demolish anyone who says otherwise.  God bless them.

It's an honor to have rabidly loyal fans...but it's really unfair to ask them to beta, when all they really want to do is love your work.  They don't want to pick it apart.  They don't want to give you criticism--that's what they defend you against!

Know who your most loyal fans are and let them be the beautiful, magical, amazing fans they are.  Just don't make them your betas.  You both deserve to continue your beautiful love affair the way it is now.

So what are you to do?  

1. Ask your author friends to exchange beta reading with you.  It's a great thing to find an author you jive with.  I wanted to find mutual appreciation (I loved their work and they loved mine).  I also wanted to be sure their feedback rang true with me.  Sometimes people suggested things that just didn't feel right to me and sometimes I could look at a suggestion and just, that would make the story so much better!  They pulled an even better story out of me with their critique.

2. Form friendships with your fans and get a feel for them before approaching them about interest in beta'ing.  This is completely a gut thing, so don't be disappointed if you mistake a rabidly loyal fan for a beta possibility at first.  You'll get the hang of it.  Just be gracious and thankful for any and all critique you get (or don't) and keep on trying people out.  That's really the only way.  And if you're like me, I circle around and ask different readers most of the time, just so I can get different perspectives and find the various strengths in each beta.  Some are phenomenal at finding my inconsistencies (a blond is suddenly a brunette kind of thing), or they are great at pinpointing problems with flow or plot holes or sloppy dialogue...there are always a million ways to make a book better.

3. Try The Critique Circle online where you can post an excerpt, get crits, and then ask a critiquer whose crits resonate with you to critique the rest of your work in exchange for a crit of their work.  Absolute Write also had forums where you could be paired up with crit buddies and if you Google it, there are probably dozens of places to find crit partners online.

4.  Hire somebody.  If nobody's crits resonate, maybe you need to call in a professional.  Story coaches are an option and they are going to cost you, but it might be worth it to get the type of quality feedback you seek.   

5.  Don't ask your mother to beta.  Her job is not to destroy your dreams.  She's a rabid fan.

But what if you're still having trouble?  
Are you asking the right questions?  If you ask your betas only, "What did you think of it?" you're probably going to get a lot of "I loved it!" and you're probably going to be frustrated.

You just need better questions.  Ask your betas to tag the places in the manuscript where they began skimming.  Ask them to tag their favorite dialogue and their least favorite.  Pinpoint areas of the manuscript that you thought were weak and ask open-ended questions, like, "What did you think was happening there?" or "What did you think would happen next?"  You can figure out if your writing was leading them in the directions you meant it to with those questions.  

As you graciously accept their opinions, your betas will trust that they can give you more honest critique.  

But what if you're still having trouble?  What if your betas are still only saying "I love it" or if they aren't giving you critique that you can use?

Well, here's the God-awful truth:  it's not them, it's you.  

Every author I know has fessed up to this and I know I've been guilty of it too.  If you're not getting what you need from critique...chances are you're just not open to it and your betas feel it.  They don't want to hurt you or offend you, so they give you bland critique.  

If you think you suffer from not being open enough, take an honest look into your reaction to your critiques and see if the symptoms of this condition apply to you: 
  • you end up thinking everyone who critiqued your work is a dumb ass 
  • you feel down deep that your work really is perfect just the way it is and you just want others to acknowledge it.  
Don't be too tough on yourself if you suffer from ThinSkinitis.  We all have at one point or another.  Now that you've identified the problem, it's time to toughen up.

Accepting a critique is every bit as tough as giving an honest critique.  Nobody wakes up in the morning, pours a cup of go-juice and says, God, I hope they rip up my soul today.  But, if you are too vulnerable to get your work out there and let it take a're going to be disappointed with any critique you get.  You're also going to miss out on making your story any better than what it is right now.

I had to find that space where I could look at critique as objectively as possible.  Critique always feels yucky, but I've learned, while reading critique, to focus less on how it makes me feel and more on whether or not it will make the story better.  If it doesn't change the story either way, it usually gets tossed.  If the criticism feels unjust or unfair, out it goes too.  But if I can plug it into the story and it makes the whole thing's in!  

Something to remember is that your stories are not your babies.  They feel like they are extensions of your soul, but truthfully they are just thoughts that occurred to you, that had meaning at the moment you wrote them down.  You are not tethered to them forever just because you thought them.  They are meant to be mulled over and edited if they are not what you really meant to say.  Or, edited to be made more powerful or more complete or more clear.  

I hope this helps.  Have another thought?  Drop a comment down below and share your advice on betas too...we'd all like to hear it!  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Guess what's here?

Buy Now:

Pre-order Episode Six, coming June 30th, now on Amazon:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Dimension Thieves Book Trailer

So crazy excited.
It's here.
The book trailer for The Dimension Thieves.
I can hardly breathe.  I hope you can when you're done.
It's going to be a wild ride...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Doesn't Quite Make Sense?

Yesterday, I posted the new photo teaser for Episode 5- coming at you at the very end of this month.  Someone wrote me and asked if I meant it to read that way.  She thought it didn't make sense.

If you've already finished Episode 4 of the Thieves, you know what this means.
But if you haven't...what does it mean to you?    I'd love to hear your thoughts  <3 p="">

Monday, April 27, 2015


I'm audio.  I'm tactile.  I'm visual.

Don't know about you guys, but I also love a little intrigue.  If you do too--let's be friends.  And let me intrigue you.  Hey, I know!! Let's play on Pinterest!

For each of my books, I have a Pinterest board that gives visual clues.  Some fans enjoy keeping up with the newest pics and trying to figure out what is coming next; some just enjoy browsing the boards and connecting the pictures there with the story they've read.  You'll find a little bit of everything, from quotes and character photos to scene ideas, hints and clues.  I usually add pics while I'm writing scenes, so they give interested readers more insights and clues of what they can look forward to in future chapters or sequels.

But I have to warn you, many pics are not concrete representations.  If I post a pic of a unicorn, it might mean something abstract to me--maybe that a character has a utopian attitude or innocence about them, or that we're entering a magical place, or that horses don't have horns, dang it!  Fans tell me it is fun for them to try to figure out the clues in the pics I post, some just like looking at the cool pics on Pinterest!

So, today, that's what I have for you.  One of the cool Pinterest clues for the fourth episode of the Dimension Thieves, coming at you on April 30- this Thursday.  Click HERE to be magically transported to the Pinterest Board if you'd like to be further intrigued!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dimension Thieves Tunes

The solid beat of Jungle from X Ambassadors, Jamie N Commons caught my attention on TV- it was used in a commercial for The Walking Dead, but I caught a bit of the tune and had to find it and listen to the whole thing.


That beat at the beginning- that's Dimension Thieves all the way.  Slammed, pounded-- the ship, the crew, the dimensions they discover...the hard-hitting beat matches the way I think of the whole adventure.  The crew of the Karolina Nine are in for it.  That's why this was the first song I chose for the playlist.  

 If you want more of the DT playlist, 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Vloggity Reading from Episode 3 of THE DIMENSION THIEVES

Please be sure you are up to your reading of The Dimension Thieves before watching!
Episode 3 reading; Chane Benedict & Force discuss a problem of the female persuasion.