Sunday, January 17, 2010

How to treat a beta

This is kind of an advicey post, I guess. I wrote it about a month ago, but finally I've decided to post it.

I think--I hope--my own beta readers know how much I adore and appreciate them. They give me all kinds of advice and encouragement, both critical and uplifting. On little chunks, on big picture problems. They are amazingly dedicated, and I couldn't have asked for better people to help me (try to) succeed.

And this is the way betas are supposed to be. They try, they care, they add a little of their own blood, sweat, and tears to yours. It's hard to remember that sometimes, because your ms is your baby, not theirs! But it always bears remembering that you would probably go nowhere if you tried to do it on your own.

The magic of betas--and later, agents, editors, and the general public--is an ability to see things you just can't. No matter how hard you try, you're not going to notice everything. No one does. In fact, one of my favorite things about discussing books with other people is hearing their varied opinions, the different things they noticed were "right" or "wrong" about the book.

Which brings me to my point. Feedback can be really overwhelming. Sometimes it takes a little time to absorb suggestions and work through them. On a sidenote, Kristin Miller just wrote a super awesome post about working through revisions, and what to do with that feedback.

Sometimes, you get scary advice. Maybe a beta doesn't understand a major plot point, or doesn't understand why your character would ever do what they did, or thinks something is unrealistic or needs fleshing out.

But just because it's scary advice doesn't mean it's wrong advice. You are only hurting yourself if you use the ignore and justify method. Okay, so this piece is the way it is because of your end. Well, if it's not working for readers, then your end doesn't matter, because no one will get that far. Maybe you did thorough character profiles, and maybe your character is so clear and vivid and 3-D in your head. But if they aren't coming off that way, then you have work to do.

Making excuses and justifying your every choice is so easy.

But giving advice ample consideration and making your story the best it can be is so rewarding.

And being kind to your betas ensure they'll come back to read for you again!

Just some food for thought. And not really based on any of my own experience. Not only am I lucky in having fantastic beta readers, but I've gotten to beta read for some pretty awesome people myself.


Becca said...

Agreed. Although I will say, some things I disagree with from betas. I think it's more of a "trust your gut" sort of thing, but for the most part, I listen. Great post!

Stephanie Jenkins said...

Great post and very true! :)

Kaitlin Ward said...

Maybe I should have mentioned that obviously you won't take every last scrap of advice. It's kind of impossible!
But respect is always important, even if you don't.

Amanda Hannah said...

There's definitely a lot of trust and respect that has to be shared. Awesome post, Kaitlin

And *hug*. You're a fantastic beta!

Emilia Joyce Plater said...

*holds up devil horn* Betas rock HARD! Treat 'em right :)

Pam Harris said...

I SO love this post. :) Right now, the only people that read my work are my cousin and a few classmates in my MFA program. I'm not sure if my cousin can be completely neutral since she loves me so much, and my classmates scoff at the fact that I write YA. Do you have suggestions on how I could find reliable beta readers?

Kaitlin Ward said...

Absolute Write has excellent people who are always willing to beta read. That's where I found most of the people who beta for me!