Romy's Blog

Beta Readers and Critique Partners

I'm back! After a gruelling few weeks (including a week in which I wrote over 30k words, a personal best for me) I'm finally sleeping more than 4 hours a night and feeling human again. This is the not-so-glamorous side of being a professional author that beginners often don't see: that pressure to perform to a deadline, to be both creative and analytical at the same time, while a clock ticks ever louder at your back.

But do you know what is even more intimidating that pulling an all-nighter to get a book finished, wondering if you're going to crack it? Sending that manuscript to your editor.

Clicking 'send' is such a tiny action, but it comes fraught with emotion, with indecision, and more than a little fear. What if she hates it? What if I didn't get the conflicts right, or the the tension, or the pacing, or the characters aren't likeable to anyone except me?

There's also a shot of adrenalin too, a hopeful excitement, that thought of "maybe she'll think this is my best work ever? I really hope she loves these characters as much as I do!"

No matter how many books you have under your belt, I suspect that moment of anxiety before you hit 'send' never goes away.

But there is something you can do to ease that feeling: you can practice for it.

Every time you send out your work to be evaluated, you'll feel that rush, that mix of fear and hope, and anticipation for a response. Sending to a friend is hard enough, but you know your friends and family won't want to hurt your feelings. Sending to a stranger is an exercise in trust that isn't easy for most of us. And sending to an editor or agent, someone who has the power to make or to crush your dreams, is one of the bravest things you'll ever do.

So the idea is to start small - show your work to a trusted writer friend, someone in the same boat as you. Then up your game, and find a reader who isn't in your comfort zone. That way, by the time you hit send to an editor, you'll already be part way ready to deal with that reluctance to hit 'send'.

Each of these steps will also force you to up your game. That English teacher friend who reads a lot might make suggestions on your grammar and word use, while an impartial reader who is also a writer might push you to rewrite your plot or your characters. An editor is going to gut your work and leave you staring at the bare innards wondering if there is any way to put that mess back together. (To be honest, the first time an editor did that to me, I gave up on the book. The rewrites were so massive I had no clue how to fix them.) Learning to take that feedback and implement it is a crucial part of becoming an author. With each step, you'll learn and grow, and you'll feel your writing improving. And one day when your editor says "I hate this, Re-write it to be more XYZ" you won't panic. Sure, you might cry a little (I still do!) but you'll have the experience to know that you can do this. You can face the fear, do what's needed, and hit 'send' again.

"But, Romy!" I hear you cry. "How am I supposed to get that kind of practice sending out my work when I don't know any other writers, and I can't afford to hire an editor or writing coach?"

The answer is: find yourself a beta reader or critique partner.

A beta reader is an unpaid test reader, someone who looks at your book not as a professional but as a reader. This is usually the easiest to find, since we all have that one friend who loves to read a lot or who is good with language. A really good beta reader, though, is someone who reads widely in the genre you're writing, who knows the conventions of your genre and who epitomises your future readers.

A critique partner is not so easy to find. This is another writer with whom you swap work, someone who is on the same journey you are. It can take a little time to find someone you really 'gel' with, someone whose strengths match your weaknesses, and vice versa, someone who is your greatest champion, your cheerleader and also your fairest critic. But when you find that person, it's as good as unearthing a 1,000 carat diamond. Chances are, you'll have made a friend for life.

So how do you meet that unicorn? I was planning on sharing that answer in this post, but since this post is already over 800 words long, and I have clients who have been patiently waiting for edits back from me while I've been busy writing my own book, I'm going to ask you to check back here next week for the answer.

How and where do you meet beta readers and critique partners?

I'll see you same time, same place next week with the answer.

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