Budgie’s Journal #95 – Beta Readers: Good or Bad?

I can’t across a blog article yesterday that laid out why using beta readers is a bad thing. I read it, and they made some good points. But I disagree that this process is inherently bad. I use beta readers, and I plan to keep doing so.

Those who have followed me for a while know I support the idea of having someone read your work before you do your final edits and ultimately release your book upon the world. But I don’t think the article was wrong. It just needed some balance, so I’m here to do that. You’re lucky to have me in your lives.

The article assumed a writer would send their manuscript to up to ten readers, changing the story solely based on the notes returned. This, I agree, is idiotic. For starters, that’s way too many people. You should have a few people you trust to do this. Let me say that word again: TRUST. If you’re sending it to random bozos from Twitter or whatever you’re going to get shitty notes in return. Trust your reader!

For myself, I’ll send one person a manuscript if they have time to read and want to help. This is a friend, a fellow writer, someone not afraid to hurt my feelings. They’ll give me notes back. I’ll know what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be fleshed out or have more backstory added.

This brings me to my next point. The article I found (or it may have been some of the commenters on this blog) suggested that you’re taking away from your own story, making it your beta reader’s story by altering it. I don’t agree with this either. What you should get is creative critism. And just because your reader doesn’t like something means you have to change it. They shouldn’t be rewriting your story anyway. You have the wrong people reading for you if this is what you’re getting back, and your resolve to write is weak if you’d change your own voice based on these readers’ notes. The notes are a guide, not your manuscript bible.
Here’s an example of a recent beta read I had:

I’m working on a book for next year called The Whore Ghosts of the Admiral Inn. This book deals a lot with the supernatural, spirits, and exorcism. I know a good deal about this from my research and social intercourse, but I’m by no means an expert. So I asked someone who’s more in-the-know than me to read what I have so far and give me some notes.

And that’s what I got. She gave me more insight into the spirit world, telling me which prayers should be used, which rituals should be done, and delved deeper into the characters interactions with the spirit world than I had.

I wasn’t told how to write the book. I wasn’t told to remove content or to rewrite entire scenes. I was given sound advice, and it gave me ideas I may not have come up with on my own. Also, my story will better reflect how these situations are handled in the real world.

Ultimately, my story will be that much stronger, and it will remain my story.

So that’s my two cents. There’s a good and bad way to do anything. Sending your book to ten writers and changing your voice to match another’s is amateur stuff. Using someone else’s knowledge or advice to make your own voice stronger and more concise is the right way to do it. But that’s just me. Then again; this is my blog.

-Budgie Bigelow

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