Beta-reading is the trial by fire before you jump into the live volcano

Because your beta-readers are the first to get a glimpse of your mess masterpiece, and the experience had better prepare you for the reality out there: readers might not love your book. They might not drool over it. They might even hate it. Or worse—not care about it at all.

Good beta-readers will critique your MS.

Awesome beta-readers will rip it apart, pour the sizzling acid of their opinions inside the wounds, then sow the thing back together and leave it on your doorstep, oozing ink-blood and self-confidence with every throb of its fictional heart.

You might not agree with them, or even cower in a corner, cradling your fragile, broken ego-egg. After all, how could they not see your genius? How could they not get what you’ve created out of the sheer creativity of your creative spirit? Infidenls! Worst case, you might actually start believing you really do suck, everything you write sucks, and this suckitude will extend into all eternity forevah.

Snap out of it!

Pats on the back are nice, they make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but they won’t help you sharpen your skills. On the other hand, kicks in the groin are fucking painful, and they might leave your sensitive parts permanently damaged.

The sweet marrow of truth lies in the middle.

Tough critique—that focuses on what doesn’t work, what does work, and how you can cross the bridge between the two without killing your story—is what beta-reading should be all about. That’s what we should look for. And that’s why I’m so grateful I found beta-readers who can both pat me on the shoulder AND slap the silly btis out of me.

I’m back from a loooong and restful holiday (praise be the offline world!), and got many useful beta-reader feedback bits rammed straight into my skull. Shake it all real well and mix it with a bit of brain juice, and I’ll be all set for a final, phenomenal revision.

I’m particularly grateful for the crazy experience of realizing

  • I failed in areas I never expected (like the unintentionally gloomy atmosphere and Taryn’s flimsy sense of humor, for instance); of course, there were also parts I knew I sucked at, and I got really nice suggestions on how to fix those;
  • I succeeded at things I didn’t consciously work on (like the chapter ending hooks, and embedding sciencey bits into the narrative);
  • and managed to tell a story that didn’t leave people cold despite it not being perfect (the perfectionist prick inside me was pretty stumped).

On top of all that, I also learned a great deal from beta-reading for others. Like

  • beta-reading a full sci-fi MS is tought work, which makes me all the more grateful to my betas;
  • no one’s drafts are perfect (See? Not even SHE wrote a perfect MS, you can relax now, take a breath, get back to work, you inkstained slave!);
  • you can learn shitloads from other people’s mistakes (some things just don’t jump out in our own manuscripts; it takes the eyes of another to spot them, just as it takes us combing someone else’s work to realize we’re guilty of the same mistakes, and Oh, look, this is how to fix them, ain’t it great? *scribble scribble scribble*)

I’ve yet to combine all the notes and comments I received into a huge spreadsheet I can hang up over my head like Damocles’ sword (and some betas have yet to send me their feedback). But I truly look forward to the work, because I now know—not just assume—what I have to do in order to make this novel shine.

So thank youz!

Me be happy scribbler face, see?

the frustrated writer

Published by Veronica Sicoe

Science Fiction Author — I deliver the aliens.

10 thoughts on “Beta-reading is the trial by fire before you jump into the live volcano

  1. If betas’ rips apart your work, first think about what they said before taking it in the gut. Some readers aren’t good for your work. Not every readers know what is what. Critique should always be done with the improvement of story in mind– a positive partnership of sorts with a mutual goal. Ripping and slashing isn’t productive, intelligent conversation about the work is what matters. Qualified critique partners and readers that understand writing aren’t easy to find. Embrace critique but only if it’s productive. One other thought: if your work is a “mess” it is not ready for beta critique.


    1. “Embrace critique but only if it’s productive.” — My thoughts exactly. 🙂

      I agree that some readers aren’t “good” for your work, especially beta readers who have no grasp of the genre you’re writing. But other than that, most beta-reading feedback—even tough one—is very useful. Worst case, you can still see what goes through the mind of someone who doesn’t like your work. That might prepare you for negative reviews once you publish (if you decide not to revise those sections much).

      As an afterthought, most of us feel that our manuscripts are a mess, even famous authors… about already published works…


  2. I see you survived. *wink wink*

    I, for once, still had urges to rework my manuscript quite a while after publication. These are brain cramps, shouldn’t be taken seriously. A few months later the feeling goes away and you realize that you are FREE to move on.

    My first so-called ‘beta reader’ didn’t even bother to read the book till the end and started ‘fixing’ what she believed was wrong as she went along. I have to say I wasn’t amused.

    I had trouble finding betas for my whole story and during 2.5 years of working on it I managed to recruit three people who read in the genre (after I was already more or less satisfied with my work.) I didn’t receive much suggestions anyway. I had to ASK them what they thought of this and that, pointing them to places I thought needed work, so in the end I had to rely on my own head and eyes. I’ve been re-reading the whole thing (136k words long) over and over again, a million times. I think, I can recite most of it by memory now. 😀

    So, to sum it up, my experience with betas sucked. The only things I learned was that one person needed explaining subtle things (I love subtle things — think, dammit!), and another wanted more dialogue (won’t happen in First Person POV. Sorry.)

    Maybe all that was for the better and my story is beautiful in its imperfection. I write in episodic style, my influences come from graphic novels, manga, and TV series. That won’t go away anytime soon. If someone would want to beta for me, they’d better keep this in mind. I’m comfy with my style, voice, and story structure. 🙂

    I also have to say that I write slowly, re-reading what came before and adding new stuff every writing session. I have a clear structure in mind, but I usually have no idea how it all will unfold until I write it all down. My preferred option is writing the beginning, the ending, and then all the rest. I don’t do quick plotting and writing the first draft, and then delve in major rewrites. Nope. That fucks up the story that needs careful brewing. I’m sticking with this method. F&ck everything else (and ‘how to…’ books in particular.)

    That sums up my experience with writing and beta-readers.
    I have to say I love doing beta reads for others. 🙂


    1. Ugh, sorry to hear you didn’t have any good experience with betas. Having to point things out to beta-readers and pull answers out of them defeats the whole purpose. That’s why I’m super happy that I found a few precious ones who give me exactly the types of feedback I need, without me having to ask for anything in particular. 🙂
      And I not only survived, I am immensely happy I have clear pointers to the things I need to improve. YAY rewrites!
      BUT – I will write the first draft of my next project first, before I start the rewrite on this one. I need that distance.


  3. I was lucky enough, (or unlucky) to be introduced to a friend who edited all my short stories I had published in high school. She has been, and probably will be the person who most ripped up and destroyed my stories. But, with her help I was able to get things out there.

    Critiques bring me down at times. But, I know they’ll bring my work to a better, shinier place.


    1. Editors are very important, many would say even as important as beta-readers and critique partners. After all, if the language isn’t working, the story won’t be understood properly no matter how brilliant.

      Critiques are tough, that’s true. But they’re a necessary part of growth.


      1. I agree completely : )

        Also, after I finish with edits, and I have the final project I generally feel way better about it. Before I might be all ‘eh’. At the end I’m usually more like, ‘this is pretty okay’. For me this is high praise.

        Is your next project another part of your current work, or a different story?


      2. It’s a whole new project, a standalone novel in a completely different storyworld. I need a break after working on this one for over 3 years. 😉


  4. Well, Veronica, I like your attitude. Take it all with a healthy dose of humor and you’ll do great.

    I’ve learned that good critique partners are like rare gems — hard to find and priceless. I have about three of those, and I cherish each and every one of them. I also belong to an online critique group, and that’s helpful but another story.

    You know your story best, so careful as to not put it on the surgery table and cut too deeply based on feedback. And I agree that no matter how many betas you have, an editor going over the absolute final product is a must. Now, you probably won’t need line edits, only overall comments as to possible plot holes and such, and that’s faster, not to mention less painful on the budget.

    And to stay on the subject here, I’d love to read the first three chs., if you’re still looking for first impressions on the opener. Can’t commit to the whole novel as of yet, but drop me a note if three chs. work.

    Good luck with the re-writes. The story sounds VERY interesting.


    1. Online critique groups or forums have always interested me, but never quite enough to actually give them a go. I’m part of some, but have only been a “lurker” so far. Maybe I’ll try them out sometime…

      As to the first 3 chapters — sure, but wait until I revise them. You’ll be the first to see the revised opener then. 😉 (that might only be early next year though as I’ll write another novel this autumn and take a break from TDL)


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