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?