Free week and I am going to ask my dear writing friends how they find what we call “Beta Readers”. I have not had great success with finding people who ‘get’ my kind of writing.

I have asked those who did not have experience with the type of article or poem I had written, nor did they have knowledge of the publication and target readership. The fault was mine for expecting them to understand. Several times I was told that I did it all wrong, that I did not follow ‘formula’. However, I had done my homework and was fairly secure that I had the tenor of the piece right for each publication, and of those times, I had been correct; my piece was published as I originally wrote it.

That has not been the case of one, which was fairly recent. But then, I have only offered it to a few publications, (so far). I did not write it with one particular publication in mind. Perhaps that is my problem. It is possible that I do better when I get into a publication and know it well enough to write something specifically for it. But nevertheless, the ‘beta reader’ for this one went out of bounds.

She was a friend of a friend on Facebook and asked to help with the project when mentioned it to our mutual friend. She said that she had experience in the genre (children’s) and in beta reading.

I should have asked for specifics.

This person re-wrote several parts that made the piece lose its meaning. It was based on a family experience and why change it when that was the story? The piece rhymed; she re-rhymed it and lost the meter.

And she let a family member of hers read it!

That is just not done. A writer should know that one does not allow another person to read an unpublished/non-copyrighted work without consent of the writer. I thought that she did not know this and I let it slide, however, she told me that she knew better, but did it anyway.

I learned more than one lesson from the experience.

As if that were not enough, even though I took a few of her suggestions, she got mad that I did not make all of her changes. I mean really angre.

Seriously, she then ‘unfriended’ me on FB.

Now another writer, an actual friend, has returned a piece to me and I am afraid that this person does not understand the concept of the piece. She wants me to change my POV. I had already considered and rejected it. If I go with the suggestion, I’d have to give away too much and I don’t see how the end can possibly play out. I would have to switch the POV at the very end and that  is just not done, let alone awkward.

The ‘problems’ that the friend found with my dialogue and actions are qualities which are characteristics of the story. She crossed out my few descriptive words and added her own, which changed the atmosphere I was trying to convey. At one point, she added a long phrase which changed the protagonist’s attitude. Not only is the action out of character, the phraseology doesn’t fit in with the style I used for the rest of the story.
Plus, we disagree on one point of punctuation I used often. (I know that I am right; I even looked it up to verify it.)

I know that when I try to explain these points, I fear it will offend her and I may seem stubborn or  arrogant. I don’t care for either of these probabilities. I am very concerned about this. Do any of you have this problem?

I am not sure that this person is familiar with the type of story which I showed to her or the type of publication I am aiming toward. Frankly, I wrote this piece with one publication in mind. I am fairly confident it will work as-is. I know the tenor of the magazine.

I beta read the first of a series for another writer and that woman was very grateful. I had her also read the children’s story and she helped, She also said that she owed me more. But how much more can I ask of a busy writer/mom? I don’t feel that I can ask her, since she has not asked me for more, either.  I may call on her for a novel, but not the thriller short, because I know that she has no experience with them.

With poetry, I am OK with trusting myself. With non-fiction, I have people I can go to. But for longer fictional works, I know that I need at least one reliable person to keep me from getting lost or keep readers from getting lost. I think everyone needs to be sure that what they want to say is coming across clearly. It is so easy for a writer to have thoughts in their heads that don’t make it onto paper, to make assumptions that are clear to them that may not be to their readers. It is also very easy to make foolish mistakes, for instance, reworking a sentence or paragraph and leaving the original in place. I think we’ve all done that.

In the story I have been discussing, my beta reader changed a “look” to a “glance”, and it is a long look that I meant to impart. This did help me, though, since I realize that I have to add that the character had done more than glance, and had done it several times. I need to put that across… and do it in my own words.

Most family members will not be given my work to read because they are either too critical or not critical at all. One type crushes the spirit, the other is completely unhelpful, no matter how good the intentions.

My husband is good for short pieces, but I know better than to try to sit him down long or often enough for the romance novel I have long had in the works.( He is too familiar with the work above. He read through it and helped when it was a play.) I also have problems with him and  family members if they think a character is based on them or if a story is based on an actually occurrence. With the first, they are upset if they aren’t portrayed as saints, and with the second, I chastised if I take poetic license.

This story is going to be a problem on both fronts!

So, I ask, how did you find beta readers who are in sync with you?

About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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6 Responses to Readers

  1. jeff7salter says:

    Firstly, I totally understand your frustration. Getting a trusted, reliable, prompt, objective, perceptive beta reader is like finding four-leaf clovers. Some people can spot them regularly while others go a lifetime without ever locating any.
    Secondly, I’m very blessed to have my brother — a multi-published author of non-fiction and fiction — who has helped immensely with every one of my fiction manuscripts (with the possible exception of one which was going though the beta stage when he was unavailable for health reasons). He can spot the weaknesses in a scene or in my plot arc and is able to convey that to me without me feeling like I’ve been attacked. It’s presented in a positive manner, logically and unemotionally, and often is accompanied by suggestions on how I might improve it. And in most of those instances, I have gratefully taken his recommendations. Sometimes I do nearly exactly what he suggested but often, his comments lead me to a solution which is even better than what he proposed.
    Thirdly, in the beta situations you’ve described, it sounds like you feel an obligation to report back to the beta reader whether you used all their suggestions, exactly as laid out. I don’t feel that obligation. With the beta I’ve just mentioned, I sometimes will send back a scene and ask for further help to shape it up. But most often, I thank the reader, let him know the areas which were particularly helpful, and (perhaps) mention that a few of the ideas didn’t quite work for me. But I don’t feel any obligation to his suggestions … other than gratitude for his time and effort (and, of course, I provide similar service for his manuscripts).
    Fourthly, I have my own horror story to share. Several years ago, as my fiction career was just beginning, I send a novel ms. to a “sort-of” relative on the in-law side. She had volunteered to read it. Months went by and I heard nothing. Eventually I got an email (or some corres.) in which she indicated she’d gotten busy and had passed my ms. along to two of her employees. It was months later when I finally got my novel back. Those employees had apparently had a riotous time with red pens, X-ing out entire pages, making caustic remarks, and basically having a lot of literary ‘vandalism’ fun at my expense. Not only did I find almost no actual value to their heavy-handed chastisement, but I was extremely offended that the sort-of relative handled my ms. — which she had volunteered to read — in so callous a fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, my gosh, that IS a horror story! I am so sorry.
      I guess I have to be cold about the suggestions. The ones I have worked with have wanted to know what I did; I guess they will see what went down IF the works ever get to print.
      I also suppose finding good beta readers is like finding good,close friends, which is not so easy! I may risk losing a long-distance ‘friend’ over this last one. We’ll see if egos get in the way of friendship, again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I have to agree with Jeff. I thank the people who read for me, and I might or might not take their suggestions. My youngest daughter has read almost everything I’ve written for publication, and each time has come back with valuable feedback. And since I belong to two writing groups, I can usually find at least one other person who’s willing to read a manuscript when I send a request through our email loops. But no one has asked me point blank whether or not I took all their suggestions. I’ve never had anyone CHANGE anything either – they just use the comment tool.

    Liked by 2 people

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