Pulling Back The Curtain: Beta Readers and Critique Groups

By: Terri Whitmire, CEO & Founder of The WritersTablet.org

So you’ve received that glowing testimony from family and friends, but somewhere in the back of your mind you doubt their platitudes. After all, they may feel obligated to say nice things. What about the real readers, you ask. That’s where a critique becomes important. Yes, handing over your work to another person can be nerve-racking, but it can also be critical to the development of your work. Here I’m going to share three ways on how and where to get critiques.

When I started writing my first book, I did so with no intentions of publishing it. I was compelled to create this story about a young girl who grew up in an alcoholic home and how that experience later affected her as an adult. Before finally making the decision to publish, I really wanted to know if the story was “good enough.” The glowing reviews from family and friends didn’t convince me. I wanted someone—a stranger, to tell me if it was worth pursuing. I was just starting out and still had much to learn. I needed the advice of an expert. I researched several book clubs, authors, and avid readers in search of feedback, until I finally found what I was looking for.

I can now say that this was one of the best decisions I ever made for my writing career—obtaining constructive, non-biased feedback. So here’s some advice I’d like to share on where to find your own critiques.

1. Join a community forum. Meetup.com is one of my favorite places to find all sorts of groups, including writing critiques. Simply log in and add your location, then search for "writing critique." These groups work best when everyone participates, so be prepared to reciprocate by critiquing others' works as well. Research the group members and determine if there are professionals among the members. Having a mix of both experienced and new writers is beneficial. Be sure to always put your best foot forward when communicating. After all, you are a writer.

2. When it’s time to call in the experts you won’t have to look far. Most authors and editors are happy to review your work. The trick is finding one that will actually give you sound advice and not just read your MS as a paid job. Look for someone who has client reviews or clients that have been successfully published. Are they willing to sit and talk with you prior to accepting your work? Be sure to ask if they will personally read your MS as opposed to outsourcing it. Lastly, find out if they are knowledgeable in your particular genre.

3. Beta readers are generally avid readers who love receiving free books to review. They may be part of an organized book club or they may be individuals. When finding a beta reader, look for someone who represents your target audience. He/she should reflect the type of person you hope to market your book to. Beta readers typically do not charge, but it is your responsibility to provide them with a free paperback or eBook version of your work. Beta readers are in high demand, so be patient. Don't worry that something is wrong if they do not get to your book right away.

Remember that all writers need critiques, whether professional or laymen. After spending months, possibly even years writing your manuscript, you can lose your objectivity. It takes a fresh set of eyes to point out slow spots, inconsistencies, or character development issues.

It’s also important to note that if you are submitting your entire manuscript to someone, it may be prudent to copyright your work first. In addition, draft a non-disclosure agreement for the reviewer to sign, just to be on the safe side.

And keep in mind that receiving a critique isn’t easy. As a writer, it is important to distinguish who you are from what you do. Do not take the review as a personal attack. It’s common to want to protect your “baby,” but try to view the comments as an opportunity to polish your work before it is released into the literary world, rather than after. Remember, you never get a second change to make a first impression.

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Terri Whitmire began her writing career in 2011. With 4 published novels under her belt, she decided to release her first children’s book, Morris says, “I’m not Afraid.” Terri received her certification in children's literature in 1997. She is the owner of Fun Creative Writing, a premiere writing program for young writers. She also assists aspiring adult writers through her business, Writers Tablet, LLC. She has been a guest author at several conferences, schools, and expos both within and outside of Metro Atlanta.

Terri routinely volunteers her writing services to nonprofit organizations. Her community outreach programs for children deliver engaging writing lessons to disenfranchised communities. Terri currently lives in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and three children.

Connect with Terri, and view her blog

WritersTablet@gmail.com  |  770.648.4101  |  @Tnwhitmire

www.TerriWhitmire.com  |  www.Facebook.com/AuthorTerriWhitmire

 

Louise Baigelman