Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Beta Reader: Why You Need One

Remember when we used to write posts to help you with your writing? It seems like it's time. I know it's not as much fun as talking about Han and Leia's sex lives, but hopefully it will at least prove useful to those of you who are writing, especially since so many people have been writing lately which is a great thing!

All right, some of you may be wondering, what is a beta reader? It's our fancy fanfiction term for editor, basically. It's someone you hand your story off to that will proof read it for you and tell you if there are any typoes, grammatical errors, or even characterizations or story elements that are off if that's what you want them for.

Here's a tip: you need one. I need one. We all need one to give our stories a look before we post them. The smartest and best writers still have someone edit for them and still might misspell something or put a period where there should be a semi colon from time to time or use the same word three times in one sentence without noticing. The best, most capable writers make mistakes that they don't see themselves and it's important to have someone read what you are writing to make sure that you aren't making any.

Why is it important? Well, obviously first and foremost, you want what you post to be error-free. Second, these mistakes are often distracting and take you out of the story. I've seen plenty of stories where the writing itself is pretty good and I'm pulled in by the plot but it is maddening how many typos or punctuation errors or whatever are sprinkled throughout. It can drastically change your opinion of a story you otherwise might absolutely love.

We all make mistakes in our writing from time to time. Seriously, I might have pointed something out to someone ten times in their stories and then for some reason I'll do it myself in what I'm writing and someone will have to then point that out to me. Another common issue I have is using the same word multiple times in a paragraph instead of varying. It's one of those things you just might not notice when looking at it yourself. It just might require a second set of eyes.

When I first started writing, I didn't get why I needed a beta reader. Way back when I wrote my first stories, which was long before they were published, I was going to have them posted on one of the now-defunct Han and Leia sites that went under before my story got put up. They hooked me up with a beta reader who went through my story and corrected all kinds of stuff. To be honest, if you've never done that before, it's a bit tough to handle at first. Yes, it can make you feel stupid, but you have to remember that making mistakes in your writing doesn't make you an idiot. Making the same mistake over and over and over again after someone has repeatedly told you the correct way to do it might make you kind of an idiot. Okay, just kidding.

The point is, it is all supposed to be a learning experience. I know that once I got over my initial reaction, which was mostly, "Wow, I really suck at this if I make this many mistakes!" I was able to sit back and absorb the feedback and let it make me a better writer. I was doing some things that I would never have realized I was doing "wrong" and I'm so glad that someone pointed them out so I could work on them and not do them anymore. Some simple, like punctuation, but also things to make my writing better. One of my major problems was not varying my sentence structure, so it read very stilted and got boring after a while. I don't have to worry about doing that anymore.

The beta reader can be as involved as you want them to be as well. If you just want them to check and make sure it's all grammatically correct and the punctuation is where it needs to be, then tell them that. But they can also tell you if your characterizations are good or if certain things within the plot make sense or whatever. Obviously getting someone that involved requires finding a friend you trust with that sort of thing, and it's not something everyone needs, but it can be helpful if you need it. At bare minimum though, just have someone edit for grammar and such.

How do you find such a person? Well, there are options. I think there is a beta reader section on where you can find someone and contact them there. If someone you have met on here you think would be helpful you can contact them. Or another friend you know and trust. Just make sure the person you're asking actually knows what they're talking about. I've read things that include thanking a beta reader that are still riddled with typos, so be picky. If you're fourteen and you're writing your fourteen-year old friend might not be the authority on grammar that you believe them to be. That's not to say that anyone that young is incapable, just make sure you pick someone who knows what they're talking about.

So let someone proof read your story before you post. It's not a ton of extra effort and just makes sure that what you post won't be distractingly full of mistakes. Yes, I've stopped reading stories when I see too many typos. It has to be a lot for me to do that, but it does happen. It just tells me that the person didn't put any real effort in. Don't be impatient and just throw it up there. Make your story the best it can be! It's okay to need help!


  1. Zyra, excellent advice. I would also add that you may want to have a non-family member (i.e. someone who doesn't live in your home) read your story. I personally think that close family members may not be as much of a "critical eye" that one really needs to improve a piece. I had two additional set of "eyes" (who live in my house) read my piece before publishing, and they missed some very obvious spelling errors. I found them on my own but well after the story was already published. I think they just wanted to appease the crazy lady who kept asking "what do you think." Yes, I feel like an idiot however, I take it all as a learning lesson in life. I think I am going to start a little notebook of "reminders" of things to watch out for, like everything you mentioned above. I find when I am in the midst of writing I get caught up in the story and I'm not paying attention to varying sentence structure, watching my word choices, etc. It would also help if I could find my stinking glasses. Thanks for the advice and encouragement. Writing fan-fic was something I would have never ever tried if it were not for this blog.
    Just a side note, my youngest daughter hates to write due to her dyslexia. When she saw me writing, she sat at her computer and started typing a story of her own. This is significant! Your encouragement and advice has reached across the generations. Thank you.

  2. Aww, that's great about your daughter writing Seams. Oh and hope you're having a lovely birthday.

    I don't write (unfortunately), but I totally get why this is important. Very good advice. And I agree with what Seams2Be says about maybe having someone outside your close family read it through, that makes sense. That's why finding someone in cyberspace is a good option.

  3. Yeah, that's really great about your daughter writing. I LOVED writing when I was a kid. Well, I still do, but it's always been something I've enjoyed so much. Literally from when I could write pretty much I'd write little stories. So it's really cool to hear about kids participating.

    I agree that when you're writing sometimes you get caught up in the story or something and just don't notice certain things. Sometimes I'll go back and re-read what I wrote and I'll have said nearly the exact same thing twice in the same paragraph with almost the exact same wording. Sometimes that stuff just happens and you need a critical eye. I agree, a family member probably isn't best because they're just like, "It's great!" And it's nice that they're supportive, but that's not always as helpful as you need it to be.

    Happy birthday!

  4. Aw, man. I lost my whole post. And that's a lot to lose when you're typing on an ipad. Yikes.

    Anyhow, I whole heartedly agree, Zyra. I couldn't imagine sending something out and not having someone else look over it. I know I sometimes hear words in my head when I'm reading something that I didn't actually included. And I agree family may not be the best choice, but it depends. Can they give you an honest answer. And I usually like someone to check characterizations as well. A checklist would be interesting. I'd still like a way to count number of times words were used in a story. I'm sure some of the software specifically for writing, besides Word, would do it. I'm so guilty of repeating myself. =)

    Seams, that is so great about your daughters. I think it's awesome there are mother/daughter writers out there. Very cool. And it's nice that you are encouraging/inspiring them.

  5. I would never in a million years ask anyone in my house to ready my stories. And I am pretty sure I wouldn't ever get my stuff published at all if I didn't show it to someone first. so thank goodness for beta readers.

  6. Grrrr. I tried to post to this twice yesterday and somehow managed to delete the post both times. Sad isn't it.

    This is what I need, a beta reader. I actually do a significant amount of technical writing professionally (I write drug applications for countries ministries of health (aka FDA, etc.)). I am a bit intimidated switching to creative writing. I am eager to try. Well I think I am eager to try. So who out there wants to be a beta reader for me. Not sure when I am going to get that first story done, but I am slowly working on it.

    What a special relationship must develop between a writer and a beta reader. The trust to share your work, feelings, "baby" with someone to help you shape it even further. Wow almost makes me have goose-bumps.

    So are the members of this blog interested in a beta reader role, or is it best to go to and randomly pick one?

    All I can say is "Trust me." I take feedback well.