Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Virtual Hug-Your-Beta Day!

I used to be anti-beta.

Am I the only one who thought that rather than reading other people's manuscripts, a better use of my time would be going over my own work with a fine-tooth comb?

I can't be the only one. I've traced this seemingly selfish behavior back to my MFA program. Before there was beta-ing, there was workshopping, or weekly in-person beta-ing. Imagine the frustration of repeatedly reading someone's work, offering color-coded comments, and listing suggestions for further reading, only to get my own story back, not even creased because it was never actually opened.


I found my beta readers by accident. Blogger extraordinaire Megan Rebekah was blogging about how she wished she had a writing group. She posted her stats, sort of like a literary eHarmony profile, and the gates were flooded with wannabes. Well, maybe not flooded, but there were quite a few of us. Megan set up a private blog and named us the Word Stringers.

Some word stringers flittered away, and then there were four.

Anyway, we didn't beta at first. We posted pics and useful articles. We dared each other to meet word count goals. And then someone was like, Hey, we should beta. I was like, Great, 'cause I got spare hours lying around for that malarkey.

Then I read this article about writing workshops at Glimmer Train where writing teacher Jeremiah Chamberlin argues that, "Being forced to analyze the effectiveness of other writers' stories and to then provide them with clear, concise, specific suggestions for improvement will do more to develop a writer's craft than almost anything else."

Once I realized beta reading was purely selfish I was all, sign me up!

This week my betas have been helping me out big time, so without further adieu, meet my beta grrrls, along with what I love most about each of them:

Megan is kind of a hard ass. I've never met her, but in my mind she's dressed as a drill sergeant. I don't bug her with excuses. I just get things done when I tell her I will. She writes, she blogs, she works, she reads, she raises little dogs--and I don't think I've ever read a complaint from her. Megan gets the good attitude award. (By the way, that's not Megan in the pic; that's Tish, one of her dogs.)

Nat is a ray of positivity from the West Coast. She's straightforward, and she doesn't waste time with self-doubt, or minor details, or wondering what so-and-so would think about whatever. Like Nikey, she just does it. Clearly it works, as she's just secured representation from formidable literary agent Sara Megibow. Again, that's not Nat in the picture; that's the state of her living room since she's become a represented writer.

Karen is awesome because she's not afraid to lay it all on the line. She's all, here's my writing. How can I make it better? And when I get done critiquing, she's not all, boo hoo, you hurt my feelings. Instead she's all, thank you ma'am can I have another? I admire her tenacity. That really is Karen, btw; isn't she crazy?

I am changed, peeps. I am PRO-beta.
My beta readers point out ridiculocity in my writing, like that you can't move across the country and start school on the same day, or that if two hands are brushing the cymbals, another can't be tightening a bolt on a separate drum. But the best part is how much they teach me, and also the support, my god the support.

What do you get out of beta-ing? Give your betas some love!


  1. Ha ha ha. I laughed so hard at your choice of pictures and your descriptions. You ARE so funny Marie. Now get to work. We want Moxie by next week!

  2. There can be nothing better than scrolling through my blogger list and seeing a picture of ltitle Tish posted. I would have let out a little squee if my walls weren't cardboard thin and we didn't have a handful of firefighters in the lobby who would have thought I was crazy. And I do dress like a drill sergeant. Well, if a drill sergaent wore skirts and dresses.

    What a hilarious (and also sweet!) post!!

    Like I mentioned the other day, I actually can't wait until I have Anomaly ready to send out for you to tear apart. You are an awesome beta reader!!!!! And so are Nat and Karen! You girls are so awesome!

  3. I KNEW you thought I was crazy! lol. That was an awesome post. I cracked up too. Though I am wondering why you are tweeting about Naan bread and blogging when you're supposed to be in the Moxie zone. Hmm??? Sending all kinds of beta love to all you girls! :)

  4. Hey, I never thought of beta reading as something that could actually help me. Wow. I think you just opened my eyes. I'm gonna have to go visit my critique partners now. Thanks.

  5. By "beta-ing" do you mean critiquing? As in you reciprocate by critiquing their books? Or do you mean they critique your books but you don't critique theirs? I haven't heard this term before.

  6. Ashley,

    Beta-ing is critiquing. We trade each other's work and critique it.

    When new software is created, people beta test it, meaning they look for mistakes. Beta readers are people who look for mistakes in your manuscript.

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