The Misconceptions Of Beta Reading, And How They Help You Improve by Jakota
I would like to welcome guest writer Jakota. Enjoy!
I’ve sent my WIP off for feedback. The dreaded sentence, that causes us writers to spiral into a panic minds racing with many thoughts like “I should have changed that part, and What if they don’t like it or what if there’s so many mistakes the Beta goes crazy. Not to mention, the conclusion formed that our work will be torn apart leaving us with no choice but to scrap the whole thing and question our whole career as a writer.
Don’t know what I’m talking about yet, well today I’m going to talk about Beta reading and how their feedback helps you improve not scrap your work. As well as the many misconceptions around the practice. And What is Beta reading? Most of us are familiar with this term, it is when we get someone to look over our WIP according to the feedback guidelines we gave them. They are found through social media like Twitter, word of mouth, the writing community hashtag on twitter, discord servers. You name it, Beta readers are out there.
Misconception #1- Beta reading tells you how terrible your work is, and influences you to edit it because you now feel this way
With this, unfortunately there are many misconceptions, the first one I’ve noticed and experienced myself is that You’re editing your work because someone told you it was terrible so you’re being influenced by this person to change it. This has been said to me, and it’s the furthest from the truth. We all think our writing is perfect, and it can’t possibly be improved upon because we’ve done such a good job the first draft. It’s common, and we all see our work through that lens, even I do sometimes I’ll write a chapter and go I can’t possibly change it it’s perfect, but the thing is we can, but we can’t see it ourselves. A Beta reader sees it through a different lens, one that is different from that of you and I one that views the story with a fresh set of eyes to make suggestions on how we can improve upon what we’ve written. That’s how they help you improve by forcing you to look at things differently, through suggesting things you and I wouldn’t on our own, then magic happens when you go back to your WIP suddenly you’ve found a different way to write that dialogue. So, no you’re not editing your work because someone said it wasn’t good enough you are editing it based on feedback that will help it along or make that dialogue more powerful than it was before.
For example, I would like to include a passage from one of my WIPs Blind Redemption a fic I wrote, as part of Save Daredevil’s Daredevil Continued Fan works event last fall where I’m talking about my antagonist, Wilson Fisk who’s on his way to prison
The first section here is my original work from my first draft that I wrote. It’s good but it could be better, like who am I talking about? Or how could I make it more powerful to readers.
Original work: A deep dark cell is where he was heading. Once the most powerful man in Hell’s Kitchen, now a prisoner in the hands of the NYPD. Stripped of everything: no fancy lawyers to get him out, or desperate Feds willing to make a deal, or people to pay off. Rolling to a slow stop, an officer emerged from the cruiser, pulling the large door open before ordering him to get out. “Welcome home,” he said, escorting the mob-boss to the prison’s entrance
Now, with the changes the Beta came back to me saying it was much more powerful having used his name, instead of just describing him.
After feedback: A deep dark cell was the only place Wilson Fisk would be calling home. Stripped of everything he had, leaving him without any fancy lawyers or desperate Feds willing to make a deal. The most powerful man in Hell's kitchen, was now a prisoner.
Rolling to a stop, an officer emerged from the cruiser before pulling the back door open and ordering Fisk out. "Welcome Home" The officer chuckled escorting Fisk over to the prison's entrance.
See how it changed? Which one sounds better to you, here the Beta didn’t leave any comments or suggestions but after looking at the other comments on the work, I decided to look at the above paragraph again. There was no suggestion to improve it, but the Beta got inside my head and made me think, “How could I write this better, maybe pull the readers in with a better hook”. They pushed me indirectly to look at the words differently.
What I’m trying to get at here, Beta readers actually help you improve your writing, because they continually push you each time you send a draft of your work to them to look at the words differently until you’ve written the best version you can. And that you will feel that much more confident letting your readers read.
Misconception #2 Betas work the same in Traditional Publishing Circles vs Fanfic Circles
Another seemingly common misconception is that Beta reading works the same whether you’re a fanfic writer or traditional published writer writing original work with the intention of being published. In my experience, in the fanfic circles you seek out a beta by asking fellow fanfic writers if they’d look over your fic and they do this mostly pro bono. With the thought everyone’s fan, so basically if you scratch someone’s back, then someone else will scratch yours. They do it simply to help another fan, taking time out of their busy schedule of life and working on their own projects to read over yours. No one is paid, or money is exchanged for the service, instead you get feedback based on the guidelines you gave within a set time frame or at the Beta’s discretion then the work is sent back to you. Some will even go a step further and help you out a long the way after they’ve given feedback.
Now on the other side, there’s the circle of Traditional Publishing, in which little fandom communities are nothing compared to circles of 30 or more Betas involved each reading different genres of WIPS depending on what they accept. The process also differs, these Betas aren’t getting a first draft of your WIP they often get the final proof from the Authors after they’ve drafted their work what seems several times before. Betas in Tradpub also work differently, they tell the author what they liked, whether it make sense and if their story was an enjoyable read flowing nicely from beginning to end without any effect on the WIP’s overall structure, story or anything else. In fan circles, going chapter by chapter in your WIP is often considered editing and Beta’s go as far sometimes as making comments on areas they think you can improve through line changes, or comments on the doc. What I’m trying to say is the roles are very much different, and not the same in both instances, a Beta in a fandom community is often a full editor whereas in the tradpub circles they aren’t.
Misconception #3 Beta reading doesn’t take that “long”
Many of us writers are guilty of it, we’ll send our WIP off to the Beta reader and expect it back the same day or in a short period of time. Because? We want to get it drafted again or deadlines that we’re committed to. The truth is, Beta Readers are people too and have lives outside of writing such as jobs, school, or parenting and balancing all that isn’t easy so we as writers need to respect this and allow for ample time for the Beta to look over our work. Some writers might even, message them constantly or ask when they are going to get their WIP back getting mad when they can’t get it back that day or time that they want. Sometimes Authors won’t see their book back for a month or a week, depending on how lengthy their WIP was and how thoroughly the Beta is going through it as well as how many changes they are making. It’s a process, just like writing one that doesn’t happen overnight.
Now that I’ve touched on the misconceptions, let’s see how many ways Betas help you improve your writing
1. They make you think, in general they give you a suggestion and while looking through your work and that in turn puts the thought in your head, “How can I write this better?” You’ d be surprised what you come up with.
2. Improve your overall dialogue and flow, through suggestions of line changes or comments
3. Use their own experience writing to help you write better
4. Keep your grammar in check, through small grammar checks
Of course, I could keep listing ways that they help forever but this post would go on far too long. I hope you were able to learn and perhaps come out with a different outlook towards Beta readers and the practice.
I also want to thank Deanna, for this opportunity to be a guest on her blog. Happy Writing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Jakota, my pronouns are she/they/them. I’m a fanfiction writer from Northern Ontario, Canada. My fandoms range from Netflix Marvel to shows like the Walking Dead.
I’m working on two fanfictions based upon Marvel’s Daredevil. The first one is called 5AM, which is a pre-season 3 slow burn m/m romance between two characters, Ben Poindexter and Ray Nadeem. The second one, is called Paper Rings which centers around the show’s main character Matt Murdock, who comes back to the living after a building collapse and faces some hard truths.
When I’m not writing I love to take walks, and watch various TV series on Netflix, or that are currently airing.