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Beta Readers: Over Coming Self-Doubt and Putting Your Work in Other's Hands

Working with beta readers can be one of the scariest parts of the editing process for new writers. Many hopeful authors have told me things like "I'm just not sure it's ready to show others" and "what if they tell me it's horrible?" I am here to say that those are real concerns. However, you shouldn't be too concerned about them.


First, I would like to address what I believe to be at the root of many of the worries that I had before embarking on the beta reading adventure for the first time. Self-doubt caused me a number of sleepless nights while I considered how to ask. Who could I ask? How did one bring it up in a casual way? And, the ever-present question of "will people just roll their eyes and think 'oh great, another author'?" Putting yourself out there is hard. If you are like me, you don't tell people often that you write. Whenever you say you do the question of whether or not you are published always follows. All authors understand well the awkward moments after you have to answer honestly.


Before I dive too deep into the concerns, let me walk you through my first experience and how it went. When I decided, after months of editing and revision, that I was ready to give it to others, I posted on Facebook and was shocked by the outpouring of excitement and love from those I hadn't heard from in years. Many people, family, friends, and acquaintances volunteered and seemed genuinely excited about my concept and story. I smiled each time my fingers cramped as I took down yet another email address to send my book to. Like all of the advice said online, I set a due date and had each person agree to abide by it. I agonized over and sent a detailed message along with the PDF of the book that included guiding questions, a short teaser for the plot, and a lengthy thank you to each individual.


Then came the hard part: waiting. As a writer, I find that I need to write in my downtime or I get stir-crazy. The two weeks of not being able to touch my manuscript were torture. Each time I would open my book to try and see what could be improved, I would have to remind myself that it was no use. I would have a HUGE batch of revisions to do and that anything I had to offer should have been put on the page already.


And then came the day! And then left the day. . . I refreshed my email more times than when I was waiting for my first job offer. A few beta readers got notes back to me prior to the deadline. The majority, however, were not able to. I wasn't angry or offended. Going into the process, I knew that was a possibility. The people who had agreed to help me out had their own lives, goals, jobs, and responsibilities to attend to. I appreciated that they volunteered at all.


Of course, I hoped everyone would email back. However, what I read in the emails I did receive was absolutely worth putting myself out there. Everyone who took the time to read my novel came back with thoughtful advice that was chock full of amazing critiques my work needed.


Here is where we get back to the pre-beta concerns. I was right to be worried that some who agreed wouldn't finish. In fact, the majority didn't. I was right to be concerned that not everyone who did read it would love it. I got amazing advice. Some of which told me that I should totally change the flow, remove a character, or that my main character was just plain blah. Everyone was kind in their feedback. Most people don't actively try to hurt other's feelings. That doesn't mean some of it wasn't hard to hear.


At the end of it all though, I was able to take my manuscript to the next level. I started a whole new document and saved what I had written previously. I'm not exaggerating when I say my jaw dropped as I went back and compared the two.


Putting yourself out there is hard and many of your fears may be confirmed. As a writer, you have to look at the positive to get over this. The positive is that you can't create the next big novel without others. By the time you give it to beta-readers, you have likely already put the best of what you have on the page. You need them. And, you will find that those who do read it often enjoy the experience too. So what if you have a few people roll their eyes? The majority won't. And those who do read your book will be constructive and ultimately invaluable.


So go ahead. Do it! Put that book you have been agonizing over for months or even years in the hands of others. Allow those you trust to help you bring your manuscript to the next level. Remember that negative comments about your work are not reflective of you. If they care enough to read your work, anything they have to say isn't meant to make you feel bad. They want to help. Let them.




Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash


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