Monday, November 21, 2011

Beta Readers, anyone?

So I'm looking for one last critical eye on my polished novel to ensure it's at a professional level, or agent-ready, as I've been discussing in my last few posts. When I start submitting to agents and publishers, I want to make sure I'm giving them something worth reading.

At an online NaNo "Ask the Author" session last week, Gail Carriger, author of The Parasol Protectorate Series brought the idea of beta readers to my attention.

Before we get into that, here's a synopsis of the first book in Gail's series:

Soulless: Without a morsel of exaggeration, its publisher describes this debut novel as "a comedy of manners set in Victorian London full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking." At the center of Soulless's "parasol protectorate" is Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman who lacks not only a suitor but also a soul. And those are not her only problems: When she accidentally kills a vampire, it begins a series of events that she must set out to resolve without the help of any proper authorities.--courtesy of Goodreads

So, what are beta readers? According to Gail, they are able to give your work the critical eye it needs to ensure its readiness to show agents and/or publishers. As an example, she talked about "red-lining," in which one of her beta readers crosses out paragraphs and/or chapters that either need tweaking or omitting.

But where does one find people willing/able to give such necessary feedback? Gail is lucky in that she's known her beta readers for many years. But for those of us who haven't yet found an established group, here are some tips:

1. Ask Around

Find where the creative writers are in your community. Are there writing groups? Local organization chapters of RWA or SCBWI? Is there a creative writing program at a local univeristy? People in these groups are likely able to give you the critiques you need, or will know of others who can.

2. Online Communities

Another option is to seek feedback from the collective wisdom found online. A good place to do this is, which has a "Critters Writers Workshop"--a group of online workshops and critique groups all in one place.

3. Once you find your readers (or if you decide to become a beta reader for someone else), know how to give and receive feedback.

Janice Hardy (author of The Healing Wars trilogy) has a great piece on giving and receiving feedback. I know I mention Janice a lot on here, but her blog is top notch and offers a lot of wisdom in all steps of the writing/publishing process.

4. Start your own group.

Gail was very kind to point out that one of the best ways to connect is to start a group of your own (something I'm seriously considering). Your group can be critique-oriented, or it can just be a time/place for everyone to meet and write.

And speaking of publishing, Gail also wrote a great post about what authors can expect after they sell their first book.

Above all, remember to keep perspective on your work, and the work of others. If you're like me, the draft of your novel never feels up to snuff (even after a few run-throughs) especially if it's the first one you've completed. But if all you're doing is changing punctuation marks, it's probably ready to query.

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