One of the steps of editing a new piece of writing is Substantive Editing. This is where you concentrate on the general scope of your work and identify things like plot holes, inconsistencies, and character development. In short, it’s kind of like a professional critique. It’s a service some editors provide–but I think that Beta Readers would fill this role just as well.
This kind of editing is important, because if your story or novel doesn’t make narrative sense or the characters are uninteresting, it’s not going to sell. A story has to be compelling and imaginative, yes; but if the plot is hard to follow, people won’t want to read it. Reading should be entertainment, not work, and a piece that hasn’t gone through this process runs the risk of taking the reader “out of the world of the book” as they pick apart all the problems or try to figure out what just happened.
These are the kinds of things writers (should) know to avoid; if you’ve taken workshops, classes, or read enough literature to understand how narratives work, you should be able to avoid these problems. But a writer is often too close to their own work. These are things that are easy for a writer to miss, and easy for a fresh pair of eyes to pick up on. And this is where Beta Readers come in.
What’s a Beta Reader? Glad you asked.
In the software world, programmers will distribute their work to beta testers, who will play with it to find bugs, discover issues, and generally give input. These contributions are then considered for the product, which is tweaked as needed before final release. The result is software that’s “tried and true.”
Fiction can work the same way. If you’d like to sign up as a Beta Reader for me, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll send you a copy of my collection, The Astrologers and Other Stories, and ask for feedback. You don’t need any special skills for this, and I’m not asking for a detailed 120 page report; all you need to do is read it, and let me know what you think from a constructive standpoint. I want to know how the characters work, how the plot flows, and if it makes sense. (For further reading, here’s a post by Jami Gold that talks about beta readers.)
Now, I should stress that I’m not asking beta readers to do any editing for me–I just want opinions. It doesn’t have to be in detail, just constructive enough that it’s useful. And what will you get in return? You’ll be the first to receive a free copy of the collection when it goes to print, as well as acknowledgement in the front matter (and if your input is constructive rather than generic, I’ll provide a link to your blog or website). Just for reading a story. I’ll also offer my own services as a beta reader if you have a story you’re ready to publish. Not a bad deal, eh?
On Monday, I have a special treat: an interview with Yesenia Vargas, an indie writer who’s just started offering editing services. She can be found at YeseniaVargas.com. Stay tuned after the weekend for a great talk about the other side of writing!