I’ve heard from a couple of people recently who want someone to read their work before they send it out.
This makes sense – you want your book to be as good as you can make it before you send it to an agent, and if you’re self-publishing I’d say that you need to use both a good professional editor and readers.
Having said that, it’s a personal choice. The opinions you get from readers will be highly subjective and if you’re planning on going the traditional publishing route you might prefer to submit directly to agents and only use readers to improve your work before re-sending if you get a lot of rejections.
Some people are just looking for another person to scan over the first chapter and provide reassurance before sending it out, but normally you’d be looking for constructive criticism that will improve your work. I’ll deal with picking the right readers soon, but for now let’s look at where you might be able to find these mythical creatures, or become one for other writers.
If you’re still at the first (or second, or third) draft stage, you might be best off looking for a critique partner instead, someone with a writer’s perspective who you’ll swap critiques with. You’ll need to learn to listen carefully and consider the suggestions rather than throwing a fit of pique and never writing again, but the mutual agreement makes that easier as you’re helping each other. Agree to be kind and constructive, because at this stage your writing is delicate.
A good place to start is a writing class, or take a look at the National Association of Writing Groups’ directory. It’s worth searching online for any groups that might have slipped through the net too, and you may well be able to find critique partners in any of the places listed for readers, or online groups like Critique Circle and Ladies Who Critique.
A beta reader, much like beta users of a new technology/website, are the guinea pigs. Like a software company, you’re releasing your work to a limited number of testers, who will tell you what they do and don’t like and will hopefully find glitches and plot holes that you can easily miss. They are also sometimes called Critters (from the French critiquer, I think). People will also often post on forums under the heading ‘critiques’.
Once you’re sure your manuscript is as good as you can possibly get it, you’ll need to get your head around the fact that you may well still have a lot of work to do. Then you’re ready to find yourself a reader. Different readers can provide you with different perspectives and it might be worth having at least one writer and one person who looks purely from a reader’s perspective. So, where to find them?
- Friends and family
- Members of your writing group or class
- Put a sign up in your local library/coffee shop
- If you write genre fiction, forums for your genre are a great place to start (just search online for ‘crime writing forum’, etc). I’m actually not a member of any genre forums so am not sure which are good, but it would be great to know which ones people like – if you recommend one please post in the comments below!
- Large writing forums are good places to look for critiques – spend some time checking out the forum to see if you feel people there are a good fit first, and expect to help other writers in return. Try The Word Cloud, Writing Forums, AbsoluteWrite, Writewords…
- Goodreads has an active beta reader group.
- Morgen Bailey, a writer in Northampton who is very active and runs writing groups all over the place, has started lists of readers offering critique and writers looking for feedback. Thanks Morgen, this is ace!
Plus suggestions from other writers:
There must be loads of other good places to get readers and criticism. What’s your favourite place? I’ll add all suggestions to the list.