Struggles with Beta Readers

brittneycanna said: Hello! First things first, I must say that I really love your blog. It’s very helpful :) I wanted to ask about beta readers. I’m currently writing a novel and I wanted to find a beta reader that could beta read each chapter as I complete it. In the past, whenever I found a beta reader they all disappeared on me. Some never returned or others would returns months later. I understand people get busy, but do you know of any places to find a reliable beta reader? Thanks in advance!

Thank you for the love! Now, down to business.

Beta readers are pretty common in the amatuer writing community these days, especially so in the realm of fan fiction, but finding a good one, one that will stick with you throughout your entire project, can feel nigh impossible.

The first problem is experience. Many beta readers have not trained professionally as editors or proofreaders. This fact can rear its ugly head in various ways: uneven proofreading, pushiness, lack of reliability, etc. Professionally trained beta readers usually want some kind of payment for their work, as is absolutely fair, but most writers aren’t able to pay for the services of a trained professional. If by some miracle you can find an experienced beta reader, professional or no, who is willing to beta for free, you’re often at the mercy of other demands on their time to work on your project together. This could lead to slow turnover and feelings of neglect.

The second problem has nothing to do with the beta readers and everything to do with the writers. It turns out writers aren’t very reliable. We might churn out chapters for a month then fall into a slump and ignore the project for weeks (or years). We might communicate effectively with a beta readers at first, but slack off as the feedback we don’t like comes in or else become clingy in a manic effort to please our audience of one. 

We might create a mountain of work for our beta readers, but fail to show our gratitude for the sweat and blood they’ve poured into the project. We might come to resent the feedback from a beta reader. We might ignore their advice, lash out at the criticisms, and accept only the compliments as valid commentary. Writers like to dump all of the blame on their beta readers if a project dies, but it takes two to tango, you know, which leads me to my third point.

The third problem is compatibility, and I don’t just mean that your personalities must be are well-matched. It can feel like the two of you, writer and beta reader, must jive on a level bordering on telepathy upon your first meeting in order to be functional collaborators. That’s a lot of pressure, and that pressure can make it difficult to communicate your goals and limitations to one another. 

What writers need from their beta readers changes. Sometimes it’s just someone to clean up the grammar. Sometimes it’s a relationship cloer on co-authorship. It can be hard to clearly define these needs to a stranger, and even harder to define them to a friend or writing buddy. The compatibility issue here lies not with personality but with professional expectations. This is a business relationship, and if the specs aren’t outlined properly, the whole project could fall apart.  

But no pressure, right?

What beta readers need from their writers also changes. Feedback from the writer on what the beta reader has had to say is not always necessary or welcomed. Inconsistency of output on the part of the writer can cause an upset for the beta reader, either in overwhelming them with work or in leaving them with nothing to do, both issues that can cool their interest in the project pretty quickly.

If you’re in different time zones or one or both of you has limited internet access or problems understanding your chosen method of feedback, you’ve got technical issues as well.

You see, finding the perfect beta for your project is sort of like scouring the ocean for your very own giant squid. They exist. You know they’re out there somewhere (rolling in the deep). But finding one could easily take a decade of searching. 

So, how do you go about finding your giant squid?

  • It helps to have a plan. If you can provide a comprehensive summary of your project and your needs to prospective beta readers, it’ll be easier for them to decide if they’re interested in working with you. Having a good idea of your story and what you need from your beta will show how serious you are about the project, and that’s attractive to beta readers. Be clear, concise, flexible, and open to questions and suggestions. You can learn from every beta reader, even the ones who turn you down.
  • Do your research. Check out a beta reader’s previous projects and other qualifications and specifications before making contact. If they beta sci-fi and you’re writing contemporary, the partnership is probably doomed. (But maybe not! If you want a certain beta, don’t be afraid to ask!) 
  • Be professional. Writing, even amatuer writing, is a job. So is beta-ing. Treat all beta readers with professional respect no matter what. 

 I have a few resources for you:

Places where beta readers can be found:

I hope you find your beta reader/giant squid, anon! Thanks for your question!

-C

The various stories of Nikola Tesla getting screwed over by a variety of people in his career - notably Thomas Edison and J. P. Morgan - are many.  This photograph depicts some machinery left on-site at Wardenclyffe - Tesla’s last standing laboratory, and a testament to a man with a vision that was constantly impeded by those around him.  Constructed between 1898 and 1901, Wardenclyffe - a Stanford White-designed laboratory building with a 180-foot tower behind it - was to be Tesla’s main laboratory, and the inventor moved all of his operations into it in 1902.  However, when Morgan - ever putting the increasing of his personal wealth ahead of the betterment of society - discovered in 1904 that Tesla intended not only the wireless transmission of telegraphs, but the wireless transmission of electricity, he pulled his funding.  As the greedy financier pointed out, you couldn’t put a meter on free, wireless electricity for all.  The laboratory was abandoned, and Tesla began to mentally collapse, eventually fading into obscurity and dying in poverty in New York.

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Found Typologies: Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Photographs of Industrial Architecture

German conceptual artists Bernhard “Bernd” Becher and Hilla Becher, who worked together as a collaborative duo, are perhaps best known for their extensive series of photographic images of industrial buildings and structures. The images were often organized in grids according to a particular “typology,” such as water towers, grain elevators, coke ovens, and warehouses. In displaying what might typically be considered “banal” or lacking in design, the Becher’s elevated industrial architecture to subject worthy of formal aesthetic and artistic consideration. The photographs also bring light to an architectural ecosystem based on the production and transformation of energy that is paradoxically both hidden and ubiquitous. The Bechers would go on to influence generations of documentary photographers and artists as the founders of what has come to be known as the ‘Becher school.’

Not many people have the expertise it takes to build massive x-ray microscopes or particle colliders, you know? But we’re all about sharing the goods. In fact, we encourage universities and private companies to use our facilities to develop new technology.

The glowing vacuum chamber above was built at our National Synchrotron Light Source by the communications pioneers at Bell Labs to explore the structural and electronic properties of different materials.

Here’s how one IBM (ibmblr) researcher described similar collaborative work that led to new equipment and experimental techniques:

User facilities like the NSLS—and down the road NSLS-II—are unique extensions of the research tools we have at IBM. Also, because IBM does more applied work, we like to collaborate with many people from other institutions who get down to fundamental materials studies.

The return on IBM’s investment has been so valuable. This has been a great example of government-industry cooperation: we provide the beamlines and the government provides the photons!

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