Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Writers Need Indifferent Beta-Readers and Thick Skins

The unfortunate author implosion online that's been circling needs no more linkage, but the situation does prompt me to talk about something ever writer needs, especially self-published ones who don't have a publishing staff: an indifferent beta-reader:

By indifferent, I mean someone who doesn't love or like you personally unless you both can separate your personal feelings from the task at hand: understanding why your work might suck.

A short side story: I had a job where I wrote letters for my boss. I'd print out the letter, hand it to him and ask him to proofread it. Every few months, he would become impatient and snap, "I don't understand why there are typos in this. You're a writer." And I always replied, "That's why I asked you to proofread."

Every writer needs someone to look at their work--whether its one page or an entire book (especially if it's an entire book). The classic reason is that we are too close to our work. We know what we wanted to say. We thought we wrote that. We read what we wanted to say regardless of what's on the page.

There are at least two reasons why this happens: a) we've all seen that chain email that pionts out taht our barins are good at unsrcbmaling mispleled wrods, rihgt? Well, we're even better at doing it to our own words, and b) writers don't read their own work, they remember it. When we read, we don't see the words on the page. We hear the words in our head and assume those words are on the page.

So, at the least, we need proofreaders (It's a real live profession, actually).

The other reason we need indifferent beta-readers---and thick skin--is that we benefit from honest feedback, but we need to take it. It makes our work better. It is hard to hear someone say your work isn't, well, working. A good beta-reader should understand what you're trying to do, understand grammar and syntax, understand paragraph structure and book structure, and understand that they have to convey that information to a delicate ego. One person doesn't have to do all that--you can use one person for story reaction (i.e., someone who you think is in your intended audience) and someone else who knows their way around a red pen. You don't have to do everything a beta-reader says, either, but the feedback will help you justify why you did what you did.

And it's okay to be wrong. You just have to move on from it.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have gotten as far as I have without my 2 awesome, awesome beta readers! They're great at the nitpicky and pointing out the flaws/questions.