The Beauty of Beta Readers

Writing a book is like carving words into your flesh in reverse. It hurts and it’s messy and it’s terribly personal. And when we finally make the decision to open the door and let someone else in, it’s terrifying.

Because it isn’t just some story. It’s my story. Each and every project is the culmination of my entire identity at that point in time–my hopes and fears and imperfections–all of it buried beneath some fictional character’s quest for self-enlightment.

My book is me, whether I’m like the characters or not, whether I share their beliefs or not. My book is me and when I send it off to a complete stranger to be critiqued, I’m the one who feels like she’s exposed and I’m the one who’s afraid of being rejected.

Negative feedback, especially from a stranger, has the unfortunate power to totally crush a writer’s spirit. And even though it’s necessary, that initial sting stays with us, resurfacing every time we sit down to write, our own voice trapped under the opinion of someone else. Because they didn’t like it. Because it wasn’t their style. Because it wasn’t their genre. Because they just didn’t get it. They didn’t get us.

But then someone does.

They get it. They feel something. They connect. They understand. They just get it. And that’s the true beauty of beta readers. Besides all of the technical benefits of having a critique partner and besides all of the obvious connections that can be made with someone who shares our love of writing, it’s that one moment of finally being understood that is truly worth waiting for.


4 thoughts on “The Beauty of Beta Readers

  1. Wow…there must be something in the air as I wrote about the same subject of dealing with criticism.

    I like that you talked about finding strength and validation in your work through the mutual support of others. That was missing from my list.

    My experience? I just made
    a nonsensical poem about it 🙂

    • Haha I loved that last line of your poem. And I did try to focus on a more positive aspect of having a critique partner. Personally, I’m usually pretty good at trusting my instincts, but there’s nothing better than hearing someone else say that they agree you’re on the right track. The feedback I’ve been getting from my last few beta readers has just really helped validate a lot of things for me and made me feel much more confidant that my WIP is almost done!!!

  2. I have to agree, 100%. I recently finished a manuscript for a novel that’s been cooking in my head for nine years. I asked my husband to read it first, and he has yet to finish it! I took the first chapter to critique groups and got some slightly positive feedback on it. A friend of mine offered to read the whole thing and I was TERRIFIED of what she would say.

    She had some really good advice and pointed out a few inconsistencies. But the most encouraging thing was when she told me a week later that she was still thinking about my characters! She offered to read a second draft when I had it done. Another friend read it as well and was still sending me emails about the ending three weeks later!

    Scary or delightful, I love my beta readers and would be lost without them.

    • It’s definitely scary to share your work, especially with strangers, which is why I really appreciate beta readers who go out of their way to not just critique but also encourage. Pointing out what the writer did right can be just as effective as pointing out what they did wrong and it can really make someone’s day. We live with these stories for so long that sometimes all we want is to know that it was worth it.

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