Before we start this post, I want to make it very clear that I am 100% an advocate of beta reading, hiring editors, and getting other people to read your work and provide feedback before sending it to a real editor or hiring an agent to be published. I think that this can save valuable time and money, and so have actually started an editing service myself. (so if you’re looking for relatively cheap readers, hit me up)
However, I have found that sometimes, having too many editors, editors too early in the process, or editors for the wrong genre, or any number of mistakes can lead to devaluing the writing process and the writer’s work as a whole. I know this is probably a strange assessment coming from an editor, but *shrugs internally*
I’ve already written a mini version of this post, which was uploaded to The Writing Writers, a new collab blog which I am a part of! It accompanied a poem which I wrote, had beta edited, and ended up despising the overall result. The blog is super awesome because there are so many incredible writers sharing their original creations, so if you haven’t already given it a follow, you need to head over there ASAP. Plus, they’re publishing their own magazine, which you can submit your work to, so it’s a win win and you better get started before it’s too late. While you’re there, I would love it if you could read the poem.
As I said earlier, I think that there are a few circumstances where beta reading can make your work less “yours” and then lead you to not enjoying it as much anymore. Because lists are fun and also orderly, I’m going to start numbering…
- You Write Poetry– This was elaborated on more in my TWW post, but basically I believe that it’s really really hard to beta poetry, since each and every word should be especially picked by the poet for the desired effect. Even just changing one small word could completely destroy the integrity of the piece, or give it a different meaning than originally intended. Before you publish, you should probably have a few unbiased people read it over and give general feedback, but I think that beta readers should be careful of not altering the meaning, and you as a writer need to be overly cautious about changing key wording. Just because some people don’t understand your “deeper meaning” doesn’t mean that you did a bad job of it, it just means that those specific people are likely not your target audience. (and target audience is hard for poetry because you are relying on emotions and things that your average beta reader won’t publish in their bio)
- It’s too early– You should never hire a beta before you’ve read over the piece 1-2 times yourself and made all of the major changes which you plan on making. If you have someone read it immediately after finishing the first draft, not only will it be a pain in the ass for them to get through, but there will be so many “big” changes that need to be made that they could end up writing the entire thing for you, which means that it’s their work as much as yours. Betas are there to advise, not to write the story, but asking them too early could lead to the undesired effect.
- You asked everyone and anyone– You have your mom, dad, aunt, brother, three best friends, and 3 paid readers going over your story and providing feedback. If each person changes up just a few things, even the equivalent of ~5 pages worth over the course of a 300 page story (which could be reasonable) that’s already 50 pages that you didn’t really write. And maybe they made the story better, but maybe it isn’t *quite* what you intended, and that’s a lot of writing that isn’t really yours. I know you probably want as much feedback as you can get, but in the end it is your work, and I would keep it to 2-4 betas, depending on the length of the story and how good your first couple readers are. You will never be completely satisfied with a story, so don’t feel the need to keep hiring more. You make the final decision. (go writer empowerment!!)
- Bad Beta– You hire a 40 year old man for your YA f/f romance. Sorry to tell you, but that is probably not going to work out in your best interest. Things that he thinks sound cliche or pathetic might happen in a real live high school, and he’s just too far removed to realize it. If you are writing YA, try to hire highly qualified teens (LIKE ME!) or 20-somethings because I guarantee that this will give you better results. I don’t care if he’s a literature major and works in editing and I’m a high school senior who took AP classes (sorry for all the self promo in this post)… if he can’t relate to your piece, he likely won’t beta it as well.
So basically, I think you need to be picky about your beta readers/editors, and choose the few people who will be the best possible fit for your situation. There’s no other way to do it.
Do you think that beta readers are always a good thing? Is there ever a bad time to hire a beta? Do you want a beta reader AND editor at an all inclusive low price of $40? Have you checked out The Writing Writers?
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