by Big World Writing Club Moderator A1
Someone asked me recently, “So how do you find good beta readers?”
“It’s a long story,” I said.
In 2008, I quit the day job and took a long-overdue, self-funded sabbatical year. One of my first acts was to sign up for National Novel Writing Month, and take on the mad project of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
One of the unexpected benefits of participating in National Novel Writing Month was the combination of on-line and in-person meetings with writers. The site (on our list of links to the right) offers an extensive menu of forums by genre, interest, concern about process…
But what proved most enduring were the contacts made in person, at write-ins, where we put on headphones and wrote for extended periods, and then took breaks to chat about what we were working on. I first did the challenge back in 2008, at the beginning of my sabbatical year. Each year I walked away from the experience with a different technical challenge to work out in process:
- in 2008, it was figuring out the architecture of a novel, by reviewing some favorites with an eye to planning my next project;
- in 2009, it was exploring on-line presence and making connections with writing buddies around the globe (under various pseudonyms, of which more in a subsequent post).
- In 2010, after finishing a complete plot arc, it was second-draft revision and keeping up the practice of writing fiction every month, if only in 10,000-30,000 word increments, and creating an online presence for the name under which I planned to write most of my work.
- In 2011, after figuring out how to do it better on the first pass, I resolved to learn as much as possible about the business of publishing and self-publishing.
What made the difference was the connections I made. Each year I ventured a little further out of my comfort zone in the months after NaNoWriMo:
- in 2009, I practiced being a working writer, as if it were my full-time job (which it was).
- In 2010, I joined the MnNaNo writers’ group, and met with peers every 3-4 weeks to compare progress notes; at the end of the 2010 NaNo, my finished novel went out to a small group of on-line and in-person writing buddies with whom I’d had long talks about writing projects, theirs and mine.
- In 2011, I set myself off-season projects and did my first submission for publication, taking an anthology call as a writing prompt. My group of close MnNaNo buddies spun off into a subcaucus of the seriously committed; my working relationships with beta readers in other communities led to the formation of Big World Writing Club.
All this is a very long answer to the question I hear from beginning and advanced writers alike,”How do you find good beta readers?” What I’ve retailed above comes at the end of decades of working alone, meeting people in classes and workshops, and forming temporary collaborations and working groups (most of which did not work out, for a variety of reasons). Form relationships with other writers, and figure out who has something in common with you.
Make sure that those relationships are reciprocal. I don’t want to talk about the years I did beta work for other writers, and then discovered that my own turn never came. Don’t go into it with the attitude that other people are resources for you to make use of. The only arrangement that really works in a sustainable way is reciprocity, which assumes careful observation for mutual trust. It’s dangerous to trust someone who isn’t trustworthy, and it’s equally dangerous (for both parties) to take without giving in return.