Skip to content

How to get through your first beta: A thin-skinned writer’s guide

Back in December 2020, I decided it was about time I found some beta readers for We gotta get out. I had just finished the second revision of it and I was confident it could be shown to the world. So I put my Goodreads account to good use and asked for help on their forum. At first, nothing happened, so I decided to try and comment under other people’s thread and offer to swap betas.

Finally, things began to move, and I got set up with an Indian guy who had a YA fantasy novel to edit. I sent him my manuscript, and in less than a day, he crushed it under his feet. Really. He tore it apart from cover to cover, even though I’m pretty sure he just read the chapter titles and maybe the first chapter. He said that my draft looked like a shitty first draft from an amateur writer and pointed me to Scott Sigler’s Youtube channel for advice (Despite the odd usage Sigler makes of his facial expression, the channel is actually good, by the way). I had to fight back the impulse to insult him and tell him his manuscript sucked even though I hadn’t read it yet, but I thought twice. Instead, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began reading his work as if he hadn’t just destroyed mine.

I focused on the task and gave him the best review I could give, pointing out mistakes and places where he got room for improvement, always trying to keep it polite. Once I finished the review of his first chapters, I emailed him again to tell him I was done and asked him to be more specific about why he didn’t like my draft. This time around, he made the effort to actually open the draft and gave me some more useful advice. In a sense he was right, that stream of consciousness in the form of a rant against the average clubber I put right at the beginning was hard to swallow for an external reader. Stream of consciousness is a complicated thing, and I’m no James Joyce, after all.

I was so proud of those initial chapters I’d written between 2012 and 2013, but reading them after the ones I wrote in 2020 I could see the difference: they belonged to an entirely different league. There was only one thing to do: re-writing them from the beginning and re-arrange them in a more reader-friendly way. While I was at it, I re-wrote the entire thing, and I was surprised to see how fast it was. After taking a lot of deep breaths and murdering a lot of darlings, of course. The guy read the first few revised chapters, but then he disappeared after telling me that I had made a lot of progress and that he knew I “got this”. I was bummed at first, but soon enough I decided to save my love for someone who loved me and began looking for other betas.

It was a very slow process at first because nobody answered my threads on any forum I went to. Then, finally, a colleague of mine pointed me to writer’s subforums on Reddit, and things began to move. I found a few people to swap betas with, getting some other good pieces of advice, and things began to roll on Google groups forums too. Maybe it was just a matter of getting things started. Moving the first few pebbles until they form a landslide.

Some comments are still hard to swallow, and I can’t get rid of the anxious feeling I get every time I get the notification because someone has commented on the draft I shared in Google Docs. But things are moving, at least, and I’m happy with the vast majority of the comments I get. I think any writer can relate to this: we’re so proud of our creation that it’s too easy to think that it’s just other people that don’t get it. Well, even if they don’t get it, they’re the ones who are supposed to appreciate our writing and buy our books, so we don’t really have a choice. Another thing I’m happy about is that this way I get to be a beta reader in exchange: I love to be able to read the work of other people because there are some talented writers out there.

I can’t help to think about that first beta and how much it hurt at the beginning: I’m happy I was able to swallow my pride in that situation because it improved my situation in more ways than one. I couldn’t imagine taking a step back and accepting defeat could taste so good after a few weeks.

Oh, by the way, do you know whose skin is even thinner than mine? Lorenza, the main character in We gotta get out. Head on to the newsletter page to stay in the loop. Good things are coming.

Published inUncategorized

One Comment

  1. […] a few edges in my writing to make it mode digestible to readers, and that I’m carefully listening to all the advice I can get from my betas, but am I really moving towards the category my pen pal Gilbert calls “I and them”? How […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *