When NOT to Listen to Your Beta Reader

Unless you’re just going to keep all your stuff locked in a journal, outside readers are essential to your writing process. A beta reader (or critique partner) is a fellow writer who reads your work and gives you feedback, whether that’s in-line notes, copy edits, an edit letter, or just a chat session about the strengths and weaknesses.

But even good writers aren’t born knowing how to critique a novel. When you find a beta reader, you’ll need to make sure that the comments and critiques you’re getting are not only worth your time but are things you want to change in your novel. Here are a few situations where you should—maybe—ignore your beta reader…or find a new one entirely.

They change their mind.
A good beta reader does a lot, and is flexible and open to discussion if there’s a point you want clarification on. But if you press them for more depth on one comment, only to have them shrink away and take it back, they clearly don’t have a very strong conviction about their assessment of your novel…which is not good news. Your novel needs critique that’s solid and unshakeable—even if it’s not what you want to hear!—and a beta reader who cowers and flip-flops isn’t giving you opinions that are firm enough to be actionable.

They only praise you.
Everyone loves praise! And one of the things a good critique partner does is point out the strong sides of your novel. But if she’s pointing out the highlights and only the highlights, you’re not getting the critique out of her beta read…which is the whole point. You don’t want a yes-man (or -woman); you want a personable but honest assessment. Writer friends can be a double-edged sword here—they want you to succeed, and may not be able to tell it like it is (or couch it when they do—see above). Hiring a novel editor is an easy way to make sure you’re getting an impartial opinion.

They’re too prescriptive.
Move this line of dialogue to chapter three, cut six sentences here, make your protagonist’s hair red and change her first name to Sylvia, never use the word ‘said’ without an adverb (hint: don’t do that)…sound familiar? A good critique partner shows you problems, but doesn’t solve them FOR you. Just because they’re very specific about how they want you to fix these issues doesn’t mean you have to kick them to the curb: you can choose to ignore their solutions and just work on the problems the solutions are for. Or you can find another CP or beta reader to counterbalance. If they’re getting really nitty-gritty in their line edits, remember, you’re probably better off finding copy-editing mistakes yourself (or, of course, hiring an editor).

They’re your only beta.
Unless you’re writing a book for one person, you need more than one beta reader. Ideally, you can find two readers who like your genre and category of book, but have little else in common, so that you get the widest range of takes possible. If you hack and polish and tailor your book to one person’s specifications, it may still fall flat for the next reader…who might be an agent or editor. You don’t have to go crazy—you don’t want to be waiting on sixteen different readers—but at least two is a good start.

They’re getting personal.
Is the critique more about YOU than your novel? Are they make cutting, passive-aggressive comments about your publishing track record, career choices, or anything else that’s just not on the page? Even the critique they do give you probably isn’t going to be great. Don’t waste your time.

The canary is dead.
When it comes to accepting critiques of your writing, there are some things that are dead giveaways that the critique might not be up to par. If you’re getting comments with bad grammar, misspelled words (or character names), or sentences that don’t make logical sense…chances are that your beta reader didn’t give you a truly thorough read. Those little mistakes are like the canary in the coal mine: if your crit partner can’t spell on her own, why would you trust her to check the spelling in your book?

They’re writing checks their experience can’t cash.
If your critique partner is telling you with authority that your book won’t sell because the market is too crowded for YA fantasy, or that you can’t write romance from two POVs because editors are tired of reading it, odds are they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s great to be up on trends in the publishing industry, but unless your critique partner has recent, relevant industry experience, those are just opinions—not facts. Don’t take career advice from someone who hasn’t worked on that side of the desk! Only a professional editor can accurately assess the conceptual potential of your book.

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

Seven Blog Post Ideas to Promote Your New Novel

Whether you’re traditionally published or an indie author, doing guest posts on blogs aimed at readers and writers is an excellent way to get the word out about a new release. But it’s easy to write one or two posts and then feel like you’re repeating yourself. Want some fresh ideas to hook in readers about your latest book? Here are some post ideas to get you going.

A Playlist
Do you listen to music while you work? Did a particular artist or soundtrack inspire your writing? Great! Throw together a shareable song list (in Spotify, for example) and write a few paragraphs about what the music means to you.

Character interview
Sit down with your main character and interview her as if you’re writing a newspaper article. It could be a straight-up profile of her as a person, or an interview more related to the plot of the book—whatever brings out her originality.

In-world newspaper article
Speaking of newspaper articles, you could also play journalist and write a piece from the perspective of a publication within the world of your story. What’s going on in there? Can you include some weather reports? Sports scores? Quotes from colorful characters on the street?

Draft comparison
For a more writing-focused blog, talking about your writing process can be a huge draw. But instead of trying to scare up some material about your “inspiration” (who can ever pin that down, anyway?) try something more concrete: pull out two copies of the same scene, one from an early draft and one from the final, and discuss what changed. You can either quote directly from the lines themselves and analyze word choice, or just give a bird’s-eye view of all the tracked changes and/or margin notes you made in the process. If you worked with an editor, you can have them chime in, too, to discuss their end of the process.

Cover process
Similarly, readers love peeking behind the curtain and seeing how covers get made. If you worked with the designer yourself, you can go in-depth about the discussions you two had, how you selected color scheme and artwork, and how you tweaked the design to get to the final product. If your publisher made the cover for you, you can ask for some in-process covers (if they’re okay sharing them) to discuss, or else just talk about why the cover works for you and how it represents your novel.

Title process
Finally, titles can and often do change—but you’d be surprised how few readers know that. Talk about what went into your original title, what it means to the book, why it changed (if it did change), and how you hope it’ll reflect the book to readers.

Surprising Things I Learned
A grab-bag post idea for when you’re coming up a little empty, this topic allows you to frame anything that you encountered on your publishing journey in a neat format. Make a list (like a Top 5) or just ruminate in paragraphs about all the unexpected lessons that cropped up along the way, and don’t hesitate to show some personality.

Seven Great Podcasts for Writers

Got a long commute (or a long workout) and need a productive way to pass the time? Fire up one of our favorite writing-related podcasts and get craft advice and inspiration on the go!

Writing Excuses
A huge favorite among writers, this podcast is hosted by Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler.

The Narrative Breakdown
Plotting, writing craft, and author interviews about all things story, with a great backlog of episodes.

Upvote YA
The official podcast of the r/YAWriters subreddit is hosted by members of the group and goes in-depth on the topics discussed in the subreddit.

Shipping and Handling
Literary agents Bridget Smith and Jennifer Udden talk about the industry, agent life, and more.

Print Run
Another agent podcast hosted by Laura Zats and Erik Hane, with lots of good industry info that makes for edutaining listening.

First Draft with Sarah Enni
Enni hosts interviews with a host of impressive authors, including Beth Revis, Libba Bray, Veronica Roth, and many, many more.

88 Cups of Tea
Yin Chang hosts this excellent series of interviews with creative types ranging from literary agents to novelists.

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

Is Your Twitter Presence Helping—Or Hurting?—Your Writing Career?

Twitter is THE BEST in a lot of ways: it connects writers who are far apart, it clues readers in to new releases in their favorite genre, and it allows authors to look for agents and editors who might be interested in their work. But like lots of social media, it pays (sometimes literally!) to use it with smarts and style. A dodgy Twitter feed can actually work AGAINST your writing career—and no one wants that. Just like querying mistakes, these are little things you may not even realize you’re doing! Here’s what to look out for.

Helps: You reach out to other authors.
Getting to know other writers—for solidarity, for commiseration, for critique—is one of the hugest benefits of social media. But to reap those benefits, you have to say hi! If you’re chatting back and forth with your writer peers, nicely done.

Hurts: You reach out to ONLY other authors.
It’s easy to get trapped in a bubble of fellow writers and never venture into the wider world of book Twitter. Be sure to vary your feed (and interactions) with industry publications, publishing professionals, and useful writing blogs.

Helps: You share useful tips.
Whether it’s a quick #writetip or a retweet of a helpful post, sharing writing help is a great way to establish a presence as a useful resource (i.e., someone worth following!)

Hurts: You share nothing but (or mostly) self promo.
Tweeters are smart: they know an ad when they see one, and it can be a huge turnoff. There’s nothing wrong with using your social media to show off new releases, sales, or special deals, but constant repetitive tweets about your book aren’t engaging. And statistically, they don’t convert into sales at NEARLY the rate of a newsletter or a freebie book in a Facebook ad!

Helps: You act like a human.
Tweeting like you talk, sharing photos of your workspace (or vacation!), and generally being, well, personable shows that you’re not just there to promote and network. Social media craves authenticity!

Hurts: You act like a robot.
Constant scheduled tweets, or, even worse, the dread “thanks for the follow, buy my book!” auto-DM are at best ignorable and at worst extremely irritating and can earn you an instant unfollow. Don’t be pushy!

Helps: You are professional and polite.
Especially when interacting with agents, editors, contest admins, or any pros, keeping it respectful and kind is always a good look. They’ll remember you as someone who’s on top of it!

Hurts: You overshare, bully, subtweet, or whine.
Describing your stomach flu in gory detail, picking on other authors, vaguely tweeting about publishing pros who’ve rejected your work, or complaining about how hard it is to get readers or sales—just don’t. Nothing screams “unprofessional” like someone who uses a public forum to air grievances. Find a trusted friend to vent to—offline.

The Pros and Cons of Online Writing Contests

These days, writers can participate in a bevy of contests, pitch fests, and mentorships with a single click. They’re popular for a host of reasons—but they also have their drawbacks. If your social media presence is already helping (and not hurting!) your career, a contest could give you the push you need…or it could stop you in your tracks. Consider some of these upsides and downsides before entering.

Pro: online contests are—generally—free.
Unlike conferences, with their registration fees, travel costs, and time required to get there, an online contest has way fewer barriers to entry. If you’re on a budget or far away from local in-person events, they can be a wonderful option.

Con: the expertise of the judges can vary.
However, unlike a professional conference, where faculty are often paid (and therefore vetted to make sure the organizers get their money’s worth!), online contests can deem more or less anyone a judge—and publishing and writing expertise runs the gamut. Before you enter, consider whether the judges are truly people whose feedback you’d value and trust.

Pro: contests help you find fellow writers.
Even if you don’t get selected as a participant, the hashtag will point you to a host of other folks doing just what you’re doing—writing books. As long as you’ve got a professional, engaging Twitter presence, you’re bound to make friends.

Con: it’s time spent NOT writing.
Prepping for and entering online contests can be a real time suck…time you’d otherwise spend drafting or revising. Be judicious and decide whether all that prep work will detract from the heart of your writing career: writing.

Pro: it’s a kick in the butt to get revising.
If you’ve been sitting on a manuscript for months—or years!—without sending it out, a contest can be a great motivator. It’s a great excuse to iron out all the weak parts of your query letter and give your pages a final polish. Nothing fuels inspiration like a deadline, after all.

Con: ten-pages syndrome.
On the other hand, because contest entries are usually just a query or short excerpt, it’s easy to get sucked into revising the first pages—and only the first pages—over and over again. If you’re seeking traditional publication, make sure that the rest of your manuscript lives up to your shiny first 10.

Pro: you have a chance to get valuable critique.
Especially if you don’t work regularly with a crit partner or beta reader, contests can give you that invaluable early read, along with feedback that could transform your book. Good critique can be a huge motivator to keep going.

Con: you have a chance to get critique that dings your self-esteem
Contest critique, like all critique, is subjective. If you have thin skin, getting a harsh critique can be discouraging and maybe even make you give up entirely. If you’re not sure you’re ready, find a trusty (and kind!) critique partner, beta reader, or professional editor to work with first.

 

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.