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The Value of Beta Readers: How They Help You as a Writer and Reader

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, Revision.

I’ve had the privilege of beta reading a lot of YA and MG novels lately. If someone had asked me to read their manuscript two years ago, I would have stunk at it. BIG TIME. But I’ve grown as a writer, and as a reader. I think it happens naturally. The more you write (and read), the better you become. And the better you spot when something is askew. In others’ writing. Not necessarily your own (my critique group can attest to that).


Guest column by Christina Lee, who is currently on
submission with her first YA novel. She blogs at
write-brained.com. She also writes a column for
The Sun News and creates hand-stamped
jewelry at tags-n-Stones.com.  

 

When reading other’s work, see if you notice:

1. The use of stronger verbs to replace adverbs/adjectives.

He put the piece of paper in his pocket forcefully.

OR,
He stuffed the paper in his pocket.

2. Whether the story flows.

Did the author follow-up on what they said in another chapter?

Does the story drag b/c the MC does nothing to further the plot–he wakes up, stares out the window, and eats breakfast (with no internal or external dialogue related to the story)?

3. Are the speech and voice age-appropriate?

A fine line exists there (in YA and MG) and it’s sometimes hard to know where to land.

For example (from my own first draft mess), would a teen boy say, “With time and persistence I started feeling something…”

OR, “After awhile I sorta started feeling something…I guess.”

4. Is the writer showing, not telling?

Another tough one. I still struggle with this (until someone points it out).
I was disappointed.

OR, My shoulders sagged. OR, My face fell.

5. Do they use cliffhanger scenes/sentences at chapter endings?

This makes the reader want to turn the page.

For example, after a spooky scenario took place with one of my MC’s cars, she asks: Can ghosts flatten tires? Hopefully the reader will want to read on, to see if in fact, they can.

6. Is the book’s opening sentences/paragraphs provocative enough for the reader to turn the page?

Did the author make a compelling promise to the reader (about the story’s conflict/message) that they want to see fulfilled?

This is one of the hardest tasks for a writer, and I struggle with it myself.


HERE ARE SOME
GREAT OPENINGS:

 

“Daddy said, ‘Let Mom go first.’ Mom wanted me to go first. I think it was because she was afraid that after they were contained and frozen, I’d walk away, return to life rather than consign myself to that cold, clear box.”
- Across the Universe, by Beth Revis

“I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm growing cold, surrounded by wolves. They were licking me, biting me, worrying at my body, pressing in.”
- Shiver, by Maggie Stievater

“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact. You are going to die.”
- The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak


Just getting started on your writing
journey? Check out How to Write and
Sell Your First Novel.

 


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5 Responses to The Value of Beta Readers: How They Help You as a Writer and Reader

  1. Jamie Beck says:

    Is there an easy way to find credible beta readers in a certain genre (ie, romance)?

  2. Lisa Lane says:

    I love beta readers: the more they can tear apart my work, the better. I currently have one of my books in the hands of five well read and talented beta readers, and I’m hoping for lots of feedback.

  3. Kristan says:

    Great examples of your points, and of intriguing openings. I can say without hesitation that The Book Thief lives up and is worth sticking through. Also, I don’t normally do this (so I hope Chuck forgives me) but if anyone is interested in reading beyond the first line of Across the Universe, I’m giving away a free copy and today is the last day to enter! Just comment on this Facebook post:

    http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=106761449406793&id=106872616014743

    Good luck on your submission, Christina!

  4. christina lee says:

    Hi Karyn! In a nutshell it means that a writer reads and critiques another writers work. :-)

  5. Karyn Bristol says:

    Okay, I’m raising my hand, even though I imagine everyone behind me smirking and snickering. What is beta reading? (My face is red).

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