Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing,  On Writing,  publishing

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Beta Readers Help You

This chapter came from me just hearing over and over about how writers are using multiple beta readers. And I honestly just got tired of shuddering every time I heard that stupidity.

Chapter Six

Beginning writers have a belief that the more people who read their work, the better their work will be. Of course, that flies in the face of any creation of art by an artist. But the fear is great among young writers, most of who are indie writers these days.

Long term pros? What do they do? Maybe have one first reader, maybe not. Most not.

Why? Because creating original fiction is not a group effort, that’s why.

Thinking you need beta readers is one of the deadliest myths that has come about in this new world.

Where Did This “Beta Reader” Concept Come From?

The easy and honest answer is fear.

But I need to do a little history as I normally do in these chapters.

Back in the pulp era, writers wrote on typewriters. Almost all did single draft and gave the story to their editors at magazines. (A few book houses, but not many. Most novels were published in magazines in the pulp period. Most novels from that period have never seen a hardback or paperback reprint.)

The editor might mark the manuscript up like a copyeditor, adding in directions for layout and such, then send it for typesetting and the story would hit print.

(In case you didn’t know, this marked-up manuscript came to be known as “Foul Matter.” I got many of my “foul matter” manuscripts back after publication over the years.)

As time progressed into the second half of the 20th century, this practice continued. Sometimes a writer would have a trusted first reader, but the longer-term professionals did not. They continued to write clean one draft and give it to their editor for print.

They trusted their own skill and art. And they didn’t allow their editor to touch their stories and most editors didn’t.

But then in the late 1960s and booming into the 1980s and forward came the peer workshop, where a bunch of writers at the same level of skill and lack of publishing credits sat around and critiqued commas. Sometimes at horrid length.

This started to give beginning writers the feeling that if they pleased their workshop, they had a good story. Or even worse, if they took all the suggestions from their workshop and incorporated all the suggestions, they would have a good story.

Nope. Very seldom did this sort of committee writing turn anything into anything more than a pile of mush. But it sure answered the fear of the young writer.

And this kind of thinking (along with the myth of needing to do many rewrites) became part of the culture of publishing, taught by English classes and pushed by writers who had a few sales and thought it was the only way.

Then in 2010 along comes the indie movement. And beginning writers, being afraid, very, very afraid of god-knows-what, decided that they needed a bunch of readers to make sure their manuscript was a very, very smooth and smelly pile of mush. So they roped in friends and other writers to be “beta readers.”

In other words, they copied the peer workshop experience right into the middle of their own publishing work.

Often a writer could have up to ten “beta readers” on a book, the best way to guarantee that the book will be not only dull, but boring.

But the typing would be perfect. God help a poor typo that slipped through that gauntlet.

And now here, in 2017, as I write this, the concept of “beta readers” makes me shudder every time I type the phrase. I had hoped for a few years it would die off as the really bad idea it is. But nope. It has gained myth status, sadly.

And it now is hurting some really fine writers.

Fear and the Lack of Art

As I said above, this concept comes out of fear. All of us starting off, and I was no exception, had massive fears of not doing something correctly. And, of course, our storytelling skills sucked. Why? Because we all had a lot of techniques to learn.

The ability to code these little black marks in a way that tells a story to a reader is a learned skill and it takes time to learn. And it takes practice, a word that is alien to all beginning writers because to beginning writers all words are golden. (That’s why they must be polished.)

The old system, if you were to get through it, forced writers to practice. We wrote stories and got them to editors and they either bought them or rejected them. As our skills improved, editors bought more than rejected. But it took years and years of practice.

But now, in this indie world, writers have lost the courage to just put a story out there and see how it does. Now the story must be pounded into mush by a half-dozen beta readers to make sure the writer’s fear is controlled.  Kind of sad when you actually think of it.

A Personal Story

I started two peer workshops and taught a few here on the coast until a decade past we stopped the practice and moved on.

So if I came up through peer workshops, why am I telling people they are a waste of time and to not use them?

Simple: Writers are using them wrong, just as they use a first reader wrong.

So in 1982, with a number of other writers, I helped start a peer workshop. It met every week and since I was writing a story per week at that point, I made a point to turn in a story almost every week to be read for the following week’s workshop.

But what the workshop didn’t know was that on the way to the workshop, I mailed the story to an editor I was going to turn in. What I cared about from the feedback in the workshop was what I could learn FOR THE NEXT STORY.

Not once, in all my years of peer workshops, did I ever take anyone’s suggestion and try to FIX a story. Nope.

But I did take comments and audience reaction and try to learn for the next story I was going to write.

So what happened to all those stories I had mailed out without even a first reader on them? Well, they started selling. And over the years a great number of them sold to professional markets.

And after the first two or three sales, I stopped telling the workshop I had made a sale because most of them were not making any sales. Why? Because they were writing by committee and I was writing my own voice and story, untouched by anyone else.

Did this take courage? Yes.

Did I have my doubts at times? Yes.

Especially one day when the group totally hated one story. Totally. They tore it apart and almost had me convinced it was complete garbage. If the story hadn’t already been in the mail, I never would have mailed it.

The story sold ten days later, the first time out to a top horror magazine of the time. And after that I never doubted again. I learned a lot from the comments of other writers. And that learning I applied to the NEXT STORY.

But never once did I use the comments to “fix” a story because, to be honest, I didn’t want a collaborator on any of my work.

Now Comes “Beta Readers”

Again I just shuddered typing that.

Just a few days ago a wonderful writer who I have seen some fantastic work in online workshops, (where I get to see first draft stuff) told me that her most recent book was at her beta readers. Seven or eight of them I think.

I wanted to say that it wasn’t her book anymore, it was “their” book. But I said nothing, just as over the last years since this horrid practice started I have said nothing.

Writing by committee makes dullness. It takes out your writer voice, and often your character voice.

And I honestly have no idea why writers don’t have more pride in their work. That is the aspect of all this that bothers me. No one touches my work. It is my work. Period. Good or bad.

And I am proud of that fact. Good or bad.

The Solution?

Just stop. Go cold turkey.

Grow a backbone and believe in your own writing.

Maybe have one trusted reader and then ignore anything they say that doesn’t fit with your vision.

Get a copyeditor who will only find typos. Ignore anything the copyeditor says if they try to change your style or writing in any way.

Think how much easier that will be.

Keep learning skills and craft and applying it to the next story.

Bad grammar be good in right times and right places. Toss out the Chicago Manual of Style unless you are writing nonfiction.

Toss out the window your copy of Strunk and White unless you are writing nonfiction.

I am talking fiction here.

You are an artist. Allow your characters to live on the page. Allow your own voice (which you can’t see) to be there for your readers.

Always focus on the next story, not the last story.

Just stop even thinking of using beta readers to destroy your work.

Because that is what beta readers do.





  • Michelle

    Hi, Dean, instructive as always. Lately Kris in her recommended reading posts has lamented the sameness of many authors’ voices, and now you’re talking about mushy writing. What does this really look like on the page?

    I’ve been reading for story and enjoyment, not to critique, and my writing voice is invisible to me, as you say. I guess I either don’t notice this sameness, or I think it’s how writing is supposed to look?
    How do I recognize what’s mush and what isn’t?

    • dwsmith

      You see it in other writers. You avoid it in your own writing by not letting anyone else in. You leave the rough edges in. This is alien to young writers who think they need to polish, but what they are doing is turning their story into sameness. Instead, fight the need to make it perfect and leave it alone. Your voice and uniqueness will come through just fine. Kick everyone else out of your art.

      • Niki Savage

        I’m totally in agreement with your viewpoint, Dean. Here is part of a comment that I left on a blogpost on September 16, 2016. The blogpost was called, “How indie is indie?”
        This is what I said, “Normally the first person who gets to set eyes on my work is the first reader who buys it. That’s the way I like it because I believe art is very personal so I prefer not to have my art diluted by other people’s opinions (i.e. Beta readers).”
        I live by these words, and I’ve self published 9 books since 2011.

  • Big Ed Magusson

    Do you differentiate between beta readers and fact checkers? I’m about a week away from finishing my historical fantasy and I had planned to send it to a couple of people so they could tell me if I had any of the historical elements wrong. I would’ve called them “beta readers” but I’m not at all interested in their comments on story structure. I just don’t want some civil war buff bitching at me because “Henry rifles weren’t accurate at that distance.” Because you know that if I get some tiny detail wrong, they will bitch. .

    (that doesn’t mean I’ll fix all factual errors, but right now I kind of want to know about them in case they’re easy to fix without altering the overall story)

    • dwsmith

      Sure, if those are all you are looking for. Historical writers need fact check at times. But always remember, it is fiction. If you don’t believe me about how little some details matter, just read Cussler. Millions do and don’t seem to care much about some details. (grin)

      • Linda S Fox

        I’m planning on having a writer friend of mine – who actually has PUBLISHED books – go over a mystery story, to make sure that I’ve gotten the framework correct.
        – clues all there, disguised
        – red herrings in place
        – no obvious villain/suspect
        – no pulling a gun out of thin air kind of thing

        But, I know this person. I’ve read his latest book before publication, and made two tiny suggestions. He’s going to do the same for me. I’m not going to have him tearing my work apart, just giving it a once-over to make sure that an obvious mistake doesn’t get through.

  • Nicki

    In the process of learning all I can, I recently (yesterday) learned of the concept of an Advance Team – a mailing list of X number of fans that read a book that is nearly ready to publish so that when it goes live there are a chunk of those people on the list that will jump out and add reviews, promoting visibility in the first days of a book’s publication. Does this fall under your category of “beta reader”? Especially if you’re ignoring all comments and replies except that meet Rule #3 that you agree with?

    Thanks for another great article. I’m going to drop this on my writer friends and see what happens.

    • dwsmith

      Not sure what to think of Advance Team yet. It’s a form of sales and begging for reviews, but the jury is still out.

      And caution giving anything I do to friends. It can cause troubles. (grin)

      • Jeff

        The idea behind Advanced teams is to ensure ten reviews on day one. Various promotion sites won’t look at you if you don’t have reviews. Also, there is a chance it helps with sales if people see many positive reviews on a new title. But yes, the jury is still out on their actual effectiveness. They are not there to give you feedback, though.

        • dwsmith

          You actually worry about reviews? Why not worry about writing the next story instead? Seems the focus is in the complete wrong place.

          • Rebekah

            Because if the author doesn’t market the book… no one else will. And when your career is a year old, instead of twenty, yes–it matters.

          • dwsmith

            Writing the next story is what matters. Get the book out to readers. If your career is only a year old, you have nothing to market. Write the next book.

          • Jeff

            I worry (worry isn’t really the right word) about reviews because I am not a tradpub author who doesn’t have to know anything about business. And yes, I do focus on the next story. I just also do marketing and reviews are part of marketing. It isn’t like I can only do one or the other. As with all things in writing what works for one person might not work for another. To be honest I am not a fan of beta readers either and I found your article a breath of fresh air.

          • dwsmith

            Jeff, a word of advice from hard experience. Don’t read your own reviews, good or bad. They just get into your head and can really slow down or hurt your writing.

            And that is from hard experience, sadly. And I too was warned by older pros to not do it and I had to touch that stove top even so. (grin)

  • Kate Pavelle

    “Hi, my name is Kate, and I am a beta addict.” Maybe we should start a 12-step group.
    I’m one of those who used 2 betas per manuscript, cleverly merging their documents for efficiency, then doing another spell-check before sending it all to a proof reader. The reason? People are busy, deadlines are real, and in the past, a beta didn’t come through on time, so using two seemed like taking sensible precautions. What spiraled out of control are not my two trusted readers (one of them is probably reading this,) but my *reliance* upon them.
    Enter the Self-Editing Workshop. As a result of some major writer-whisperer activity on Dean’s part (thank you, Dean!), I am writing a brand new book, and I’m going to take a wild leap here, and do this one without a beta reader, cycling through, slowing down a bit now just to make sure that I have confidence in my story. (My two stalwart writer friends will get an ARC instead.)
    On a related note, a successful writer shared that he spends 2-5 thousand dollars on book production and launch, of which 2-3 thousand are on book cover and editing (2 edits, 3 proof reads), and the rest are on advertising. He claims to make $20+K per book, so whatever he’s doing seems to work for him. I don’t have that kind of money to throw around, though, and hearing several other (well known) indie writers nod and agree that “they, too, do this” makes us poorer indies feel a bit inadequate. We can’t afford several layers of editors and proof readers, so roping in beta readers is, I see in retrospect, a way to inflating the size of our publishing appendage. (The writing one is just fine, thankyouverymuch.)
    And now, back to writing to passion, and without fear. Thank you for laying this issue out like the punch-drunk, has-been contender that it is, Dean!

  • Vera Soroka

    Great post. I know one trad YA author who holds an annual post for hook ups for betta readers. She thinks all writers needs them and an agent to boot. The young writers come to her in droves so this myth will be very hard to out down.
    And did I miss the first five chapters or did you just randomly put this chapter up? I look forward to the rest of it.

    • dwsmith

      Vera, under the Killing the Sacred Cows tab at the top is links to all of them, including the posts in the first two books and the first five in the third book.

  • Mahrie G. Reid

    Excellent point of view. I have one friend who would rewrite to her group’s suggestions and ended up going nowhere with the story. I send one copy to a “fresh” eyes reader whenI am sure I’m done. Each of these readers (only one per finished book) read the proof copy. And they only worry about “silly” mistakes. Like two characters with the same name, or a slip up on a detail from one scene to the next – small things – like slippers vs barefeet when they haven’t taken off the slippers. And I am lucky to have a solid copy writer. He has once or twice pointed out something that didn’t jive – but always with a “you may want to look at this” type of comment. But the mai book, the rewrites and what gets published is mine – good, bad or indifferent.

  • Mike Zimmerman

    Loved this. Great advice. I had a terrific fiction writing teacher in college, and during classes we’d all sit in a circle and would have to read our latest short stories aloud. 12-15 students. Then the critiquing would begin. And it was fine, I could tell who listened, who gave smart notes, who didn’t. But the first time I read, two guys gave me the stink eye, though I found out later it wasn’t the stink eye. They were the guys who ended up having real writing drive and like me wanted to pursue it professionally. The stink eye was just them being like, shit, now we have to contend with this dude.

    But we bonded and ended up encouraging each other to write more and more, to dig in. We all pushed each other to write our own first novels, and not for any class. The professor and his trio of idjits would run “speed writing” sessions and read what we wrote to each other afterward. The extent of the critique was “it’s working” or “it’s not working.” In other words, it was about being productive. Best writing education I ever had.

    Flash forward a few years. I joined a writing group consisting of real pros. And it was a shitshow, not because of a lack of talent or intellect on everyone’s part, but because I wasn’t writing in the same genre as everyone else, and we all just had different points of view. It did not work.

    So I think having a reader or two is fine, but as a writer you need to be able to distinguish between insightful comment and critique for critique sake. At least I learned that much in college. And how to parallel park. And drink beer and dip Copenhagen simultaneously without mixing booze with spit. Life skills.

    Thanks for your posts, as always, Dean.

    Mike Zimmerman

  • Topaz

    Hi Dean,

    thanks a lot for this article. Now I am finally sure I wont need those beta readers everyone seems to worhip. Lots of fun to write the next story is lurking over my shoulder. 🙂

    Happy writing,

  • Indiana Jim

    I love the smell of a dead sacred cow in the morning! Thanks, Dean. Just when I was thinking about who my “beta readers” should be, I kept thinking of your example, where Kris is your first reader and that’s it.

    So a question off of that: For those of us not married to a credible, competent professional in the field who also doesn’t believe the myths, how do we find that one trusted reader?

          • Indiana Jim

            Hmm much to ponder indeed. Is any sort of proofreader advisable? I suppose that comes down to the thing you’re asking that person to do. Trust your instincts on the story but have someone to catch textual hangups? Not trying to justify anything, just learn how to avoid any mythic thinking but also publish ‘clean’ I guess.

          • dwsmith

            Proofreader or copyeditor. Either fine. If you ignore anything they say you don’t agree with and keep the story yours. Clean is always good. But no story is ever perfect.

  • C.D. Watson

    When I first started writing fiction (I came into it from non-fiction), I beta read a manuscript for another writer in a similar genre. The manuscript had already been beta read to death. I approached the author and told her she had some serious problems with her villains (they were, like many bad guys in fiction today, about as deep and nuanced as a dried up mud puddle) and with her pacing. No, she replied; my other beta readers loved everything and had already helped her flesh out the characters, etc.

    But what did I know? I’d already published two or three novels at that point, was a non-fiction editor and writer, and a lifelong reader. The author went on to publish the story, and most of the reviews exactly echoed the comments I’d made.

    The first problem, then, isn’t beta readers; it’s finding beta readers who know what they’re talking about. Same thing with critique groups. I wouldn’t touch either one with a ten foot pole. It’s nearly impossible to find participants that know what they’re talking about.

    The second problem is that authors don’t know how to weed out the good advice from the bad, and that, as you said, is partially due to fear and partially to a lack of experience.

    This particularly resonated with me: “Maybe have one trusted reader and then ignore anything they say that doesn’t fit with your vision.” I have an alpha reader who also serves as my editor. He helps me catch flubs during the first draft and unclear parts during the final draft, but if I don’t like his suggestions, he knows I’m going to ignore them. I’m happy with this process, largely because I have learned, over time, what my strengths and weaknesses are. Writers who spend no time reflecting on their own writing will never grow. For some, that takes practice, practice, practice, and for some, it simply takes throwing their story out there for readers to consume. Whatever works.

  • Elise M Stone

    My name is Elise and I use beta readers.

    I’m not going to argue with what you wrote, just give you a bit of my experience and thoughts. For one thing, this is another one of your do-as-I-say-not-what-I-did posts. I think we all have to go through a learning process, which includes making mistakes, to become good writers. You are many years, hundreds of novels, and thousands(?) of short stories into this process. Me? I am only an egg.

    I’ve often envied you in that you have Kris as a first reader. I’ve often wished I could find someone I trusted as a first reader as much you and Kris trust one another. But that seemed like a tall order.

    Up until very recently, I couldn’t afford a copy editor, much less a developmental editor. (Are you now frothing at the mouth?) But everyone needs a second set of eyes to spot continuity problems where things happen out of order or the character changes name midway through the book or something. The recommended solution to this problem is to use beta readers instead of a paid editor.

    I thought my biggest problem was finding good beta readers. Until recently. For the first three books in one of my series, I had one beta reader. She’s a former editor, and we met in person at a local writers group several years ago. She moved to California, but with Facebook and the occasional email, we’ve kept in touch.

    For the fourth book, I solicited beta readers from my mailing list and a Facebook writers group I belong to. Of the eight that responded to my request, five actually saw it through and gave me feedback. Two gave so little as to be useless. One hadn’t read the earlier books in the series and told me she didn’t like one of the continuing subplots, which was also useless since I wasn’t about to go back and rewrite the first three books to eliminate it. (Reviews also had some readers not liking this aspect, but I decided those readers were not my target audience.) So that left me with my original “beta reader” and one other–a rabid fan of my work (God bless her!) who was amazing at telling me of problems she found, but never assumed I would do everything she thought I should.

    As a result, I’ve figured out that my first beta reader is actually my first reader. I might just keep the fan as a second first reader in the future. But I never would have found either one without requesting and using beta readers to begin with.

    • dwsmith

      Did you read my post, Elise? Or just react? Did you read the part that I was doing this when I started out as well????? And did you read the part that I ignore a lot of what Kris says about my work???? I never had a first reader when I started off.

      Let me repeat that. I NEVER HAD A FIRST READER when I started off. I wrote the stories and put them in the mail and they often sold. And the reason they sold is this…

      I NEVER HAD A FIRST READER OR BETA READERS OR ANYTHING when I started off. I had already sold a ton of short stories when I met Kris.

      Sorry, might want to go back and read what I said without the anger glasses.

      • Elise M Stone

        I did read your post in its entirety, and I’ve read many others over the years, so I’m familiar with your opinion on this. I didn’t see my comment as being angry, just expressing my personal experience. Your response, however, is very hostile.

        • dwsmith

          Elise, your response was to defend beta readers on a post where I laid out why they were a horrid idea. Not sure what you expected me to do. I suppose I shouldn’t have let your response through, but I wanted to show how sane people make excuses for an action that actively hurts their writing.

          And not sure at all what you meant by “Do as I say, not as I do” post. As I said in the post, I never had a first reader even when I started off. And even now with Kris she only reads some stuff and I ignore a lot of what she says past typos. So I do exactly what I was saying in that post. I think beta readers are a horrid, fiction-damaging idea and your defense of it I let through as an example of what I was getting both in comments not let through and in private email.

          Beta readers hurt a writer’s fiction and craft so badly, I do not feel there is a defense to using them for any reason.

  • Sheila

    Yes. This. A thousand times this. You only have to go to a book club once and listen to people tear apart best-selling, gorgeously crafted books to understand how this is true. Or you read a book by your favorite author only to find he has completely botched the ending and you hate that one book of his, even if the reviews are raving about his depth of skill.

    Its like a chef trying to create a menu for ten picky eaters — one doesn’t eat meat, one doesn’t eat dairy, a third won’t eat eggs, and no nuts, no spices, no sugar, no gluten, no “strange” flavours, etc. You are trying to create to this middle ground of bland. And while it might make something palatable, its not going to show off the chef’s true talents and abilities.

    I think my peer crit group cost me nearly 15 years of writing. Because I couldn’t please them. No matter what I did or what I changed, there was always something, often many things “wrong” with my stories. It was never good enough to put out into the world. So I gave up. How could I not? It wasn’t just that I was afraid — they planted that fear in the ground and watered it. (Interestingly, years later, one of my group found a manuscript of mine he hadn’t looked at in years, and said, “You know, this really is rather good.”)

    So when it came time for the short story challenge, I promised myself I would listen to Dean and just put the work out there. So I did.
    Sometimes I left my story alone, knowing that if I followed his suggestions, I would lose MY story. And sometimes I made changes based on his critique (because I agreed with them). And you know what? His favorite story (near as I can tell) has been rejected five times so far (though once with a very kind, “so close!”). Another story, which he thought was kinda ‘meh’ received a request for some minor edits with a note from a pro market saying, “We LOVE this story!”

    I’ll echo what Dean said: BELIEVE in your own art.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Sheila. Exactly.

      What this beta reader stuff tends to forget is that every reader is different. We all have our tastes and likes and dislikes and buttons. That’s why even though I have Kris as a first reader on some stuff (not everything, she did not read this blog post), I often do not do as she suggests. And I know she ignores a ton of stuff I say about her stuff. Why? Because we believe in our own work. So thank you, Sheila. Great comment.

  • Maree Brittenford

    I think the beta reader thing and workshopping are part of the same desire for community. Writing is lonely at times, and especially when you’re a new writer you don’t know any other writers, so what do you do? You look for other writers to associate with. Whether online or in face to face meet up groups. And those groups almost always revolve around critique.

    I got lucky in that I never tried doing an in person group. I think there’s probably a high potential for that sort of thing to go bad, for the group to influence each other into turning on someone.

    I did join a couple of online groups, and the feedback was such a scatter-shot. Because each critique was private it really highlighted how random the whole process was. One persons favorite line was anothers ‘cut this, it sucks so much’. I also found I was spending more time reading and critiquing other peoples work than I was writing. It was a massive time sink.

    It took me a few months, but the loss of writing time just didn’t seem worth it for the erratic opinions I received on my own work, no matter how much momentary pleasure a positive critique gave me.

    It’s taken time to find my way, but now I have a few friends that I chat with about writing, who I whine to when I can’t seem to get words on the page (and who don’t enable!) and we rarely ask each other to read anything. It’s the moral support and encouragement that’s proven most useful in my writing.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Maree. It is why the coast workshops work because they create a networking opportunity to meet other writers and form support groups. And the entire community of coast workshop writers support each other as well. So you are correct, having other writers as support can help, but not based on critical tearing each other apart, but instead on friendship and shared experiences.

    • Linda Jordan

      Maree, I so agree with the need for community as a reason so many critique groups still exist. A few year ago, I made a change. I was desperate to talk to other writers and joined a new writers group. We meet every two weeks and talk about some aspect of the business of writing. Sharing information, which is easier to leave or take then a critique. There are people who are tech savvy and others who understand marketing at a level I probably never will. The majority of us are Indie Publishers, but some are published by small presses. It’s been a wonderful group and it keeps growing and evolving, because the business end does too. Maybe you should start a group in your area.

      • dwsmith

        The key to the success you have there, Linda, and the reason our writer lunches still go on after a decades, is because we only focus on business. And friendship and support. No craft, no critique, just business.

  • Martin

    I did beta readers for a couple of books until I noticed that two very educated readers gave conflicting proof editing suggestions. Both readers have Masters degrees. I stopped after that. And one of the books still had mistakes in it that no one caught.

    Now I just hire a proofer and double check that edited proof.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, Martin. And the belief is that there is only one way, a “perfect” way a book should be. Luckily for all us readers, that is not the case. Sadly for all beginning writers who chase beta readers, that belief of the one “perfect” book causes all sorts of issues.

  • C.M. Clark

    Wow, I feel like I needed to read this tonight.

    I’ve chased the idea of a beta reader and always fell short. Never could find someone that could give me feedback – because I thought that it was needed. So, when I didn’t find a beta reader, I felt like I was doing something wrong in my writing. So I’d search for more groups and decide if it was worth the money to join the sites that you pay for. (Thankfully I never went that far!)

    This – this is a hard myth to dig myself out of. I’ve been better in the last few months, but that need to find a beta reader is still there. I don’t know how to get rid of it all together.

    Thank you for posting this. It’ll be something to come back to every time I think I need to find a group.

    • dwsmith

      C.M., remember I never had a beta reader or a first reader or whatever for the first decade of my writing. (Not counting the 1970s when I was lost in myth-land on rewriting.) I sent out stories as they were, did the best I could, and lived with the results, which interestingly enough was to make me into a full-time fiction writer. My hindsight I hope is helping some of you.

      And how to escape the idea of beta readers? Simple. Put your hand on a hot stove and then try to type. Beta readers will hurt your writing worse than that. Keep that in mind and the idea of a herd/mass/cluck of beta readers will soon pass.

  • Chong Go

    Having just finished the Editing workshop, I laughed manically when I saw the title of this post and how many comments it had! 🙂 What was really fun, though, was reading them and seeing how many people felt what you were saying. Writing magazines and their constant discussion of line editing and group workshopping played such a strong role in discouraging me from writing when I was young. Yet, it makes so much sense, once said out loud, to wonder why on earth a bunch of beginning authors could make a manuscript into something other than a mash of unpublishable rubbish.

  • K. Vale Nagle

    Before my first creative writing workshop, I went and asked the professor a bunch of questions about the creative writing program and he gave me two pieces of advice. First, in a workshop of 30 people maybe two will get your work and offer something useful. Second, it’s okay to agree with feedback and then not change your story to fit it. I think one reason I got honors was because I wasn’t afraid to say “yes, that’s brilliant feedback and I love the story it would create, but that story isn’t the story I’m telling here.”

    Now I include your advice, Dean, when someone mentions they’really taking a writing workshop: submit the story before you arrive and carry the feedback forward in future stories.

    My spouse got her first beta feedback and was distraught. She asked what I’d do with it if I were her. I told her that I’d ignore it and move on to the next novel.

  • Ed Ryan

    Yeah no beta reader for me. I have a friend as a first reader. He’s a writer too and he gets it. He checks to be sure “Bob” isn’t suddenly named “Rick” by chapter 5 and formatting errors didn’t pop in anywhere but never tries to tinker.

    The only time he ever spoke up was when – in one of my own name mysteries- I had a character show up to bail the hero out of a bad situation.

    Seems I killed that character off 3 short stories ago – who knew??


  • LInda Maye Adams

    This was ages and ages ago–I was eighteen or twenty then. I’d write a story and give it to family members to read. Since I was trying for humor, I watched their faces to see if they would laugh. And when they made comments, I took that as a call for action and made those changes.

    And somewhere along the way, it hit me that the stories weren’t what I intended because of this. I’d been using the comments as sort of a crutch for “Was I good enough?” because I didn’t know the answer. I realized that one of the people I was asking did NOT read. Not much of anything, and certainly not fiction. And I was relying on him to tell me what was wrong with my story?

    So I decided at that point I wasn’t going to show anyone any of my stories. I was going to write them, learn to trust that I knew what I was doing, and send them out. Granted, I mainly sent them to non-paying magazines because that little voice still said I wasn’t good enough for paying–thought that took me many years to realize that (and I get push back from writers when I say this. It’s a very powerful myth).

    When I was cowriting a Civil War thriller, cowriter wanted two of his friends to beta read. I said fine, though I didn’t agree with it. Beta #1 only read non-fiction and told us to get rid of all our dialogue because the narrative told the story better. Beta #2 seemed a little more promising. She was a published romance writer. Sent back two pages of scathing comments. I read the comments twice, realized that something about the story had set her off, and she’d tried to justify her reaction with the comments. Turned out I was right: She was vehemently anti-gun. Hmm. She knew going in that the book was set during the Civil War and a thriller. It had Union and Confederate soldiers, which was in the first chapter. Did she think that we would leave the guns out of the story?

    At the time, cowriter agreed with me. But when we later started having problems because he was afraid of finishing (which I did not know at the time), he suddenly thought that her comments had validity and wanted to remove the guns from the story! And this from a history buff who loved the Civil War and collected guns.

    There’s a lot of fear of not being good enough. Betas are a big crutch for that, but they’re also a false promise for it because using them doesn’t meant the story will be of publishable quality.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Linda, for the great comment. And great examples of how this beta reader stuff can really, really hurt. Thanks!

    • Frances Pauli

      Linda’s comment “but they’re also a false promise for it because using them doesn’t meant the story will be of publishable quality.” I think hits the nail on the head harder than anything. Why do we cling to beta readers? Same reason we edit and revise and edit and on and on… Deep down we believe if we just get it perfect then we can guarantee a “yes.”
      The underlying myth here, in my opinion, is that the yes depends on some esoteric idea of perfection/quality. In truth, what people love, what they read AND what they buy/publish comes down to so many random factors, taste, mood, market… things we can’t control.
      Accept what you can’t control… is hard, but the hard truth. You don’t get a guarantee, no matter how many edits, no matter how many eyes. All you get is a book with your name on it. The big question (and I think Dean nails it here) is, is this the book YOU wanted to write and are YOU happy with it?
      Is it the art you meant to make?
      Great article.

  • Gnondpom

    I’m a regular beta reader (or an “advanced team” reader) for a few indie authors I like. But the only feedback I give is the typos I find while reading, and continuity errors. I also usually leave a review (to help them with their visibility). They are only writers that I enjoy reading, whose voice I like, so I’m quite unlikely to tear their work apart.

    While I perfectly agree with your point about the danger of beta-readers criticising the work of the author, and of an author relying on them to judge their own work, I still think that some (free) help with copy-editing can be helpful. And as a fan, I enjoy having access to the latest story of an author, even before it is published. In my book, that’s a win-win.

    I guess this case would fall under the “first reader” scenario, just like you and Kris, even if they are several people reading, as long as it’s just about typos and continuity errors (and of course as long as the author still picks which changes they want to implement or not)?

  • Rikki Mongoose

    What if Engish isn’t my native language?

    I’m writing firstly in Russian, that I translate it to English. Shouldn’t such a text be beta-readed just to be sure it sounds natural for an English-speaking reader.

    • dwsmith

      Always a danger, Rikki. Maybe one reader for the first few, then after you find your patterns of mistakes (all of us have them in any language), then drop it. But extreme caution. They might correct your voice instead of your English and that would be deadly.

      • Kathlena C

        This is true. I edited the English translation of a Swedish language book and was worried about changing the author’s voice. She does speak and read English, but not fluently enough for the translation. I emphasized again and again that she make sure the story was still what she was trying to convey.

    • Tina Back

      My advice (English isn’t my first language either) would be to immediately stop writing the stories in Russian first.

      Because a) translating takes forever, b) you tend to cling to the original instead of finding the best/right way to express the same context in English which result in clunky sentences, and c) you’ll never master writing in a second language if you use it filtered through your first. It’s like trying to make love in a hazmat suit.

      Get over the fear.

      Think your stories in English, write them in English. Read a ton. Especially dialogue. Practice, practice, practice. Then sign up for a U.S. or UK-based online writing class. Don’t tell anyone you’re not a native speaker/writer. If nobody can tell, you’re good to go.

      Dean didn’t catch me until I showed up on the coast with my big fat accent.

      • Gnondpom

        I would definitely second that advice (I’m also a non-native English speaker). Rikki, I shuddered the first time I read your comment about translating your stories in English, because unless you’re a professional translator, it is very difficult to get a translation that feels like it has been written in English first. So I guess this very process would in itself make your prose sound clunky for an English-speaking reader.

        I do write both in English and in my first language, but not the same stories (it depends on what I want to do with this specific story). But I’ve already thought about what I would do if I ever wanted to “translate” a short story from one language to another. I would probably adopt a different strategy: read the whole story in its original language, just to get it in my head, and then open a blank document and try to write the story from scratch in the other language. Or if it is fresh enough, maybe just try writing it from memory.

        I don’t know whether it would work, I might end up with a story that’s quite different, but why not? It might be interesting as well!

      • Hannah Steenbock

        I’m German, and I write mostly in English which is a second language for me but also second nature by now.

        Even so, on occasion, I translate my own stories. And it basically amounts to rewriting them in the other language. It’s hard to describe, since it’s not a story rewrite because I don’t change the story, just a language rewrite. It’s impossible to go in and just translate it sentence by sentence.

        I don’t do it often because it’s much more boring than writing a new story.

  • Prasenjeet Kumar

    Dean, what’s your opinion about not to use adverbs in writing? It’s standard writing advice these days. But does it hurt voice? What about echoes? Should these things be corrected during copy-editing or left alone?Good writing is like music. Echoes may sound like your voice is off tune. IT will still be your voice but not like trained singer (or writer). At least that’s what I’ve heard. What’s your take on this? 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Biggest bunch of hogwash I have ever heard. Write stories, not sentences you will be fine. And any time you hear really stupid rules like that, just laugh at the person. And then write your own stuff the way you want to write it.

      And yes, if you follow those rules, you most certainly will kill any voice you might have. And not a clue what you mean by echoes??? Another English teacher or workshop term coming into play to keep beginning writers afraid? Sigh.

      • Prasenjeet Kumar

        You made me laugh, Dean. Thanks. That echo bit came from a craft book I read a few months ago. The title was: The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by a literary agent who goes by the name of Noah Lukeman. Funnily hasn’t written a fiction book but this book has been a best-seller.

        By echo he means frequent use of words in a paragraph that jars the reader. Like every sentence starting with basically or so on… His book is divided into three parts and in the first part he talks about echoes, grammar, sentence structuring, etc before moving to the meat of storytelling: characters, settings, pacing, etc. He says language is the first thing acquiring editors look at before rejecting a manuscript. If a writer doesn’t pay attention to language, he’ll find his manuscript tossed into the bin. (You’ve been an acquiring editor yourself so I’ll let you be the judge of that). 🙂 Character and Setting takes time to develop, he says. So an editor will really have to read the manuscript to assess those things.

        Anyway, there was another craft book I read on story-telling by James Scott Campbell. He says he has been a professional writer for over 20 years. In his book, he warns Pantsters. He says, in his experience, Pantsters have far more problems in story telling than those who outline. To be fair, he also warns those who outline excessively. His point is that if you write into the dark your stories will be dull, your first half will have no similarity with the last part and you’ll make a mess. Not supported by my experience pantsing. But he says, in his workshop, Pantsters seem to have more of a problem than outliners. That’s not the impression I get following your blog or reading comments of other pantsters.

        Don’t know what makes him say that? Is he talking about stage one pantsters? Your opinion?

        • dwsmith

          Interesting, but there is no writer by that name. Jeffrey Scott Campbell is a great comic book artist, but unless this guy is writing under pen names (very possible) he doesn’t exist that I could find. I can’t even find his writing books. Send me a link if you would? Thanks.

          And if you are following advice from agents, you get what you deserve. Sorry.

          But this guy who claims to have been a writer for twenty years has me puzzled. And when you say “his workshop” I get worried.

          By the way, this is always what I do when I hear writing advice. I look to the source to see if they actually have credits or not. Or if they are just making a living scamming new writers.

          • dwsmith

            Now James Scott Bell has the credentials. He hasn’t done a lot of fiction, but he has won awards (that I think have value) with his fiction and does study writing and teach it. He is one I consider worth listening to.

            And honestly, if we disagree, then guess what? Shows that there is no one perfect, right way to do this, just what works for you.

            One thing he does is standard English teacher teaching, focusing down on the sentences. The belief is that if you make your sentences better, your story will be better. Sometimes the case, but not always. We do that in a few workshops, but our major focus is on story and content and characters and readers in our workshops and giving writers permission to write what they want. Again, no right way. Take bits from everywhere, folks. Take a bit from here, from other teachers (with credits), from books, from an overheard comment. Figure out what works for you.

            The key is to apply it. Keep writing and if some suggestion by anyone (including me and Kris) slows you down, ignore the suggestion.

          • Jim Gotaas

            Hi Dean,
            Great post! For what it’s worth, I think the previous poster is referring to James Scott Bell (not Campbell), who has a number of writing practice books and thrillers listed on Amazon.

        • Indiana Jim

          There’s a difference between echoing as literary device, and redundancy. You’re probably smart enough to catch redundancy, and clever enough to use echoing as a tool.

        • LInda Maye Adams

          I think also pantsing gets a bad rap because too many people confuse PROCESS with CRAFT, and they are not the same thing. If the writer’s craft needs work, pantsing might make it look a lot worse, especially on a first novel. Often the writers are told they need to outline, not to learn their craft.

          I ran into a lot of problems a few years back that had me thinking I could never write a novel. Every time I tried to fix the story, everything twisted up into a horrible mess. I’m sure one of those story editors or beta readers would have advised me to outline to fix the problem. The problem turned out to be outlining techniques that are recommended to every pantser, but not called outlining–plot beats, three act structure, turning points, etc. When I tried putting those in the story, it distorted the original story into incomprehension. I didn’t even want to show beta readers that story because they would have thought I couldn’t write!

          I ended up having to drop off every writing message board and blogs, because outlining is so deeply ingrained that admitted pantsers will recommend things like plot beats without realizing they’re recommending an outlining technique. It may work for them, which is fine, but what happens instead is that “there’s no one way to right” unless you don’t outline, and then you’re long. Terrible for writers trying to figure out if they’re good enough to start with.

  • ARP

    I was a new indie writer back in 2011. I’ve never queried for an agent or publisher. I decided to direct to the readers. Then I start listening to the hubbub in the indie writer’s community, its forums and FB groups, that I MUST have beta readers.
    I didn’t even know what a beta reader was but if that’s what the other Indies were doing, well, I better do that too. I used four beta readers. And although grateful that they took the time to beta read for free, I found the entire process sucked the fun and creativity out of writing fiction. And now I was stuck with four documents with conflicting comments and advice.

    It was a real mind-expletive for me that paralyzed me into inaction. In the end (after wasting months of time in revision mode), I decided to say screw it and I published my original work in 2012.

    It sold well, a lot better than I ever imagined. It was my first novel so of course, I’ve learned a lot since then, so it’s not my best work, but the things I learned for improvement were from doing (practice) and reading not from beta readers.

    But still, the indie mantra is beta readers, beta readers, beta readers. Which still makes me think I’m doing something wrong for not using beta readers.

    Even some of the big names in the indie community pontificate about the importance of beta readers. Some have like 20-40 beta readers (seriously). But it appears its beta readers culled from their mailing lists so it’s basically their fans which more than likely just tell them what they want to hear: love it. Great story, with maybe a few comments about grammar or something like that. So what’s the point?

    I do have a copy editor and a proofreader but I’ve held out form drinking out of the beta reading Kool-Aid tub so I LOVED reading this post from Dean.

    I’m sure you’ll get a lot of pushback about this because the beta reading is a huge sacred cow. Thank you for having the cajones of bringing up this subject from the other point of view. It’s something that needs to be debated. Because right now new writers will feel having beta readers (multiple ones) is a rule written in stone when it’s not.

  • Monica

    Although I don’t use beta readers I find I am leaning too heavily on my editor. This post reminds me that I need to have courage when it comes to my writing and not seek editorial approval for everything. I appreciate your willingness to challenge the current thinking. It sure did challenge me.

  • Ashe Elton Parker

    I started writing long before I had internet, back in ’89, so I had plenty of time to learn to trust my instincts with regards to my writing, even if what I wrote mostly consisted of outrageous plots about too-perfect characters set in inconstent worlds. I didn’t get regular access to a computer until those numbers were reversed, and the first thing I did was search for a writing site to help me. I’d reached the point in my writing where I *knew* something was wrong with my writing (and not in spelling/grammar), but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I looked specifically for a site that offered critiques, and lucked into one that had just been founded earlier that year, and which was already a thriving, active community, and promptly posted short stories for critique.

    But before I did that, I’d come across instructions for how to critique others’ writing and learned in those instructions that I’d do my *best* self-educating for improved writing by doing crits for *others* along with advice on how I may employ the critiques I got for my own stories. I didn’t learn a whole lot from the crits of my own stories, but I *did* learn *a lot* about how to recognize my issues in critiquing other stories. Critiquing taught me how to look at not only others’ writing, but my own, in a critical way with an aim toward improvement. Within a few months, just from what I learned via critiquing other writers’ stories, my own skills skyrocketed.

    And *that* is the only reason why I advocate anyone join a critique group. Not so much for the crits on their own work, but because learning how to crit others’ writing teaches a writer how to identify the problems in their own writing without having to get their work critiqued by another, and that is a valuable skill for *all* writers. Seriously, if a writer can’t use critiquing other writers’ stories to learn how to edit and improve their own work, I don’t know what to say. I’ve seen it work that way for far too many writers since my own experience, and I don’t think the person who posted those crit instructions would have bothered advising us to use our skill of critiquing others’ work to educate ourselves on how to look at our own work critically if the process didn’t work well for all writers. Some may need more practice at it, but I saw it work for pretty much everyone I ever asked about it.

    • dwsmith

      Well, besides a huge time sink, I’m not sure what to say to this. Sounds like a way to build up the critical voice to fantastic sizes and shapes, to be honest.

      In other words, I flat don’t agree. Sounds like what English teachers teach. Destruction instead of construction. I want to learn to build, not tear down.

      However, focused study of what top professionals do in a certain place, like a cliffhanger or an opening, can help. But a bunch of writers who don’t know what they are doing acting like they do in a group tearing each other apart just never seems like a good plan. Sorry. Everything works for different folks I guess.

  • Marsha Ward

    I recently made up a publishing spreadsheet including reminders to send my next completed ms to beta readers, because, you know, I was forgetting to take that step. Frankly, it slowed down my process, and it was sometimes quite annoying (and a time suck, to boot) to have to make sure several beta readers would be available at the projected finish time for the work. I will have to dump those columns from the workflow spreadsheet so I can go cold turkey. No more beta readers for me. That should suit the one who always complained, “You’ve sent me another clean manuscript, huh?” LOL!

  • Lou Cadle

    I confess that for the 10 years I was in critique circles, I never took a single piece of advice I heard. However, I did learn something by seeing problems in other people’s manuscripts and realizing how to fix them–then applied the lesson to my fiction. These days I only use a few fact-checkers, as I did with a helicopter scene.

    I’m 100% with you on this. Do a lot of work to improve, and stand by what you write.

    • dwsmith

      What? Why would you ever let anyone into your actual story to “edit” it. Yikes, what a waste of time, waste of money, and a horrid thing to do to your story.

      Trust your own writing, keep learning and move forward with new stories.

      • JJ Toner

        Thanks, Dean, but I’ve always had my stories edited structurally and copy edited. Apart from one, and I’ve been ashamed of publishing that one without giving it to an editor. I’ve also always advised others to hire an editor. I think most people on the writing learning curve need that sort of help.

        • dwsmith

          Oh, wow, that’s sad because we will never know your real voice, your real stories, until you grown some confidence in your own work and don’t think you need training wheels. Very sad. Being ashamed of your own work is even sadder. Critical voice on high there. Wow.

          And you are FLAT WRONG that beginning writers need help. No, they need courage to keep learning, write a lot, and get it out to readers and move on. Nothing more. They certainly don’t need help from English majors who think they know story structure and yet never write on their own.

          Sorry, you are dead wrong.

          • dwsmith

            Well, yes and no. Long term pros, nope. New writers trying to get through an agent, yes, because the new writer is begging and has no power and everything thinks they know better.

            But editors don’t touch long-term pros for the most part. They do get a copyedit which the author then approves every mark.

            I hate to tell you this because of the myth you are sort of asking about, but in the 106 traditionally published books I did (my last count, I keep finding more), at least five I know of had NO ONE in New York even read it. I wrote it, no one read it, it hit print. This happens a lot more than you might realize.

            But yeah, I know, not the myth of the vaulted New York editors.(grin)

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Thanks for the hilarious boost this morning.

    I got to this point BEFORE I published my debut novel: one lovely beta reader/nitpicker about commas, who will point out, when I give her FINISHED chapters, where there is a little confusion – if she finds any.

    I’m working on the second novel in the trilogy, am chronically ill, and have never wasted time on other people’s opinions, but found my own judgment – from massive reading – quite able to point out to me that I wasn’t up to my own standards.

    That’s the hard part: recognizing where what you put on the page does not match the vision in your head. Once you can do that, you can ALWAYS chase down what the problem is – and learn to fix it. It has taken twenty years, but I’m quite satisfied – the people who get it have been marvelous. The others – I ignore. Arrogant, I know. So be it.

  • Kevin McLaughlin

    Great post, Dean! I can see newer writers using beta readers or a trusted reader for that little confidence boost – you know, that ‘attaboy’ which helps the novice feel competent enough to actually publish the thing. But personally, I think the best route is just to publish it.

  • Olga Godim

    I’m so glad I stumbled on this post. I thought it was only me who feels this way. I had beta-readers for one of my latest short stories. The thing is – they didn’t critique my story. They critiqued something they would’ve written on the same theme. They saw things in my plot and characters that I never put in and argued with those things. Apart from a few typos, I didn’t employ any of their suggestions.
    Thank you for the great post. I’m going to subscribe to your blog now.

  • Kathlena C

    Dean, do you think the desire for beta readers might stem from a writer’s fear that they don’t have a handle on the basic mechanics of the language (spelling, grammar, word usage, etc)? They have a story to tell, but maybe not the actual writing skills.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, sure, it’s all fear based. But the real key with fiction is allowing your author voice to be there, your character voice to be there, and as in the real world, that is often not perfect. I sure don’t speak in perfect grammar. My characters don’t either. And word usage is author voice. The key with letting others in to mess with that is it takes out what makes the story original.

      And thus back to my point about dullness and sameness. As an editor, trust me, neither of those sell.

      All fear based though. And the need for a pat on the head and a gold star.

  • Melinda A Kucsera

    Thank you, just thank you for saying this. My gut said to drop the whole beta reader thing. I listen to more audiobooks in one month than most people read in an entire year. I know what makes a good story. I know what keeps people coming back for more. I practice these skills in everything I write from blog posts to newsletters to novels.

  • LL Muir (Lesli)

    Hey Dean,
    Lesli here, from the Over the Water Gang in Utah.
    Since I started my Ghost of Culloden Moor series (oh, hell, ever since I started self-publishing), I’ve only used beta readers as copyeditors. It never occurred to me to use them for anything else. Just show me the typos, baby, and leave my commas and my storytelling the hell alone.

  • Will Entrekin

    I agree with you about beta readers, but I feel like the negativity toward writing workshops and editors is as much of a sacred cow as the idea of writers’ art existing pure and golden untouched upon the page. Writing workshops can be totally useful (though often because of the writers who come out of it and not the work that results from it), and I think of editors like producers in the music industry. Butch Walker, for example, is a great musician on his own and he’s produced hits for everyone from Pete Yorn to Taylor Swift, but he enlisted Ryan Adams to work with him as a producer on his own album. The impact of the indie revolution on editors is not necessarily that editors can go away but that indie authors can hire the right ones to work with.

  • Jackie Parry

    Interesting article. I use a prof editor. Once the edits are done I ask beta readers to do one last check for typos. It seems I am good at putting in typos while editing. I am not sure what anyone else asks from their beta readers, but I a fresh set of eyes is imperative for me. They only check for typos and it is a huge help.

  • Nathan Van Coops

    I appreciate the idea behind this post, but I couldn’t disagree more. As someone who went from using a handful of beta readers to using 30, then over 100, I’ve grown to appreciate the process more and more with each book. Your argument suffers from being one-sided in its view that the only purpose a beta team provides is validation for the author. You suggest that this is the writer lacking a backbone. I would suggest the opposite. I think it requires a vision and determination to offer up a draft and weather the criticism while still holding on to the unique attributes of the story. I agree that you can’t try to please everyone. That is a path to failure, but disregarding the many benefits of a beta reader team is short-sighted. Not only is it a great way to build relationships with your readers, it can also be a boon to sales when people who have been invested in the process can spread the word about your book on launch. My last novel went through 4 rounds of beta reading with over 100 people total and yes, the typos got nabbed, but I also was able to get nearly 50 reviews on launch and give my book a great start in the world. I understand your points in this article, but I would suggest that you can look farther and find ways to get creative with a beta team. The group I started online has quickly become some of my favorite people to share material with, and the work is better for the experience. If you don’t want to invite readers into your process, that’s fine, but those who do stand to reap the benefits.

  • Sharon Reamer

    I used to really worry about not having a beta reader (Or a first reader! Woe was me!)

    Writing without people in my head and writing in the dark and learning to turn off critical voice – all learned from Dean’s workshops (and the one from Kris that was fantastic) – has given me back the joy of writing. I pretty much lost that joy when I was in a critique group that I ended up hating (although I still respect and adore many of the people who were in it with me when I joined).

    If given the choice, I even request to have no feedback from magazines for a story I’ve sent them. If they send it to me anyway on a rejection, then I ignore it and send it back out. It’s immensely liberating. I’m not selling at the professional level yet, but I’ll get there eventually (if I don’t start pushing up daisies first) and have fun while I’m doing it.

    Because to me, having people tell me what’s wrong with a story is not only not fun. It’s just stupid. If I need expert advice on something, then I ask an expert. But I don’t need them to judge my writing. I know this sounds crazy arrogant, but I just do not care.