Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Can’t Do It Alone, or How Betas Rock


I’m talking writing, here. Fiction writing, to be exact, though even non-fiction writing benefits from multiple sets of eyes reviewing everything from sentence structure to fact-checking. You write alone, but critique partners or groups are key in helping you build a solid story.

I’ve been working on my revise and resubmit for the past couple months, and sent my manuscript off to a few beta readers. I’ve gotten feedback from almost all of them now, which gave me the idea for this post.

Beta readers are like the tasting panel for your book. You’ve done the research, mixed and remixed and revised the recipe until you think it tastes pretty good. You’ve let other people sample the brew, maybe even worked in the kitchen with them, and they’ve offered suggestions and advice that improved the flavor, color, and texture of your creation.

Refining the recipe is a necessary step. You’ve done that, and you could release the new and improved product into the wild and wait for people to try it, and hopefully love it.

Better, though, to toss the finished recipe off to a test panel made up of people who just like a good-tasting product, and people who have discerning taste–maybe super-tasters–who can tell whether you used old seasonings, or if the cow that gave the milk grazed in a grassy pasture or munched on hay. The panel can tell you there’s too much nutmeg, not enough vanilla, or just enough cinnamon. They’re the ones who will recommend more marshmallows, or less chocolate, or melting the butter instead of softening it.

They’re the ones that help you make those last-minute tweaks before you submit your creation to the judges.

My beta readers ranged from a fellow writer (in a different genre) to a retired school administrator to a couple of mindful readers. By selecting different types of readers, you get a better picture of how the story might be received by an audience.

Feedback. It does a story good!

I’ve gotten detailed feedback from my betas–some more detailed than others, of course–all useful. All valuable. My betas noted things I totally missed, like lakes are frozen in the winter in MN (don’t ask πŸ™‚ –total brain cramp on that one), and if you mention something significant early in the story that affects one of the main characters, that something should probably play a bigger role in the story later on.

As the writer, you’re too close to the story to see these types of details. Someone who has never read the story has a better chance of seeing those bits and pieces that could make or break a reader’s enjoyment of the work. Beta readers are a resource all writers should utilize, but especially writers of longer works. There’s more opportunity in longer pieces to miss things, leave holes, or overdo bits.

Finding good beta readers might be tough, and might alienate you from those friends for a long time, but people like teachers, fellow writers, and avid readers (of something more than graphic novels or Harlequin romances) can point out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved.

I have a couple weeks to revise my WIP before I send it off. Then cross my fingers that the agent will like my changes.

To my beta readers: THANKΒ  YOU!! *applause* *fireworks* You provided me with valuable feedback and great suggestions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you spending the time not only reading my story, but writing up your notes for me.

Write on!


Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, six chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

12 thoughts on “Can’t Do It Alone, or How Betas Rock

  1. What a great shout out for beta readers. You’re right, too, they make a story so much better. I’ll add my critique group to that. They only get 10-20 pages at a time, but always have inciteful comments, some of them game-changers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! My critique group is a stellar collection of fellow writers. I credit them with being stalwart guiding forces who helped me shine up my story. They always seem to come up with things I hadn’t thought about, but enrich the story. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Sounds like you’ve got a great group of betas, Julie and have received helpful feedback. I work with a critique partner (sometimes more than one) and couldn’t imagine writing without those extra sets of eyes. Betas and CPs are a writer’s best friend πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep! I feel very fortunate I’ve got such a great critique group. Each member has her own strengths and insights. My beta readers were happenstance, but turned out better than I’d hoped. They should have a National Critique Partner Appreciation Day! Add onto that a National Beta Reader Appreciation Day! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh cool. A great post to the value of beta readers, and I love the recipe metaphor. I’m glad you got good feedback all around. “Ice on the lake!” That cracked me up. Of course!! Funny what we miss.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aww, man! I thought this was going to be a post about Chinese fighting fish. What a let down! Just kidding. Yes, beta readers do rock. I can’t help but feel embarrassed, after revising so much from what they first read, and thinking how terrible what they read was in comparison to where the mss is now. They liked it nonetheless, fortunately. And hopefully they’ll be willing to read it again in its new and improved published form! (Some day. God willing.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! Never thought about the fish πŸ˜€ The important part is that they’re there to “reality check” the story. I’ve got a few more revisions to do, but the beta readers were invaluable. I mean, the whole frozen lakes in MN in January thing–that would’ve been a major oops!

      Good luck! Keep on writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Julie, a wonderful tribute to all beta readers and great reminder what a terrific help they all are. As a writer it is impossible not to become too close to the story and miss the obvious and also with so much going on certain facts will just slip through. I love the recipe analogy – positive, full of happy memories and visualising the cake of a book at the end!

    Liked by 1 person

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