Editing: Beta Readers

Finally, the words you’ve been waiting for: Your draft is done!

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You finally get to take a break. So power down your computer and relax… while you hand your manuscript over to… someone else.

Okay, so maybe relax is the wrong word. CRINGE might be more accurate. PANIC, definitely. SKIN-CRAWLING FEAR, possibly.

We’ve said before that writing can be an isolating experience. It’s just you, your computer, the wild and crazy thoughts in your head, and that beautiful bowl of peanut M&Ms (replace with the snack of your choice). It’s no wonder that bringing someone else into the mix feels so disconcerting. You might feel that what you wrote was awesome, just the way it is.

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But once your draft is polished, the next step is sending it out into a little corner of the world for feedback. It’s gotta go.

But what that corner looks like is totally up to you. Do you have a group of trusted friends that you could ask to give your work a read through? Are you a part of, or could you join, a local writing group? Are you lucky enough to have a mentor?

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We all need a Yoda to give our work the Jedi side-eye

It’s important that you can trust whomever you ask to give honest feedback. If your mom is the type to praise your achievement at finally completing something and will focus on the quality of the paper your story is printed on, she’s not the right person to ask. Nor do you want to give your work to a friend who prides themselves on getting through school without ever opening a book.

You need a reader who, you know, reads. And can be critical.

If you don’t have anyone that fits that description, don’t worry, there are loads of professional editors out there that will be willing to go over your manuscript… for a fee. Finding that editor is kind of like online dating. You need to check their profile and their background, make sure they’re legit, see what they’re into, and then ask if they would be interested. Hiring an editor who works mainly on historical YA fiction may not be a good fit for your sci-fi opus. There are a lot of groups online that have several editors “on staff” and once you describe your work, and what kind of feedback you’re looking for, will hook you up better than match.com.

Once your manuscript is in someone else’s hands, do your best to distract yourself. Rewatch of Gilmore Girls anyone? Whenever that annoying box pops up to confirm that you are still watching, take a moment and start to mentally prepare yourself for when your beta reader gets back to you. Because it’s gonna hurt. It doesn’t matter if only one tiny error is found, it’s still going to sting. Spoiler: There’s going to be more than one.

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But remind yourself that the good news is, you can fix it.

You can fix anything.

That’s what the next draft (which might be the 4th, or 9th, or 16th, whatever it takes) is all about; fixing what you couldn’t see because you were too close to it. When the feedback is ready make sure to take notes, ask questions, and before walking away, have a clear understanding of exactly what your beta reader is telling you. Even if you disagree, be clear on what they feel didn’t work. Then take those notes and put them away for a day.

Chances are you’ll be a mixture of desperately wanting to jump right in and fix any blemish, and furious that it was there in the first place. But give yourself time to adjust to the feedback. It’ll feel overwhelming, but once you start to tackle one issue after another you’ll see the full solution. As we mentioned before, sometimes those solutions were already there in the first draft and need to be added back in.

Come up with a game plan before you turn your computer back on. This way you’re not going over and over the same sections. At times it will go smoother than you think, other times it will drag. But you’ll get there. Every problem is solvable and when you’re done, you’ll have a completed manuscript!

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