Beta Readers

Not all writers use beta readers, and not all writers offer their services as beta readers, but both of these things can serve as a huge help in our writing. Looking at it from the writer’s side first, it’s important to know what it is that you’d like your beta reader to do for your story, if there is anything in particular that you do want. Don’t be shy to ask if you suspect a weakness in any area.

In general, as well as glaring plot holes and so on, your beta reader will spot things like continuity problems, or hair that started out blonde and suddenly changed to auburn half way through the story. These are big deal issues for your future readers and often things that we miss because of our closeness to the story. For the same reason, we may leave out crucial descriptive passages or backstory because we know what’s going on. Beta readers could help you find typos and grammar gremlins too if that’s what you want and they’re so inclined.

When looking for beta readers, firstly look for those who enjoy reading the type of book you’ve written. A sparkly vampire book will probably not appeal to someone who thinks that Dostoevsky is the greatest thing since cream cheese. Be wary of those who are blatantly overcritical online. Some people just enjoy finding fault, and that’s not who you’re going for. Other writers generally make the best beta readers, because they know how to write, and mostly they’re kind too.

Be grateful for the service they’re offering you. Beta reading requires more than just reading a book, and all writers are busy bunnies, so giving you their precious time is a favour indeed – try and return it if you can, but even if you don’t, always appreciate it.

Don’t take all input to heart. Any critique can cut like a knife, but really make sure that you never, ever react to any of it with aggression. By the same token, you don’t have to agree with it, or implement any changes suggested if you don’t think that they fit your story or your particular writing style.

When you are the beta reader, on the other hand, always try and remain neutral when it comes to any of your personal pet peeves. We all have them, and they are most certainly not universal. Some people find particular words offensive. Others demand that NO telling at all be allowed in any tale – it must all be show, and show only.

Be kind. There are ways of critiquing that don’t have to include things like, “Your entire third chapter is a load of codswallop – delete it all!” Even if you do spot glaring and tragic errors and writing that grates on your very bones, be polite when returning your comments, while still remaining truthful.

In the end, remember that when it comes to the flesh of your story, and also your unique writer’s voice, you do not have to change any of it. Be open though, to the advice of those who don’t have a vested interest in your scribbles, and just take a deep breath or twenty, and try and take it for what it is – help.


Image Courtesy: Pixabay

Useful Free Tool for Writers

I downloaded the trial version of Scrivener a couple of years ago, but at that point it all went completely over my head. So many people seem to love it so much that I downloaded it again recently, and after completing the tutorial realised that it isn’t all that complicated and quite a brilliant tool. I don’t think I’m going to keep it though, because it seems limited when it comes to inserting images for eBooks, and I quite like using Microsoft Word. When the new 2010 version arrives at the end of this month there will be a whole lot of useful new functions for us scribblers to use too, including having multiple browsers viewable on your desktop simultaneously. My favourite things on Scrivener are the corkboard and the ability to open two different documents at the same time. I already can, and do, open and work on two documents at the same time with Word though – very handy, and I use a simple but also very useful software called AllMyNotes. It’s a free download, so just click on the name if you want it. Go to the download page and select the free version.

It’s not specifically created for writers, but it serves me as my “corkboard” when I’m writing. All you do is create a folder for each project, and also for the private things on your computer that you want to be able to access quickly. Then you create separate notes within each folder for all the things you need. For instance, you could create one for links to any research material for your book elsewhere on your computer. You can insert tables, add pictures, or just type in the text that you want. Say you create a note for characters, another for timeline or locations and scenes, one for ideas, and another for your launch preparations, when that folder is open you get a corkboard effect and you can find what you’re looking for in seconds, rather than having to trawl around looking for and opening another document. (I’ve temporarily deleted my notes for the screenshot because this isn’t published yet, and I don’t want to be clouted for lobbing spoilers around) Click on images to enlarge for a better view.


If you’d like to see if this will benefit your writing life, then install it and play around, and then just uninstall if you don’t like it. When you set up your first folders and notes, right click on each one to choose an icon for it, like the light bulb for ideas, or the book for the folder itself. You get to play around with the colours and backgrounds, and you can move them around by clicking and dragging. Drag the corresponding note into the folder. Sometimes I drop them in the wrong place, but that’s alright, just click and take them back to where they should be.

You can set up the amount of columns and rows in the tables, and also drag to adjust the width, so for your characters note you could have things like hair colour or species all in one spot side by side. I find this a fabulous help for my sci-fi/fantasy series, and list things like a particular alien’s looks, name, home planet, particular abilities and other things that are easy to forget, especially in a series. I have three separate outline notes for my full length books, one for the beginning, and others for the middle and end.

All My Notes

If you’re writing non-fiction, or even fiction that you have a lot of research notes for on your computer, make another note for that, and using the link feature it takes a second to hyperlink, and when you click on it, it opens the document straight away, without you chancing getting distracted while looking for it yourself. This is not something you’re going to have to invest lots of time learning how to use – you’ll get the basics immediately, and find more uses for it as you go along.

Obviously this is no replacement for a great writer specific programme like Scrivener, but not everyone fancies paying the forty odd dollars it costs, and in my case, I prefer total control, using Word for eBook creation, and All My Notes for my corkboard and everything else. It’s really easy to use, so if you sometimes find yourself wishing you could have all you need for writing your book right there at the click of a button, give it a try.

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