Official Website for Fantasy Author E.L. Lyons
I’ve learned to cherish my beta/alpha readers and value the relationships I build with them. I understand that they’ve invested time and effort into helping make my writing better. I appreciate them and I want them to be able to see how much they’ve helped me improve. If I get any measure of success, it’s because of them. I’m motivated to promote my book, because I want them to see that their efforts were worthwhile.
However, all too often when I give feedback to others, it feels like talking into the void. I offer my criticisms/comments and wait… and wait… and sometimes I get a thank you. That’s at least nicer than nothing. But what I really want is to be a part of your journey. If I’m going to invest my time and effort into you, I’d like to see what becomes of my input. I want to see the rewrites. I want to know what you agree/disagree with and why. I want to read the first draft, the second draft, the final draft—and one day I want to put your book on my shelf and think “I was a part of that, I helped. That’s my dialogue suggestion on page 253.” If you ask me to beta read for you and then… never give me feedback or show me rewrites… it’s not going to work out between us.
Before you ask me to beta read, let’s figure out if we’re compatible:
Are you consistent and committed to writing? If you’re not writing or editing some at least two days a week, then we’re probably not thinking of writing the same way and we’re not going to click. I am not super talented and I have no natural skill, I’m working my tail off to be better, and I want to be there for others who are also willing to put in that work and reach this dream.
Can you manage a few sentences in response to full in-line reviews and commentary? I’m no extrovert, and I’m socially awkward, but I really dislike throwing all my suggestions down the laundry chute and never seeing them again. Say something, anything about my feedback. Tell me you hate it. Tell me I’m wrong. Ask me to explain it better. Argue with me. But at least make me feel like there’s a human being looking at my hard work and weighing its value. I don’t make a lot of grammar suggestions. I’m looking at characters, pacing, plot, clarity, foreshadowing, metaphors, symbols, cultures, scenery, senses etc. I wouldn’t expect a response to grammar/spelling/formatting nits.
Are you going to edit/rewrite when it’s needed, and are you going to send the updated version to me so I can be proud of your improvement? Some beta readers aren’t into reading revisions, but I am. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than seeing someone improve and polish a scene. I’ve beta read for some people who… honestly I don’t know why they want beta readers. Cause they never go back and edit and there are typos in there that I know the three people who read it before me caught. For one, if you haven’t applied all the feedback you’ve already received from other readers/reviewers, please go do that and then come back. You’re asking me to do work for free… work that someone else has already done for free… That doesn’t work for me. I feel like that’s very inconsiderate to both your other readers and me. I may love beta reading, but it’s still work, and I still want to enjoy the reading part of it as much as possible.
Are you going to take the feedback I give you in chapter one, learn from it and apply concepts to chapter two before sending it to me? I’m not accepting full books. We’re going chapter by chapter because that’s what works for me (I prefer to go chapter by chapter on thenextbigwriter.com, but it’s not necessary). When I first started getting my book beta read, I had a lot to learn. God bless the kind souls who suffered through my first chapter. But y’know what? I didn’t just post the rest of the book straight away. I applied what I’d learned about dialogue grammar, exposition, and PoV to the following chapters before posting them. People who don’t do that lose beta readers fast. Why? Because no one likes correcting and encountering the same issues over and over again. By editing ahead of me, I can see your progress better as we go, and I like that. You send me a chapter, I beta read that chapter, you edit that chapter, you send the edited chapter back to me, you edit the next chapter, and then you send the next chapter to me.
When someone criticizes your writing, do you follow that with self-deprecation? Please don’t. Giving honest feedback can be difficult. I feel guilty every time I criticize someone’s writing. Don’t come back at me with how awful you are at writing, cause that’s just going to make me feel guiltier and more reluctant to be honest with you. Don’t complain about how bad you are, get better. That’s why we’re doing this. If you wanna trash talk your book, have at it. I’ll trash talk it with you. It’s probably trash—mine was. Books are jerks. We’re trying to wrangle these abstract shapes and sounds into an experience that looks and feels nothing like the abstract shapes and sounds we’re using. Wrangling words into books is like domesticating cats. Words and cats are never really domesticated, the book on the page is never really the one in your mind.
Are we on the same page? If so, send me a message. If not, no hard feelings. You’ll find other readers who aren’t as particular. I’ll provide a list of resources at the bottom of this page of places to start looking.
I will say, friends and family aren’t a good bet. Trying to pressure them to read your book will only lead to strife. And to be quite frank, it’s selfish of you to ask them. I know what some of you are thinking, “they love me, they should want to do this for me and help me in my journey! I created this beautiful book, they’ll want to know how my mind works!” But that’s not really how this works. It’s very hard to be brutally honest with the people we care about. Even if you have a friend or family member who happens to be in your target audience, they’re going to feel like they have to praise your work, and that’s not going to help you grow. Let them read your work when it’s already been polished, and they can give you that praise with sincerity. The first time they read your book is going to be the impression of it they’ll always have—let them have a good one.
“They will, my book is great!” Keep in mind that you’re biased about your book because you’ve experienced a wonderful story in your mind, and it’s hard to separate that from what you’ve written on the page. Reader experience is what people who are not in your mind get out of the book, and that’s often wildly different from what you expect. Trying to bridge the gap between the book in your mind and the reader experience is a big part of why objective beta reading is so important and why it’s essential to be receptive to reader feedback.
I’d love to say I’m a well-rounded reader, alas, I’m actually a finicky snoot. I’m not a lover of all books and I have a type. While sometimes I’m willing to veer off the beaten path for an already-published book, I’m not going to give feedback on books that I’m not the target audience for. It’s not fair to you and it’s not enjoyable to me.
What I don’t want to read:
Young Adult (no young adult from any genre)
Anything with politics/political themes
Love at first sight
Anything describing sex between or sexual abuse of minors
What I do want to read:
Middle Grade Fantasy
Fantasy Humor (send me this, please, I don’t get to laugh enough)
Morally gray characters
Dark, gritty characters/plot
Lighthearted romances (within sci-fi and fantasy)
thenextbigwriter.com – This is my home. This is where I found my best readers and where I’ve gotten my best feedback. The readers there are also writers, so this is a give and take relationship. You have to become a beta reader yourself and provide feedback to others if you expect to get it. But the quality is going to be better than elsewhere, because no one understands writing better than other writers. Beta reading will help you become a better writer, help you to see flaws in your own writing that you might otherwise miss. Does it cost a little money? Yes. But that weeds out at least some people that are less serious. It also has an in-line review feature that’s very convenient, so your story chapters aren’t floating around in other people’s computers taking up space.
critiquecircle.com – Another great option. It operates a little different than what I’m used to, but it has more readers to choose from than TNBW. This also requires you to be an active beta reader and exchange reviews just like on TNBW.
Reddit Forums: r/destructivereaders and r/betreaders
Twitter Hashtag: #lookingforbetareaders
Hybrids from the PoV of an Ashite academic
Negative Reviews and authors’ bad behavior