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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Ferguson

My first experience with Beta readers (and what I learnt)

Updated: Feb 13

For me, Beta readers have been an invaluable tool in my writing journey, whether it’s reading a trash-fire first draft, or a revised, polished one. However, not all feedback has been valuable, and here’s why:

I have had friends read for me, professional Beta readers, and fellow writers. Each of have provided different perspectives and different types of feedback. My experience with all of these different styles informed our core purpose at The Beta House Collective; because of these experiences, we knew it was important to provide feedback that was constructive rather than destructive, and opens up doors of opportunity for writers instead of leaving them feeling trapped and uninspired.

I had someone read the first draft of the first book I’d ever written…I know, how cruel of me. Granted it was a friend who liked to read but I doubt she fully enjoyed reading 180K words without coherent plot, poor pacing, and half-developed characters. In hindsight, getting it reviewed so early had zero to do with how good my book was and more so to vanquish my crushing self-doubt that what I wrote would ever measure up to the books I’d inhaled throughout my teen years.

Lesson number one: So, although I received very little feedback on how to write my book better, what I did learn from my first ever beta reader is feedback isn’t JUST story structure and technique. Sometimes the best feedback you can give is encouragement, to keep going, keep writing. And this lesson was reinforced through my experience with a professional Beta reader.

Skip forwards to me condensing my 180K monster draft down to a more tolerable 130K. I hired a professional. Someone I could rely upon to return actionable feedback in a timely manner. Not because I was at the stage where I believed a second draft was good enough, but more so for the curiosity. What could a professional tell me that a reader friend couldn’t?

Oh boy, I got my answer. The three pages of feedback I received induced a wave of self-doubt so consuming I could barely look at my story for months. The thought of ceremoniously burning my manuscript in a campfire while I hysterically laugh-cried crossed my mind more than once. Their feedback was hard to receive. Not because they were wrong, of course. My characters were lacking. My plot did repeat itself. But it was the bluntness and lack of friendly manner or support that discouraged me. I had no idea what to do next. I knew that it wasn’t a Beta reader’s job to hold your hand and lie to you—but it also shouldn’t be an experience that tears your writing down.

Lesson number two: You need to be in the correct mindset for receiving feedback and you need a support network to help you work through it. I was scared to write for months. The professional Beta reader overwhelmed me with problems on every corner that I had no idea how to fix. It’s not typically the role of a Beta reader to tell you how to fix problems, but from my experience I found the practice of only spotting areas needing improvement just spurred the fire of self-doubt. As a Beta reader myself, I decided then and there that this approach was not one I wanted to strive for.

I found my writing community on Instagram, and each of them is beyond fantastic. The isolation of writing a book suddenly opened into a world of like-minded people who cheer you on. This is where I found some of my next Beta readers… and my critique partner (drum roll) Sarah! Who has been beyond amazing in every aspect. I found fellow writers to be some of the best people to provide feedback. Why? Because they know. They know if they harp on about all the bad things, they are practically lighting the match to your inspiration. They’ve been there. Some of the most helpful feedback I’ve received from fellow writers didn’t just identified problems but suggested ways to dig me out of the hole I’d written myself into. Writers who are also Beta readers tend to really care. We are on this journey together. We share the same goals.

Lesson number three: Not everyone can work to your deadlines. I’m a notorious binge writer. I will write 50K in a month, 180K in three months. Waiting for three months for feedback had me fidgeting on the edge of my seat while refreshing my emails twice a day. As great as it is to find a community to help you on social media, they all have their own busy lives. They usually have a job outside of their writing, have families, are studying, and are also trying to write their own novel. I adored the timeline attached to the professional Beta reader. After the expected month wait, the email was sitting in my inbox. I loved the safety of the process and how it included contracts and confidentiality clauses to ensure my idea stayed my idea. But the way I received feedback from writers I met on Instagram shaped how I show up as a Beta reader, and how I want to deliver feedback to those I read for.

These lessons helped form the services offered by The Beta House Collective.

Creating a safe, supportive environment and delivering feedback that is both constructive and inspiring is what we strive for. Sarah and I believe good feedback balances your strengths and highlights opportunities. We both believe the Beta reading experience should leave the writer inspired to continue their journey. We have both supported each other through multiple stories and rounds of Beta feedback, and we want to do the same for you. We care about your stories and acknowledge the effort you’re putting into it. We want to help you make it the best version it can be.

The Beta House Collective was named because we wanted to create a place where writers feel comfortable, supported, and inspired from sharing their work. Because where is more comfortable than home?

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