Scary, but Necessary: Professional Beta Reads

by Suzanne Lahna

I’m a big fan of hard truths in writing. I prefer to be terse, cut to the chase, and end stories on a note that shares very close relation to a mic drop.

Hard truth the first – writing isn’t scary. Writing is easy. It’s a private thing where you can shirk the company of anyone for as long or as little time as you need, a time when ridiculous actions and insane excuses become perfectly valid. You need this type of tea and this exact type set, and also this cat or this dog, and also to watch the sun set from a window while you work; because that’s how your muse works. The only thing easier than writing is not writing at all.

Close-up of secretary’s hands doing paperwork

Hard truth the second – sharing your writing is one of the most terrifying things on this planet, second perhaps only to oral surgery and things seen on River Monsters. But this act is as vital to the health of your story as a root canal is to the health of your teeth – the sooner the better.

In my experience, most stories fall victim to one of two problems: Either you’ve shot the gun too early and gotten too caught up in the heat of the moment to properly research the novel before you began excitedly jamming away at the keys (or penning it out, no judgment here); or you’ve had this baby percolating in your head for so long that you’ve forgotten how to properly explain it to others. Whether too late or too soon, both causes lead to the same effect; the reader is left wondering what on earth is going on here.

Ernest Hemingway quote

Fortunately, both problems can also be solved by the same person: your professional beta reader!

‘But why can’t I use my friend?’ you ask. ‘My friend reads books all the time!’

Honest friends are hard to come by. It’s no secret that those who care for us are more likely to say what we want to hear in order to make us happy, but in the world of writing this can cause more harm than good. Unless your friend has a degree in English, they’re also likely to miss a thing or two, like tone or character problems. A scene could have excellent plot, a quickening pace, perfect dialogue, and well-rounded characters, but lack atmosphere, making it impossible for the whole exchange to feel real.

A professional beta read of an early draft can save authors a great deal of grief by analyzing everything from plot, pacing, characterization, setting, and even historical and factual accuracy, to insure the core concepts of the novel are a solid foundation for the entire body of work. This allows for fewer draft rewrites, giving the author the additional guidance that writers of all ages and areas of expertise can benefit from. Beta reads are a simple and affordable service that can save your novel from being cast aside for years to come, and instead move your story closer to the finish line in record time.

Sharing your story can be terrifying, no matter how many others you’ve published in the past. But the only thing you have to fear from beta reading is change. I don’t know about you guys, but improvements to my novel are never the source of my nightmares. (I did have a really weird dream about a suspended cabin and cryptids one time, but that’s a story for another weekend.) Every book has multiple drafts, and no one is perfect – that’s what makes each of us and the stories we tell unique and incredible.

Don’t be afraid.

It’s only your plot holes that die.

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