4 places to start looking for a beta reader online
If you’re one of those writers who loves the editing process, know this: I envy you with all my heart and soul. The more intricately I plot in advance, the less passionately I loathe this most essential part of the craft of writing, but I’m never going to actually enjoy it. I’ve been incredibly lucky, over my writing career, to work with some phenomenal editors, and that process started way back before I was ever published when some absolute heroes that I’m delighted to call my friends read and offered feedback on a clunky old MS I’d been footering about with for over a decade.
I made the changes they suggested and found a publisher for the draft that resulted. That was Edge of Heaven and it went on to be shortlisted for a major award. So… yeah. Critique partners are amazing.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received is that you almost certainly have a critique partner in your life already. Got a friend who reads a lot in your genre? It could be them. Cousin who’s an English teacher? They’ll keep you right on spelling and grammar and they’re likely to know their way around the structure of a decent narrative. Are you in a writing class? Suggest setting up a WhatsApp critique group – I’d bet good money you’ll have plenty of takers.
But if you’ve been racking your brain and coming up blank, don’t despair. The internet is both a blessing and a curse for writers (those of us who’ve gone down a three-hour Wikipedia “research” rabbit hole – which, let’s face it, is all of us – can attest to that), and it’s full of opportunities to match up with the critique partner of your dreams. Read on for a selection of places that I’ve come across that might point you in the right direction. But first, the answer to a question that I get a lot.
But what if someone steals my idea?
Honestly, I understand the anxiety, and online piracy is a real threat to authors’ livelihoods. But here’s the thing. Actually, several things.
Protect yourself by making sure you have a traceable, time-stamped record of your work* before sending it to anyone, but don’t let fear of ideas-theft get in the way of finding a critique partner.
With that said, here are a few places to get started on the hunt for that magic partnership.
Yes, I know that being on Facebook is usually how you don’t advance your writing goals, but this is a special case, because it is absolutely coming down with groups where you can find like-minded writers at an equivalent stage in their journey. I can personally attest to the greatness of Otherworlds NI, but that’s quite niche (if you’re a spec-fic author from Northern Ireland, though, you are in for a treat). However, a simple search on the site yields more results than I could ever hope to summarise here. It’s worth joining a few and getting a feel for them before asking around for critique partners, though, for a couple of reasons. First, not all groups are created equal and some of them might have an ethos that doesn’t work for you or be otherwise not quite what you’re looking for. And secondly, people are generally more keen to help members who’ve already demonstrated that they’re prepared to give back to the community, so spending a bit of time showing up and helping out on other people’s posts will go a long way towards establishing yourself as someone who’s prepared for a bit of quid pro quo.
Like Facebook, but specifically for books. Much of what I’ve just said above applies here too.
Online writing communities
A word of caution: I wouldn’t necessarily suggest jumping in with both feet to anywhere that makes you pay a joining fee before you can access anything that’s useful to you. The whole point of critique partnerships is that they’re not supposed to cost you anything, and the vast majority of the best online writing communities are free to join and participate, because, again, they rely on quid pro quo from their members. Some places you might want to try include:
I was going to try to set something like this up, and then I discovered that it already exists. It’s – again – based on the principle of quid pro quo, in that there’s an expectation that when you match with someone, you both agree to critique each other’s work, but you can also access a paid option with this site, where you can hire a professional editor to work on your MS. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, because you probably don’t need one at this stage, but it’s there if you’re interested. Otherwise, the service is completely free – you can have a good look around the site by clicking here.
In case it’s not clear by now, a critique partnership can be one of the best things you can do for your writing. Not only are you getting another set of eyes on your work — and when you’ve been in the revisions trenches for long enough, you usually can’t see the wood for the trees anymore, so a fresh perspective is worth its weight in gold — but you’re also giving feedback yourself, which is, in my opinion, the second best thing you can do to improve your writing. (The first is, simply, to write, keep writing, and then keep writing some more.) Critiquing the work of other writers obliges you to engage with the craft at the deepest level; to establish to your satisfaction what works, what doesn’t work, and why; and to articulate your response to the text in a way that we don’t tend to consciously notice when we’re reading passively. That can’t help but feed back into your own writing process and make it stronger.
Good luck. Keep writing. And… happy editing, I suppose. (If such a thing exists.)
* The time-honoured method of posting a hard copy to yourself and leaving the package unopened works just fine – you don’t need to pay to register copyright, and anyone claiming that you do is probably trying to sell you something.
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