While writers don’t need to live in isolation, the act of writing is typically solo. One person sits at one desk with one laptop and, well, writes. Particularly if you’re working on a novel or longer piece, this could take months or years to complete. So, it’s natural to want to sing it from the rooftops when you finish and share your baby with the world.
To be clear, writing should be shared, especially to help refine it for publication. But with that sharing, I offer a few friendly cautions.
First, let’s understand the terminology.
Beta Readers – Beta readers read the entire novel for general notes. Think big picture. A good beta reader can find plot holes or flaws that the author may have missed.
Critique Partners – Critique partners swap work and comment on anything from story fixes to word choice and line edits. You shouldn’t pay for a critique partner, and it’s a very reciprocal relationship.
Editors – Editors are (typically) paid and provide everything and anything from the above list for a set price. Never go into an open-ended contract with an editor. Settle on a fee ahead of time so you can budget and know exactly what you’re getting for that fee.
Here’s the thing. With all three of the above, it is important to vet anyone you trust with your work to avoid wasted time, unhelpful notes, and potential plagiarism. When approaching these relationships, consider the following.
Know who the person is. If you trust someone with your freshly crafted novel, a real name and a little background is a must. You don’t need to swap social security numbers, but sending a manuscript to an anonymous screenname is like dating a nameless, faceless person. You wouldn’t do it, I’m guessing.
Understand their qualifications. A middle grade author may or may not be the best person to beta read an erotica novel. Different genres rely on different voices and techniques. On a technical side, look for someone who compliments your weaknesses. For example, my writing is strong on detail but suffers with action and pacing at times. I was lucky enough to find a critique partner who could help me with that and vice versa.
Consider references. With editors, this is a must. If someone wants to charge you for their work, you have every right to talk to their (hopefully) satisfied customers. The best route is to ask for a list and randomly pick a few names to contact. It is also not out of court to see the editor’s work in action on a manuscript. That way you won’t be upset if you expected grammatical fixes but only receive plot notes. References provide a realistic idea of these things.
Be picky. There are many incredible writers offering giveaways of services. And swapping work is a wonderful way to connect with other authors, but just because someone is willing to read your work doesn’t mean that they’re the right person. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people offer inaccurate query notes or genre-inappropriate suggestions. You’ll find the perfect fit. Take your time and don’t jump at every opportunity.
I don’t want this to come across as a terribly cynical post. There are many kind souls out there who offer reading and editing for free, and Twitter and other online hubs make it easier than ever for writers to find help on all levels. But let’s face it, our manuscripts are our lifeblood. It is wise to be judicious when sharing it.
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. I look for other writers who feel the same.