Topical Tuesdays: Beta Readers and Why We Need Them (plus South Park)

This week’s Topical Tuesdays topic is beta readers, those friends and family who are the first people to lay their eyes on your script and tell you what they think. How many should you have? When should you use them? And how to know when to disregard their advice.

I have a rule when it comes to writing anything that I ever plan on letting anyone else see (note: this, funny enough, does not apply to my blog). That rule is that it must be seen by someone else’s eyes before I submit it in any official capacity. So I take one person who I can trust and who will be brutally honest with me (nine times out of ten it’s Kush) and I ask him (or her) to read it and give me feedback. It’s important, I contend, to ask very nicely. You’re not doing anyone any favors letting them see early editions of your work. You’re asking for a huge favor. Now, to me, these people are just editors, but apparently they have a special name: beta readers.

The answer, then, is yes: I think beta readers are incredibly important and absolutely necessary to great writing. As amazing as you could make something – and I have no doubt that some people out there can write some pretty incredible stuff on their own – an extra pair of eyes, an extra brain, whatever, is so necessary. Imagine working on a project. Yes, some people work better alone but there’s a reason companies organize in teams and great businesses are so often started by two people. Two brains work seven times as well as one alone. A beta reader can function in a similar way. No, you need not write together but to have a trusted secondary person read for you and give you honest feedback can expand, help and complement your book in some amazing ways.

For The Zen of South Park I have Kush read every chapter when I’m done editing it myself (which takes a while) and then after I do all that I think I should to it based on his comments I give it to (what I guess is) a gamma reader – another person I trust to read chapters at random. After fixing it at that point I give it to a professional in the subject matter that it’s about (remember my nonfiction book has chapters on each religion as well as other religious topics), and then I go back over it again after all that. Not until then can a chapter even begin to be done. I know it may sound excessive but these people are my team, my front lines, my editors and without them I couldn’t even begin to put together so quality a piece. I think editing is of the utmost importance.

There are no great writers. Only great editors.

What do you think? Do you use beta readers? Am I going overboard? Have you been an editor before? I do love editing other people’s work – I think it’s a great way to work on my own writing.

For more on this subject check out Chandler’s Fumbling with Fiction.

South Park tonight: The episode “Spooky Fish” will be on tonight. It is honestly a great and hilarious episode (how many aren’t?). This is the second season Halloween episode and tacitly deals with notions of the Occult and magic. The idea of vortexes and parallel universes and disrupted Indian souls – though they may seem purely silly – do indicate an acknowledgment on South Park‘s part of non-conventional elements of religion and they’re worth paying attention to…especially you Wicca fans out there.


4 Responses

  1. I never send out anything without having someone read it. So far, I’ve had one brutally honest friend read everything, but in the future I may expand to more readers.

    Do I think you’re going overboard? If it works for you, then I would say no.

  2. […] week I promised a post on beta reading.  Jay Soloman over at The Zen of South Park blogged about betas so I decided that today is a good a time as any to blog about my beta reading […]

  3. “I do love editing other people’s work – I think it’s a great way to work on my own writing.”

    I find that to be true. Problems in my own writing are glaring when I see the same issues in the work of others. Problems I probably wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for reading other writer’s work.

  4. “There are no great writers. Only great editors.”
    There are good writers! You are a good writer.

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