Beginning writers have a belief that the more people who read their work, the better their work will be. Of course, that flies in the face of any creation of art by an artist. But the fear is great among young writers, most of who are indie writers these days.
Long term pros? What do they do? Maybe have one first reader, maybe not. Most not.
Why? Because creating original fiction is not a group effort, that’s why.
Thinking you need beta readers is one of the deadliest myths that has come about in this new world.
Where Did This “Beta Reader” Concept Come From?
The easy and honest answer is fear.
But I need to do a little history as I normally do in these chapters.
Back in the pulp era, writers wrote on typewriters. Almost all did single draft and gave the story to their editors at magazines. (A few book houses, but not many. Most novels were published in magazines in the pulp period. Most novels from that period have never seen a hardback or paperback reprint.)
The editor might mark the manuscript up like a copyeditor, adding in directions for layout and such, then send it for typesetting and the story would hit print.
(In case you didn’t know, this marked-up manuscript came to be known as “Foul Matter.” I got many of my “foul matter” manuscripts back after publication over the years.)
As time progressed into the second half of the 20th century, this practice continued. Sometimes a writer would have a trusted first reader, but the longer-term professionals did not. They continued to write clean one draft and give it to their editor for print.
They trusted their own skill and art. And they didn’t allow their editor to touch their stories and most editors didn’t.
But then in the late 1960s and booming into the 1980s and forward came the peer workshop, where a bunch of writers at the same level of skill and lack of publishing credits sat around and critiqued commas. Sometimes at horrid length.
This started to give beginning writers the feeling that if they pleased their workshop, they had a good story. Or even worse, if they took all the suggestions from their workshop and incorporated all the suggestions, they would have a good story.
. . . .
Then in 2010 along comes the indie movement. And beginning writers, being afraid, very, very afraid of god-knows-what, decided that they needed a bunch of readers to make sure their manuscript was a very, very smooth and smelly pile of mush. So they roped in friends and other writers to be “beta readers.”
In other words, they copied the peer workshop experience right into the middle of their own publishing work.
Often a writer could have up to ten “beta readers” on a book, the best way to guarantee that the book will be not only dull, but boring.
But the typing would be perfect. God help a poor typo that slipped through that gauntlet.
And now here, in 2017, as I write this, the concept of “beta readers” makes me shudder every time I type the phrase. I had hoped for a few years it would die off as the really bad idea it is. But nope. It has gained myth status, sadly.
And it now is hurting some really fine writers.
. . . .
Just a few days ago a wonderful writer who I have seen some fantastic work in online workshops, (where I get to see first draft stuff) told me that her most recent book was at her beta readers. Seven or eight of them I think.
I wanted to say that it wasn’t her book anymore, it was “their” book. But I said nothing, just as over the last years since this horrid practice started I have said nothing.
Writing by committee makes dullness. It takes out your writer voice, and often your character voice.
And I honestly have no idea why writers don’t have more pride in their work. That is the aspect of all this that bothers me. No one touches my work. It is my work. Period. Good or bad.
And I am proud of that fact. Good or bad.