The Beta Project — An Overview

As I’ve mentioned in the majority of my State of the Author posts this month, I participated in the Absolute Write Beta Project this year. This is an annual event organized by a member of the AW site wherein people submit basic information, a hook, and the first 750 words of their novel to be critiqued by other members of the forum. Once you’ve done your 3 required, wonderfully match-made crits, you are able to request stories to do a full beta on.

I participated because it’s always nice to have more eyes on your novels — especially the one I put in because I’m so deep into my LTA universe, I don’t know what makes sense to outsiders anymore — and for me, it was important that I found someone who typically reads within my genre to take a look at it. While I adore my regular readers / writer friends and greatly value their advice, they’re all writing / reading primarily speculative fiction of some degree. Sure, they can tell me if the basic story makes sense and they can help with line edits / grammar errors, but to tell me if I hit the pacing and fulfilled the needs of a romance novel? They’re as lost as I am. But, having someone look through who’s familiar? It gives them the opportunity to point out a ton of brand new issues to be fixed that I’d never thought about before.

Which, while it sounds like a bad thing, really isn’t. Anything to make the novel stronger, right? Right.

Now, I’m sure that sounds like everything about the Project was perfect and wonderful, which the majority really was, but… There were some not-so-great parts as well.

The Pros:

  • I was blessed with getting two beta requests out of the project and both have already completely finished their beta’ing.
  • I tried some advice from Sarra Cannon and had both betas working in the same document, so the three of us could chat in the comments and make sure things were going the way they should / clear up any misconceptions (and then figure out how to also do the same within the novel), and share opinions. It was the closest thing to a true fiction workshop experience that I have experienced outside of my creative writing courses back in college and I loved it. I will honestly probably continue interacting with my betas like this for the rest of my writing life. Without this Project, I probably never would have tried it.
  • I know where / how to tighten my hook or add detail when I go to expand it into a query.
  • My novel is better already than it was when I started.

The Cons:

  • I had one beta who was flawless and did exactly what I specified in my “what I look for in a beta” section (which was posted with the initial post, prior to them sending requests)… And one who focused much more on the tiny, nit-picky line edits. While I am not entirely sad at this, because eventually I will need these done, I mentioned up front that large chunks of this novel were going to be trashed and completely rewritten. So, if they spent all this time perfecting my language and having me decide between my use of “so” and “yet” / “his” and “the,” it’s just going to be a waste of their time, and mine.
  • I also had one beta who was borderline rude / cruel at times, but then others was singing my praises. Sometimes, she claimed to “absolutely abhor” my novel, and other times saying she “rather enjoyed the whole thing.” Which is rather confusing, if I’m being entirely honest. I’m not upset that maybe she didn’t love my novel or even the places where she said she would have stopped reading — those are things I need and want to know! However, I do take issue with the way some of the comments were phrased as more of a personal “you have no idea what you’re doing” sort of attack / accusation than constructive criticism. I have pretty thick skin (thank you, creative writing class that brought me SO MUCH STRESS but was obviously worth it. Also thank you overly critical job where people tell me how bad I am every time I turn around.), but even so, some of her comments struck a nerve with me. There was even a point that my other beta told her that she needed to dial it back a notch and stop being so outright rude. So… wasn’t just a me thing.
  • Not everyone got a beta. And I know there’s no real way to prevent this, but it really just rubbed me the wrong way to see so many of the participants posting in the thread that they’d love to get beta requests, but they weren’t in a place to give any of their own. I’m sorry, but someone is literally reading and editing your novel for you for free, and you can’t find the time to request just one novel to return the favor for? There were several people requesting just basic comments / read-throughs on novels that were either not finished or 60k and under. Some weren’t even finished with their novels yet and wouldn’t be asking for feedback for some amount of time. I don’t know. I think the right thing to do in that situation would be to find one that you enjoyed and think you’d like to read through for someone, offer up the request, and explain that you’ve got things going on that are going to make the beta take some time. If they’re okay with that, cool. If not, they can say no from there. But to expect to get something for nothing (especially the people being salty / complaining that they didn’t receive any requests of their own…)? Just rubs me the wrong way.
  • I didn’t get to beta anything. I sent one request early in the event — it was one of my three required crits — and heard nothing back. Because I had a pending request, I didn’t offer to do any others until the last day, just in case they got back to me. I knew I wouldn’t have time to devote to doing more than one beta well (or two, depending on their requests for their betas), and I didn’t want to send out two more requests, only to have the original request respond and accept after all. Of course, I sent out two requests total and heard back from zero of them, so… That’s also a thing.

I know that looks like there were more cons than pros, but that’s definitely not the case (I think it’s just me being an over-explainer, per usual). Overall, I think the AW Beta Project is a fantastic idea and I’m already looking forward to participating again next year!

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