(Speaking of "not paying them": If you sign up with Bigstock Photo, they'll give you a free photo download every week. This is a mostly-terrific thing but many of the photos are kind of limited when it comes to how exactly someone would use them. The image on the left is this week's freebie and, thanks to this blog, I found a use for it.)
“If you don't pay people, why do they read your stuff?” the Bad Witch asked.
I sighed. Here’s the thing about the Bad Witch: Even though she’s the Good Witch's mother, and even though her daughter is wonderfully supportive of my work, BW assumes my writing must be beyond bad because she can’t find even one of my books at the local Barnes & Noble. And, as she’s pointed out more than once, she’s found some pretty bad books at her B&N.
BW happened to overhear my conversation with her daughter, and the words “beta reader” were new to her. I explained to BW that a beta reader is someone who reads a writer’s manuscript prior to publication. When she found out that a beta reader goes through the pages for free, checking for story flow, characterization, or clumsy mistakes, she was astounded. I explained that, when the stars align, a beta will find a book they love. They’ll get a chance to suggest changes, interact with a new author, and a good time will be had by all. When she still appeared doubtful, I told her it was like seeing a sneak preview of a movie, weeks or months ahead of everyone else. I’ve done it myself, many times, and it can be kind of a kick.
“But what if the movie stinks?” she asked, pointedly, before leaving the room. And what can you say to that?
When Glynn and I finished our latest manuscript, we wondered how we’d find a beta reader. I asked GW to read the book – I always ask GW to read our books – but she’s not a fan of sweet, historic romance. She normally prefers the twisty stuff and our latest is hopefully exciting and surprising but it isn’t exactly twisty. My romance-writing friend, Sue, would have been a better resource but she wasn’t available.
I needed fresh meat. I needed it bad. (See, those two sentences are an example of the kind of stuff that GW loves. Bad, bad GW.) Normally, I’d have put a call out on the anneglynn.com website but, sadness, I’d killed my Blogger version and couldn’t get this version to come to life. (Bad, bad Anne.) Forced to step outside of my comfort zone, I looked in some new directions.
One place I found was scribophile.com. It advertises itself as, “We're a respectful online writing group made up of writers who improve each other's work with thoughtful critiques and by sharing their writing experience”, which is exactly what I needed – except.
The “except” here is, before anyone can critique your work, you need to build up “karma points”, which are earned by critiquing other peoples’ manuscripts. It takes me several days to beta read a single manuscript, much less several, and that’s when I don’t have a new book to publish. I joined the group – once this novel is out, I hope to have the opportunity to start building some karma – but I knew I’d have to look elsewhere for an immediate reader.
I knew there were paid beta reader services (a/k/a, manuscript critiques, if you want to go hunting for them) but I just kind of feel…itchy…at the thought of a paid service. (I am NOT hugely cheap. Mostly cheap, granted, but not hugely cheap. Anyone with my shoe collection can’t be hugely cheap.) If you check into this, you’ll find that paid beta prices start at the equivalent of a Starbucks cup o’ java – for example, someone at the Writer’s Digest Shop will review 50 pages of a manuscript for three bucks at their 2nd Draft Critique Service – but the fees can climb into the hundreds of dollars, depending on who you select and what you want. What I needed was someone who read my genre, who liked my genre, and who would feel free to say whatever he or she wanted, without any commercial consideration.
I got lucky. I’ll tell you how, and who, next time.