During the past two weeks, I have re-entered the world of being labeled with a Greek letter and become a Beta.  No, I have not rediscovered my inner sorority girl (though I can still proudly sing the Greek alphabet and any Pi Beta Phi songs anyone might want to throw around).

I have now become an official Beta reader (no Pi or Phi in that dear sisters in the wine and silver blue).  This is the official name of someone who has the honor of reading an unpublished novel and providing feedback for the author.

In my day job as a high school English teacher, I spend countless hours reading students’ rough drafts, essays, paragraphs, stories, and personal narratives.  It can get grueling. In fact, the one part of my job that I struggle through (well, I actually hate) is all the grading.  I love the kids, enjoy the curriculum, like the lesson planning and teaching, but the grading? It sucks.

With that said, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to respond to an entire novel.  Would it be like reading 150 pages of student work?  If so, I feared my new venture as a Beta reader would send me down a path I’d rather avoid:  annoyed that I’d agreed to the job and downing far too much wine to get through it.

Happily, I discovered I like being a Beta.  I tried to read and respond to each chapter at a time, to record questions that I had about plot or characters, impressions that I got, directions I thought the story was heading at that point.

Since there was a bit of a mystery involved in the story, when I finished it, it was also interesting to go back and see what I thought would happen.  I was wrong and didn’t figure out the culprit until it was revealed at the end, just like I was supposed to.

While there were elements of the story that were fabulous, I also had questions about some of the characters, their relationships, and even some plot elements.  I had read a draft, not a completed work, and while it’s a solid draft with tons of potential, it was just that, a draft.

I’ve been somewhat stuck in my own novel project over the last two months, and participating in the Beta process took a bit of the pressure off that I’ve been putting on myself to make the first draft reach a standard that it won’t ever meet.  The lesson? Just finish.  Get the first draft done.  I can revise to my heart’s content . . . later.  I needed that reminder.  Writing is a process.

I’d like to congratulate my writing friend, Susan, for her amazing first draft, and thank her for sharing her work with me and encouraging me to get my project own project done so she can read it.

No Comments

  1. Novel Girl on January 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Being a Beta reader is the best way to improve your writing. I’ve found that since I became an editor, my writing skills have expanded three-fold. You teach yourself how to become familiar–and good–at picking up story structure issues, which are what determine good or bad stories.

    I also love blogging because I can connect with other writers, which is wonderful support for writers!

    Good luck with being a Beta reader!

    • Amy Isaman on February 2, 2012 at 3:23 am

      I think you’re probably right. Before I started, I was really nervous about how well I would do with it, but as I got going, I realized that I was picking up on stuff that I didn’t think I would ie. structure, character development, plot threads etc.

      I agree about the blogging connection too! Thanks for commenting.

  2. margaretduarte on February 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    As a retired English teacher, I remember the hours spent grading compositions–so different from reviewing novels. Thank goodness. What a gift to your friend to be her Beta reader, and as you say, a gift to yourself and your own novel project. Yes, just finish. Actually, for me, finishing was the easy part. My four novels took me between three and six months to write and years to revise. I finally have one ready for submission. Writing is indeed a process.

    • Amy Isaman on February 2, 2012 at 3:26 am

      I can’t imagine teaching English for long enough to actually retire – you are a SAINT!!! Reading novels is so different, but I was also surprised at how comfortable I was in the role once I got going. I was initally very nervous.
      I’m working on finishing. I’ve actually made quite a bit of progress (3000+ words) since I finished my beta project. It really motivated me. I can’t wait to read your novels!

Leave a Comment