Why I hired a beta reader

I originally wrote this  post for my blog but then realized that I needed a post for 49 Writers so submitted it there instead.

Before I repost that, though, here’s the inside scoop. Last week, I hired a beta reader. I did this, as I do most things, rather impulsively. I was browsing through Twitter, saw a tweet from Carrie Rubin about Kevin Brennan’s beta reader service over at Indie-Scribable, read it over and thought,  hmmmm, why not? The price seemed reasonable and I was struggling, lord, was I struggling with the beginning of my novel. I needed a second opinion, and I needed it fast, and I needed it to be as honest and brutal as possible.

So I shot him off an email, agreed to his terms, sent him my manuscript and, for the next few days, put my damned book away and enjoyed life for a bit.

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And here is a more detailed explanation as to why I decided to pay for someone’s services instead of gathering up beta readers through writing and blogging friends.

Guest Blogger Cinthia Ritchie: Why I Hired a Beta Reader

I did something I thought I’d never do: I hired a beta reader to help with the beginning chapters of my second novel.

I’d been struggling for months, with no end in sight. I was literally making myself sick with the worrying and the obsession. I had, no exaggeration, over twenty takes of the first chapter.

And I couldn’t stop. Because, think of it: There is no limit to the possibilities. Any book could have any number of successful openings. And even when you do find a successful opening, there’s always that nag in your mind that there might be an even more successful opening if you just keep at it a bit longer.

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Which is why I couldn’t stop obsessing. Which is why I wrote and rewrote that damned first chapter over and over again, and some of those drafts were almost identical except for one or two paragraphs, and I’d print them out and read those paragraphs over and over and compare them and try to decide which one worked best, etc., etc., etc.

I’d end up slumped on the couch eating too many pretzels and binge-watching Netflix or, if it was still light outside, I’d put on my Hokas and head out for a run.

When I received an email from my agent stating that she needed my novel in two to four weeks, I knew I needed help. I needed to stop the obsessing, buckle down, finish the best that I could and hand the book over to wiser minds.

But the thing is: I wanted my book to be as wise as it could before I handed it over to wiser minds.

So I hired a beta reader. I gathered all of my drafts, blended them together, with three first-chapter options, and sent them off (okay, I obsessed about them for a day and then sent them off).

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Here’s the reason why I chose to hire a beta reader instead of asking writing friends for help or begging blog followers to please, please read my book and tell me if it made sense: I wanted to ensure that I would receive as honest of an assessment as possible. I wanted my beta reader to have the freedom to be brutal, if need be, to tear down my chapters, to say: This doesn’t work. This sucks. This has to go.

Read the rest here, at 49 Writers.

In the meantime, I’ve been busy with, well, writing.

I have three poems in GNU Journal, a short piece about why I live in Anchorage in the Alaska Dispatch News, a guest blog post on 49 Writers, two poems in Theories of HER anthology and a very personal essay about living with a rare and odd disability (spasmodic dysphonia) in Deaf Poet’s Society.

I also have another short essay upcoming with Silver Birch Press, poetry in Grayson Books Forgotten Women Anthology, poems in Wordgathering and Breath and Shadow plus short fiction in Flash Fiction Magazine and an interview with an endurance athlete plus a long feature in Alaska Magazine.

I need to start querying more freelance pieces. I’ve been slacking a bit, while we’re here in the desert. It’s easy to fall inside a lull of running, reading, biking and swimming and forget the bothersome necessities of, you know, making money.

Here is where I’ve been wasting spending most of my time, when I’m not obsessing over my damned writing.

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15 thoughts on “Why I hired a beta reader

  1. I’m so glad you decided to hire Kevin for a beta read. He edited the novel I’m currently shopping around (trying for that agent thing–sigh). His input helped a lot, and his own books are great reads. Good luck with your WIP, and thank you for the mention!

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    1. Yes, yes, Carrie, I’m very impressed with Kevin’s work. His input was amazingly helpful. In fact, it was the very thing I needed to hear in order to make the changes that I needed to make (I was blind to my own writing mishaps–you know how that goes). Good luck with shopping for an agent. Any one of them would be lucky to sign you on.

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  2. I just read your essay in the dead poets society. I don’t really care about your voice, your written words take up all my emotions. I love your words and I love that you love Alaska. Surely, anyone who knows you is overwhelmed by your art and isn’t sensitive enough to your voice struggles. Your written voice touches my heart. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Diana, honey, I think I kind of, sort of, love you. Thanks so, so much for your kind words. And yes, I do love Alaska. Even though I hate cold weather and am down in Tucson for part of the winter, I keep missing the blues, you know the ones, the lavender blues that spread across the sky right before sunset. That shade of blue is one of my favorite things in the world. Big, big hugs, and take care.

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    1. Oh, Carla, I miss Seriously so, so much! The dog has wiggled her way deep into my heart. I love running here in the desert but more and more I think I’d rather run in the snow with Seriously. Dogs are the best, aren’t thing (though cats are also the best, too, but in a totally different way). Take care, and hope your week is going well.

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      1. Yes, we are big fans of dogs. Once my husband retires, we are going to search for a couple of rescue dogs. Can hardly wait! In the meantime, I love all photos and stories about them. 🙂 Best to you for the upcoming long run!

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  3. Yeah. I’ve thought about getting Kevin to help with some of my works in progress. There are many reasons why I’m frozen in my writing, but one of them is that I simply can’t make those decisions that will get the story from here to there. What’s the best path through things. Sigh…

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    1. Hi, Mark: I’d highly recommend hiring Kevin. He did a damned fine job, and he did it quickly (I needed for it to be done quickly) and he was thorough and efficient while also being kind and sensitive, but not too kind. He was tough where he needed to be tough, which is exactly what I wanted. Plus his pricing was more than reasonable. It really snapped me out of my novel funk. I just stayed up all night making the changes he suggested. I’m exhausted but happy. (I have a 32 mile race on Saturday that I’m totally not going to be ready for, lol). Cheers, hope this helps and good luck.

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  4. Cinthia, I just listened to your essay in Deaf Poets Society. Oh, how beautiful your words are. And, yes, to me, your voice sounds normal although I can sense the struggle, the pause before you tackle a word. But I grew up in a family full of mumblers and I have a speech impediment (subtle but annoying because it only pops up at the most inconvenient times) and I’ve lived in different places so when I hear an “unusual” voice, I often think first that it must be a particular accent, not a disorder. And so to listen (and read along) to your story … I’m just awestruck. And grateful that you’re here and that you write and that you don’t let anything keep your words from flowing.

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