beta readers / self-editing / writers' groups / writing partners

Working with a Partner, Writers’ Group, & Beta-Readers

This is #4 of a series of 5 posts with tips and tasks related to self-editing. See the links at the bottom of the post for other articles in this series.


Your writing group–or partner–or beta readers–might not be quite as hilarious as Buster Keaton’s writing group, but you can still have a great time together, as you help each other with positive critiquing, editing, mutual support, and ongoing writing and editing education. Here are a few activities and tips to make the best of your helpers when you’re in the process of self-editing:

  • Read your manuscript to a partner. Can he follow along (understand) and stay interested?
  • Have a partner read your manuscript to you. Does she read it easily? Does it sound the way you expected? If not, what needs changing?
  • Discuss your writing with someone who has read it, preferably someone who is a member of your intended audience and is interested in your purpose (you did determine your audience and purpose before you started writing, right?). Do they feel the same way about your piece as do you? Did they get the message you intended? Remember, there is no general public. Words do not mean the same thing to one person as to another. They may be coloured by background, education, personal experience, age, gender, and more.  Be sure you know and understand your audience and purpose, and keep them in mind throughout both the writing and self-editing process.
  • Find “beta readers”—family, friends, colleagues, other writers, teachers, editors—who are willing to do a read-through of your manuscript. Find people you trust to have reasonable editing ability. If you are asking them to read an entire book manuscript, offer them a copy of the book once it is published. If you are asking them to read a short story, chapter, poem, article, or another short piece, be sure to show appreciation; send a thank-you note.
  • Tell your beta readers specifically what you would like them to look for.  Don’t overload them. Ask different readers to look for different things.  Make a list of questions for them to answer, or ask them to write a summary or outline. Some examples of specific items to ask about:
    • Are there additions that need to be made? Unnecessary parts to delete?
    • Does the beginning have a good hook? Is the ending satisfying?
    • Is the plot well developed?
    • Are there any loose ends? Anything that isn’t plausible?
    • What do you think is the message (meaning) of the piece? (If what your beta readers understand isn’t what you envisioned, you’ll want to figure out why and do a rewrite).
    • What needs more development in characterization?
  • Sometimes a writing group, partner, or beta readers aren’t enough. If you have poor writing skills, you may need to take courses, or even consider hiring a ghost writer or a co-author.
  • If you realize you need more detail, expand your sources and assistants: resident experts, fresh online and traditional resources, interviews.  Incorporate new, up-to-date information.

Want to know more about working with other writers?

Check out these posts:
Tips on Giving and Receiving Critiques
Beta Readers

What experiences have you had with writing partners, beta readers, and writers’ groups?

Please share your tips and experiences with us in the comments. Thanks!

The posts in this series, Self-Editing Tips and Tasks, include:

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