Betas are one of the most helpful tools in a writer’s arsenal. They’re ‘in the biz,’ so to speak, and they’re not your spouse/mom/bestest friend, so they’re impartial. I know that I would never have learned what I was doing wrong without my beloved Betas to point out the plot holes, inconsistencies, and other assorted no-nos that were ruining my novel.
But what do you do if your Beta…well, sucks?
Yes, yes; I know it’s mean to say that, and believe me I’m cringing right along with you.
But you know what I mean.
You tuck into their sample chapters, eager to help the one who has helped you out so much. But as you go along, your smile begins to fade. You realize it’s only page 5 and you’ve blown through 30 of those little Windows ‘comments’ boxes, largely due to improper comma usage or other easy SPaG errors.
You shake it off. Typos, you assure yourself. They'd catch these things in the next round of edits, anyway, surely…although there’s this niggling fear at the back of your mind that maybe you shouldn’t have taken their suggestions for your MS quite so seriously.
By page 15 or so, you’re beginning to feel like you’re taking crazy pills. The plot is confused, the characters one-dimensional, the writing choppy/passive/just plain bad, the dialogue cheesy/unbelievable…and you don’t know if you can power through the rest of it. You feel like a terrible person.
From this place of guilt, you begin to wonder, “Is it me, perhaps? Am I the terrible writer? Because either this person is mangling the English language, or I am. One of us has no idea what in the blue blazes we’re doing, and needs to go back to the third grade and start over.” That thought strikes an icy lance of terror through your soul, and for a brief moment you question everything you’ve ever believed in, everything you thought you knew as a human being and a writer and an organism.
Until you remember the half-dozen other Betas whose chapters didn’t make you want to kill yourself, and who liked (or perhaps even loved) your MS. Your heart slows down a bit. No, it’s not you. You’re sure of it. There’s simply no way you suck that bad. Pity wells up within you, but it doesn’t make choking down their poorly-written literary abomination any easier.
And now that you know what kind of a writer he/she is, everything he/she said is suspect, even if their suggestions were good ones. You panic at all the changes you made at his/her urging. Did you save a copy from before you started working with this Beta? NO??? Well, that's another three rounds of editing.
So what do you do now? You can’t say, “I’m sorry, but your book sucks, and you need to take a writing class.” That’s just cruel, and they won’t listen to you anyway. You want to help them, because everyone’s written something terrible, and how can we correct mistakes we don’t know we’re making? Yet often times, these are the people most resistant to helpful criticism. These are the ones who often turn nasty and defensive, sometimes sparking fights and spewing F-Bombs all over the internet. The ones who refuse to hear anything but glowing reviews of their work.
So what do you all do? Do you try to help them, or just hit the delete button and deal with feeling like a jerk for a couple of days?
(BTW, this is not in reference to anyone in particular. I've been wanting to do a post about this for awhile now, so no one should take this personally!)