The last 3 weeks have been spent doing beta. Beta? Yeah, beta. In writing terms, this is the read-through and evaluation of a piece of work from an author. 3 weeks have seen me beta one essay on the evolution of modern telecoms, two short stories, and one novel.
Why is a beta even needed? Here's the thing. While an author may knock out a story, regardless of how short or long it is, it may not be perfect from the first draft. Hell, it's unlikely to be perfect from the first draft. And because that author is so close to the work - they did write it, after all - there's a good chance that they miss something. When I beta, what I look for are:
grammar and punctuation - spelling errors, missing commas, etc.
continuity errors - e.g. when a character takes off their shirt, you don't want to see on the following page that they take off their shirt: which means that they would have taken off the same shirt twice, without putting it back on.
realism - within the realm of the story, I want something which I find credible, e.g. if a man sees a headless corpse walking toward him, how does that man react? Does that reaction fit that character, as well as the story?
There's other stuff I'd look for as well, in terms of how convincing a character is, how well the scenes are set, the pace of the story, etc. While it helps to point out to an author where they may be going wrong, it's also helpful to point out where they go right. Because if you're serious about delivering product that will move your audience, it helps to know what works and what doesn't.
On top of all that, it's down to the individual author to decide what parts of a beta to use or lose. While it may be easy to disregard one piece of advice from a beta reader as invalid, it may be harder to do that if the same advice came from more than one beta reader.
What I find as a beta reader is that it keeps my critical eye keen and helps me keep my skills sharp. That means everything from the words used, the pace of the story, the dialogue, the intrigue, the characters, the whole thing. The same way I like to write at speed, so it is when I beta read, or critique. I've yet to get any real criticism over a critique/beta I've done, but there's a first time for everything. For me, liking the story doesn't come into it - I get to play the role of Court Taster, making sure that tale is fit for consumption by the author's audience.
There are some stories that have moved me, sure, but then, I don't expect to like everything.
I'm blessed in that the more I write and the more I develop as an author, the more I have a team of good people to put in work and cast a critical eye over my product. Mention needs to go my heavy hitters Kelly Metz and Pat Hollett, both authors in their own right, and with dedication to the craft. Heavy hitters since from pretty much the beginning when I decided to run with this writing thing, they have put in work on pretty much everything delivered. They claw the work open, turn it inside out and shake it loose. The critique is honest, constructive, doesn't sugarcoat anything, and is thorough work turned out in good time.
For Terri and Av (or Avangyline, for the uninitiated), they may not write as much or as often, but they're still authors. I don't claim to have the gospel on definitive game for this business, but whatever wisdom I may bring to the table, I'm happy to share. And these ladies have the enthusiasm to put in work and overhaul my product. So I do the same for them. The MVCs: Most Valuable Critters. Sure, they write, but they also read. And they deliver.
Props also to Bryan Nowak and Carl Alves: fellow horror authors who have let me at their work. While the ladies mentioned before write, it's not necessarily horror. For me, there's a joy in working with those who have horror and dark fiction as their M.O. and when I beta read, the stuff I pick up on hammers home to me what I do/don't need or want in my stories. It hones my critical eye. So thanks and props to these gentlemen, and thanks in advance for agreeing to beta any story I may offer your way.
It's felt like a long time since I've dealt with my own product, whether it's writing, editing or submissions, but in truth, it's "only" been 3 weeks. Right now, it's about time to stop that rot, and put in work.