Sunday, July 19, 2009

Finding Beta Readers

Sometimes, I feel like such a burden to my friends and limited group of writing acquaintances. For instance, I managed, between Sunday last week and Friday, to submit seven stories. One was a reprint ("Turtles"), but the others were all new (three) or revisions(three) of old stories that I had not yet sent out. What I have to remember is that every one of those stories needs to be read by at least one other person, and preferably more, before I send them. Not having a beta reader (as I have so heartbreakingly realized) will pretty much result in a rejection.

My two beta readers -- and pretty much because they're the only people I'd ask -- are my husband, Patrick (he has hardly any web presence to speak of, so I can't link anything here), and my writing friend Zach, who attended workshop at UNO with me (I've mentioned him, and he was nice enough to post a comment below about my story). But eight stories is overload, I think. Also, while I know Zach is great at beta reading, Pat is my husband, and he knows he has to live with me after he gives he feedback, and he might be tempering his responses, even subconsciously.

So I joined this site called Reviewfuse. I saw it first on Duotrope, then on Craig's List. They have a free version and a pay version. Basically how it works is you load a story, and their software assigns three readers to review it. For the sake of reciprocity, you in turn review four stories from other writers using the site.

Now, so far it's a mixed blessing (and I've read through the forum, so I know I'm not the only person who feels this way). First, you are paired with reviewers who are rated as well as you as reviewers. When I give reviews, the writer can rate how helpful I was. I know I'm pretty darn helpful, but I don't stroke egos. I also don't make it personal. It's always about the story, what's there, what's not. Some people on this site have yet to separate their egos from their writing. If I give too much criticism, they rate me badly because I hurt their feelings. One should only get a bad rating for not giving constructive feedback on a story, not for being too honest. If my rating goes down, then I get paired with other "mean" reviewers (which could be okay) and the reviewers that leave one words reviews and don't take the time to give in-line feedback. Second, there is no age or ability level grouping as of yet. There are a lot of kids on this site, and so graphic sex, language, or violence is out. And they still have a lot to learn when it comes to writing. Finally -- and this isn't a bad thing, really, but it makes the work difficult -- there seem to be a lot of users from English speaking countries that have very different construction and convention rules from SAE.

So far, I put up one story, and got three reviews. One was good, giving the story high ratings and pointing out a few shortcomings. The second was awful, having nothing but mean things to say and offering no in-line feedback or specific examples of what needs fixing. The third was excellent, balancing what he/she liked with what needed work. I guess that probably gives me a good survey of my reading audience, too, so I think it will work in the long run. Of course, things should be better in the future; when you first join, you have no rating as an editor, so you get other newbies who, likewise, have no rating. Now that I have a "great" rating as an editor, I should get other "great" editors to review my work.

I have two stories to work on this week. First, a flash fiction fantasy piece for Flash Me magazine. This story involves a changeling. I should be able to pound it out in a day, but first I need to finish a love story for the Australian journal Etchings. I'm already two pages into that; it's set in a RV park in New Orleans. I didn't write about New Orleans hardly at all up until recently; now I suppose I'm setting everything here because I'm lazy, or because I don't get out of the 'hood very often.

As a last note, one of my "day job" coworkers and I are going to lunch this week at the Green Goddess (Neil Gaiman mentions it in one of his blog posts, which you can click on to the left). This is a recent addition to the French Quarter restaurant scene. I'm sort of excited because one of the chefs and owners is Poppy Z. Bright's husband (which is how it got mentioned on Mr. Gaiman's site). I've read Ms. Bright's work since I was in my late teens, when Stephen King got all psychological and cut most of the paranormal stuff from his writing. I particularly liked her contribution to the Crow franchise. I let y'all know how it is.

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