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How to Work with Beta Readers

I often see other writers ask how to find beta readers. Though I’ve only been working with beta readers for a half a year, I thought it would be worth writing a mini guide for people who want extra eyes on their manuscript for the first time.

Step 1: Find the courage to ask a stranger to read your work.

Before I first reached out, I was terrified someone would steal my manuscript or, perhaps worse, takes my ideas and rewrite them. I joined some beta reader groups on Facebook, where I saw people point out the harsh reality: your work is not worth bothering with. Why steal something still in the editing stages, when it’s so easy to scrape the contents of eBooks and publish them under a new title? It’s highly unlikely someone will steal your work, but you can always have them email you an NDA-like statement.

Step 2: Find where the beta readers lurk.

The Clean-Up Guy – Furious Fiction September 2021

It’s the last Wednesday of the month, with means the September Furious Fiction contest results are out. Sadly, I didn’t make the long list, but the winning story was incredibly good and topical. My entry, The Clean-Up Guy, is below. This month’s prompt: include a basement or an attic; include some kind of insect; include the words earth, wind, fire, and water.

CONTENT WARNING: Contains gruesome imagery and swearing.

The Clean-Up Guy

Maggots. Always maggots. The job would be a damn sight better if they stopped sprouting near worksites. Leo descended into the dark basement, jaw clenching a little more with each wriggler that popped underfoot. He could’ve used spotlights, but the boss said he was better working blind. A familiar stench explained why – ruptured bowels. Great.

Winter’s Legion – Poem

This poem was first published in my newsletter 1st September 2021. I write a poem for each issue. Be amongst the first to read them by signing up to my newsletter, The Thellian Herald.

Winter’s Legion

Summer wanes and the nights close in,

Dragons fly south to sandy Nim,

To lose their fiery reverence,

Invites snow griffins’ insolence,

In autumn time they do rehearse,

To drumming of their wingbeats’ verse,

Then as winter our way glances,

Griffins start their lethal dances,

They summon frigid wind that blows,

Through ev’ry home to dim hearths’ glows,

But dragons come, lured back by spring,

Their roars about this land do ring,

On wing the griffins flee to Nor,

Winter’s legion does rule no more.

The Crisp That Opened a Door

Just yesterday, I ate a crisp for the first time in a long time. The taste and texture were just like those my nana served when I was young, throwing me into memories of time spent on the family farm. I wrote the piece below while lost in these unlocked moments. I hope you enjoy my fond recollections.

The Unlocking of Memories

The crisp crunches in my mouth, transporting me to a Sunday afternoon twenty years ago. At the family farm, Nana has laid out the weekly feast. Soft, buttered bread, platters of meat, sliced egg, salad, crisps, and so much more at the savoury end. And the sweet end? Chocolate buns, Victoria sponge cake, rock cakes, and, if I’m lucky, a trifle. No one frowns when I heap up my plate, nor when I go back for more. It’s always savoury then cakes, and perhaps a slice of bread after that.

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”

Ray Bradbury

Though I loosely outline some stories, I’m a pantser at heart for one simple reason: the characters dictate my stories. More than once, I’ve had an idea for a scene, only for it to go in a completely different direction when my characters decide to do something else. Know your characters, and they’ll tell you where to take the story.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Terry Pratchett

As a pantser, this resonates so strongly with me. When I write first drafts, it’s like watching a movie. My hands try to keep up with the scenes unfolding in my mind. Once I’ve watched the movie in full, finished the first draft, I rewrite with the full knowledge of the story.