“25” Strangers?

From one of my novels:

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand. Photo by me, 2020.]

I post that for you just to keep in mind as you read on:

[Screen capture of Twitter, June 21, 2020.]

“Alpha”… “Beta”… “critiquer.” I have seen also “first pass” and “slush pile” readers. I am sure there must be other terms.

I finally replied on Twitter to that version of that question/issue raised among writers.


I believe too many authors lack reasonable self-confidence and are looking to hide behind others’ opinions.

[Screen capture of Twitter, June 21, 2020.]

You do not require “25” strangers found online to review your manuscript and give you “feedback.” What is in your book is entirely YOUR responsibility. You must not be fearful of that reality.

At most, half a dozen trusted people should be more than sufficient to have a manuscript read. Best of all is if while they do so you can speak with them in person. (Our current viral dilemma perhaps reducing us to FaceTime, but you know what I mean.) Second best is if you at least know them well enough that you have a telephone number and they would not be stunned to hear you ring their phone.

[Screen capture of Twitter, June 21, 2020.]

I have written about this issue before. (Example, here.) I do here again because I think it is important. It is particularly important for “indie” authors.

In the final analysis, as the author I feel it SHOULD BE (and IS BELIEVED to be by readers) MY WRITING. I am willing to be criticized for my own writing choice(s). However, I will NOT be slammed because, for example, I included some dopey suggestions from some – now unseen, long gone – internet “beta reader” strangers.

Or may I reply to such critics: “But, but, but, Susan who betas in Schenectady thought all of that was a great idea?”

[Screen capture of Twitter, June 21, 2020.]

“Beta-testing” new software to find faults is from where the expression has been stolen. Some writer on the net must have thought they could appropriate the word to make it sound like they were being more “scientific” about the craft, and in one respect it has been a roaring success. Given writers are naturally somewhat insecure, it is now cited all over the place as new writers embrace the term and “the process” as constituting “proof” they must now be a “proper author” – which is why we cannot click a writing hashtag on Twitter and not find a new stressed author tweeting something like: “I’ve sent it off to betas! So nervous!”

Chances are having just a few well-known and trusted people read it would be far better for THE QUALITY of the book and for the writer’s unique voice and art.

[Coffee break. Photo by me, June 2020.]

Related has been what I also detect is an effort on the part of some writers and educators to give the impression that an “MFA in Creative Writing” makes you a “real” writer. Of course they would try to make everyone think that: if an author has one, they want to justify it and use it to try to make him/herself look “better trained” than others; and universities are always MORE THAN HAPPY to push that notion in order TO TAKE YOUR MONEY. However, as a former academic myself I wish just to say this once again: Don’t fall for it. A post-graduate arts degree “qualifies” you only to teach a subject on a university level; it does not mean that you are the subject (and in the case of an MFA, will get a publishing contract because of it).

Perhaps such “degree creep” is due to, especially in America, a seemingly perpetually growing “accreditation” culture. We just love diplomas – they, we think, “validate” us. Yes, there are good reasons for some of it (who wants a doctor who has a dodgy education), but government, in demanding a “degree qualification” and a “license” for even the most ordinary of daily business activities (including, in many places, activities such as – yes, really – hair-washing in a salon) is at least accidentally complicit in fostering that perception.

[Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Photo by me, 2019.]

Writing fiction thankfully still escapes efforts at “standardization” and “formalization” and must always. Jane Austen, for instance, spent little time in anything we would now call a school. And those who “beta”-read her pre-published works were mostly her father and other family and, eventually, her publisher.

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