If You Want to Write, You Have to Be Read
If you want to be a writer you need to fulfill a bunch of requirements. Love to read? Check. Have a strong grasp of grammar and spelling? Check. Critical thinker? Check. Self-motivated, like working alone, and willing to put in long hours? Check, check, check. The biggest requirement for being a professional author? Allowing others to read your work.
Yes, you read that right. You might be thinking, “Well, yeah. Of course I want my work to be read. That’s sort of the point.” I don’t mean having legions of fans that buy your books and wait for you to update your blog. I’m talking about the alpha and beta readers that give you honest critique of your work.
When you’re starting out, letting people read your work is scary. It’s easy to hear “I don’t like you” when someone says “I don’t like this story.” It’s hard to take criticism of something that took a year or more to write. It’s tempting to have your mom read your book and let her tell you it’s the best novel she’s ever read. Unless your mom is a professional author herself and you can take honest critique from her, don’t.
An ideal alpha reader needs to be a fellow writer. It’s helpful if they’ve been at it longer than you have. It’s also great if they’re writing the same genre as you, but it’s not a necessity. You’re looking for someone who can poke holes in your plot, tell you where the pacing is off, and let you know when dialogue sounds forced. You should trust them to honest without being mean. And you have to be able to accept their critiques and suggestions.
Beta readers—folks who read your work after the hard edges have been rewritten away—don’t necessarily need to be writers. They won’t give you details critique on craft, but they will tell you if they liked it. They’ll tell you where they got bored. They’ll let you know if you got some details wrong or if events don’t make sense. Their input is invaluable.
Let’s face it. You don’t just want to be a writer. You want to be a good writer. That can only happen if you allow others to read your work and then listen to their feedback.
About the Author
According to family legend, Kelly Swails learned to read by perusing Archie comics at the age of three. (She loved Jughead the most.) As a child she would read anything with words—magazines, books, comics, cereal boxes. She wrote her first bona-fide short story in sixth grade, about a feminist and a misogynist watching the destruction of Earth from their spaceship. After that foray into SF, she tried her hand at mystery, horror, and teen romance. Her medical mind pulled her into clinical laboratory science, but she continues to write short stories and YA novels. She has been published in numerous anthologies. Visit her website at www.kellyswails.com.
Kelly has a story coming out in the Coins of Chaos anthology from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, due to be released in October 2013. She also has an essay coming out in Chicks Dig Gaming in November 2013.