It’s harder to learn to edit your writing than it is to learn to write. As a young writer it’s important to enlist the help of a few well-chosen beta-readers to look at your manuscript with fresh eyes and point the finger at what works and what doesn’t, to help you make improvements.
The best time to use beta readers is after you’ve written the story and are in the process of editing it. Sharing a work in progress is a distraction for a writer. The energy you waste speaking about what you haven’t finished is better spent in the story instead.
And then there’s always the chance than the feedback is negative, which can be discouraging and might even make you give up. Rating literature is tricky. It’s easy for others to misjudge your story, especially while it’s in the first drafts. So I don’t believe in using beta readers before the story is written down.
There are exceptions though. If you have someone who is close to you and who enjoys reading, whether he or she is a spouse, a parent, a brother, or a friend, then you have an ideal beta reader. I don’t have anyone like that, but it’s understandable, since I live in a shadowy attic and write in a foreign language.
“Books are like imprisoned souls till someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them.” ― Samuel Butler
It’s impossible to be impartial when it comes to your writing. That’s why it’s good to have a few friends who can help you out by reading what you’ve written and telling you what doesn’t work. The more literature I read, the more I become convinced that literary genius is not necessarily exuberant creativity but a consistent faultlessness.
Beta readers should love reading. They should like your writing enough that they will approach it with respect and offer valuable advice. Maintaining a blog helps one find such persons, I am told. I have certainly found a few, and they will be the first to meet Oliver Colors, the moonbeamed painter.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to send a (digital) manuscript to readers who are writers themselves, as their opinion will be highly influenced by the style and genre they have embraced. If a professional opinion is needed, then an editor is the right choice, one who you don’t know and who doesn’t know you.
“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gainman
While I look forward to the feedback my beta readers will give me, I will take it with caution. Readers bring to the stories they read their own ideas, and sometimes their prejudices also. As a writer you must have confidence in your writing and believe in it, and not change it easily. You must pick up your sharp pen and poke at the naysayers until they offer constructive criticism, or run away.