How to seek writing help

Seeking help with your writing can be a difficult task – especially if you’re an introvert. And there are right and wrong way to do this, where the wrong ways will only lead you to being showed the door (or shoved through them).

It’s (not) so simple…

First thing to realize when you decide to ask for any kind of help – whether it’s consulting a theme/idea, a scene, asking for beta read/swap, or a critique partner is that you’re asking the other person for the most valuable resource they have: time.

It won’t do any good if the way you do so wastes time at the very start. Thus, there are three crucial things to remember: be polite, patient, and specific. Without those, why should the person give you their precious time when there are many other writers in need of help who have at least some manners.

I’ve seen countless posts in Goodreads groups focused on advice/beta reading that looked like this:

…which tell the reader absolutely nothing. You’re not drowning or on fire, so just shouting “HELP!” won’t do you any good.

So, how to ask for help?

As I said, being polite and specific is the key. Good grammar is also crucial – if a person is deciding between two interesting books, they might lean towards the one in better shape. Bad readability slows the process and awful grammar is a strong hint of a draft that’s not really ready for sharing.

So, what should you mention when asking for critique partner or beta reader?

  • Genre. This should come first – you want readers from your genre because those can help the most. Subgenre will help in popular or wide genres.
  • Length. Rounded to 5k/10k is enough – this is for the reader to guesstimate how much time would it take.
  • What help do you seek. Is your focus on plot, sentence structure, dialogues, consistency…? It can be more of those aspects, of course.
  • The presence/amount of potentially sensitive content (drugs, nudity/sex, cursing, gore, torture, violence…) – you don’t want people to quit your book mid-way through because something puts them off.
  • Blurb of your story. Even if it’s early one. You want the person to know what they’re getting into. And it increases the chance the person responding will be genuinely interested in the story.
  • Timeframe. Tell your reader how fast would you prefer to be done.
  • How to contact you.
  • Optional: State of your story. Are they to be the very first set of foreign eyes? Or is it X-th edit?
  • Optional: a sample won’t hurt.
  • Optional: in what format(s) can you provide the story (*.docx and *.pdf being the most common but some people work with a cloud file such as Google docs)

It seems like a lot but the better you state your intentions, the better chances for getting a beta/CP who you’ll be glad to work with. I’m adding a screenshot of my old beta read request as a better example than above.

You should be able to see the difference.

Be ready to accept (and answer) additional question as well as accept the fact that not everyone who is interested at first will become a beta reader or CP.

Where to ask for help?

Well, that’s quite a question.

Goodreads might be a good place to start, especially if you’re already using it as either writer (though I guess you’d not need an advice in such case) or a reader. Find a group focused on beta reading or in books of your particular genre. When making a request, make sure to read the group’s rules and don’t break them – or risk being given the boot.

Social networks might be worth a try – I’d suggest looking for an appropriate group. I’ve heard Twitter is a place where writers might be hanging out – but I have no experience with social networks myself so that’s a question for someone else.

If you’re seeking specifically for beta readers, then I had some success with the site (and you can read what I think about it here) though you should keep in mind that there are more people in need of betas than people willing to beta read (and this is a fact for any platform). For that reason, willing to return the favor might help – and the two-way process is another chance to grow your skills. Be willing to accept that you probably won’t get far just taking and never giving back to the writing community.

If you seek general advice and not a beta/CP (yet), then looking for blogs written by other writers or Goodreads groups focused on that particular genre might give you the answers you seek.

What to keep in mind

For your own sake, NEVER list any kind of personal information publicly. Unless you want some extra spam, only share your e-mail address in messages that stay between two sets of eyes.

Be polite and friendly – doing otherwise will deer people from helping you.

Share what you know – if someone’s struggling with a problem you faced and overcame, feel free to give them a tip or two, point them towards an article that helped you to solve a problem.

Be realistic. Don’t promise to be able to do a swap in a month if you know you are unlikely to meet that deadline – it’s better to be open about the truth and finish faster than to disappoint your reader. Speaking from experience: a person was willing to swap with me but wanted to have it done in 3 weeks. I told her I’m unable to meet that criteria. She decided to go for it because she wanted a male’s opinion on her story and the delay was acceptable cost for her.

Closing thoughts

For the introverted writers, asking for help can be a trying (and even stressful) experience, especially the first time. Always keep in mind that it’s better to spend an hour writing your request than to deter readers by a messy post done in a minute. Feel free to chomp down a whole bar of chocolate to calm your nerves but make sure you do your best – it’ll pay off.