Newbie word of the Day: Betas- no, not those cute little fish that you can buy at the pet store, but trusted individuals who read your completed novel and offer their advice.
So you did it. You typed those precious words that weeks, months, or maybe even years ago, seemed like a distant dream. The End. You've read and re-read the work from beginning to end so many times you have it memorized. You've done all you know how to do to make it pretty and shiny? But before you start on the amazingly fun (note the dripping sarcasm) process of composing a query letter that will knock those agents off their feet, there's one more thing you have to do.
Get Beta Readers.
What's that? But your mom, your sister, and even your Uncle Bill have read your work and have nothing but wonderful things to say? Yes. I'm sure they do. But like it or not, they're going to be a little biased (C'mon. All our closest friends and family think we're the next J.K. Rowling or Judy Blume-that's why we love them). Not to mention, if they aren't writers themselves, they might miss pointing out some important things that you'll want to fix before you go knocking on the gates to that mystical kingdom of agents--or raiding it with the help of Trojan Horses. (If you haven't seen Renee's Photoshop Friday post with a lovely analogy of this process, I highly reccomend you check it out).
It's terrifying. I broke out in a sweat from the waves of nausea that washed over me as I hit the send button. But I've read the works of the people I'm sending my work to and I know that they will be able to offer me insightful and invaluable critiques that will help make my work the best it can be.
While having Beta Readers is important, offering to be one yourself is also extremely helpful. As you read and answer questions about another writer's work, you'll be able to learn what to look for in your own (not to mention the really cool stories you'll get to read that aren't on the shelves yet!). It's a way to meet other writers and share your knowledge while building friendships and it's an important part of the writing process.
Many little critique groups begin when writers exchange all their works to help each other out. Maybe that school of fish analogy isn't to far off from the truth afterall...