Spouses as Beta Readers

So sorry I haven’t been blogging much this week, but I’m hot and heavy into edits on my second book. I finally finished editing the first part enough to have my first beta reader — Superman!

It’s always nervewracking to have someone beta-read your book for the very first time, but I think it’s especially nervewracking to have your spouse read.

I get more nervous about Superman reading my manuscripts than anyone. I just want him to like them so desperately, and I worry he’s going to think they’re corny or too over-the-top, or raise his eyebrow at the love scenes, or … I don’t know. I just get really nervous.

So I’m working hard this week to give it one last polish as I feed him sections. So far I think he’s on Chapter 7. … And he keeps asking for more, so I think things are good. 

How about you? Do you let your spouse beta-read for you? Does it make you unbearably nervous?

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15 thoughts on “Spouses as Beta Readers

  1. a topic very near and dear to my heart.

    when we were still dating, my wife (also a writer, and a far superior one to me at that) and i devised a hard-and-fast rule about editing or beta-reading the other’s fiction: never, ever, ever.

    we made the rule when we were dating because we didn’t want anything about writing to interfere with our relationship. the rule is that you can read anything the other has written, but only for pleasure and no workshopping or critiquing allowed.

    we’ve broken that rule once, when she was turning in a story for an anthology and was in desperate straits. otherwise, we know that even comments offered in the most-constructive spirit possible can be taken the wrong way. alternatively, how objective can a reader be when the writer is your spouse?

    i guess it’s not that we’re worried about the other person liking it, but that we just don’t want to mix business and pleasure, so to speak.

    that said, every couple is different. there are plenty of well-known writers whose first reader is their significant other. more power to them, but it ain’t for us.
    bookfraud´s last blog post ..More Matter With Less Art

  2. Hi, bookfraud! Excellent and thought-provoking comment. You introduce a whole new level of concern that I don’t have — if your spouse is a writer, too. Holy cow. I’ve often wondered how writer-couples handle such things. I was always fascinated with the fact that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne used to (I heard) read each other’s material, and I remember thinking, wow, how do they do that? The level of competition there seems beyond my comprehension. I don’t think of myself as person who is often filled with envy, but the ONE thing I traipse down the ugly road of envy about is writing! So the idea that I could have a spouse that might provoke that awful trait in me seems really terrible. (I don’t think I ever could have married another writer!)

    That said, your solution with your wife makes perfect sense to me! I think that’s a terrific solution — enjoying and supporting each other’s final product, but stepping out of the process.

  3. We absolutely read/edit/comment on each others work. It’s done with respect, and we each know the others strengths and weaknesses. I know that spelling has never been my strong point, but she is. She isn’t much of a wordsmith, but I’m better at it than her. When she corrects my spelling, it’s done respectively. When I offer another way to get her point across, she’s very receptive. All suggestions must be done with love, or it just doesn’t work.

  4. My wife is my primary beta reader for a number of reasons: she’s a voracious reader, she writes (in my opinion, much better than I), she won’t pull her punches with me, and I can divorce the criticism of my work from her opinions about me. You need all of these things if your spouse is going to be your beta reader (with the possible exception your spouse also being a writer). Of all of these, the most important quality is the last one. If you don’t have a thick enough skin to hear criticism from the person you share your bed with, it’s not worth risking your marriage over. Find someone else. For me it works.

    Much like the now defunct E.F. Hutton, when my wife speaks, I listen. I may want to dismiss her advice at first, but knowing the abilities of the source, I always go back and look hard at what she’s trying to tell me.

  5. I would love for my husband to read my stuff, same as I’d love anyone I respect and love to read it! But for actual feedback, I turn to readers and editors within my genre, and that’s not my guy. So no, he doesn’t read any of it, and that’s ok by me. Probably keeps my writing unaffected. The more specific people you have in your head when you’re writing, the harder it is not to get sidetracked by their likely reactions to the work.

  6. This is always a tricky one. My husband is often one of my beta-readers, but I don’t go to him first. Eventually, he’ll ask about what I’m working on and I’ll let him read it. I am nervous about his reaction, for many of the reasons you mention, but we also have very different perspectives on literature so that helps me mediate his responses.

    And I definitely agree with Nancy’s comment that sometimes it isn’t a good idea to get too many opinions on a certain peice of writing, because getting sidetracked is a huge risk. Everyone will want you to do something different, which isn’t always helpful. I tend to think its best to have a select group of beta-readers who already understand your style and are hardcore editors/readers.

    Good luck on your editing this week, I can’t wait to hear how it goes and if you need another reader, you know I’d love to. Have I read this one already?
    verbivore´s last blog post ..decided!

  7. I haven’t written a lot of fiction but what little I have written always gets the once over by Johnny. I don’t think it makes me nervous but I am always hopeful that he will like what I’ve written and think it worthwhile. He also looks over anything else I have to write, letters, reports, resumés, etc. He often has very good insights into my professional writing since he was in the same business before he retired and I rely on him heavily.
    Jersey Girl´s last blog post ..Youth is Wasted on the Young

  8. My wife and I do read each other’s writings. She has an excellent sense of grammer and punctuation. I rely on that. And since I was in the business of selling, I learned how to write sales material, ops manuals, maintenance manuals, product descriptions, pamphlets, brochures, proposals etc. Some of these took on the size of a modern day novel. So it was good to have someone close to me review them.
    I think the thing that I like here Mizwrite is that this is now more than one book by you. I think it is going to be super exciting to be able to say “my daughter in law, the authoress, she has books out”. (is the comma correct?) You make me proud….

  9. Todd and Souzawrites — Very cool that you both can have your respective wives read your work and “divorce the criticism of the work from her opinions of you.” (I like that line!) Has there ever been anything you found impossible to share, though?

    Nancy — So true about the dangers of having specific “reactions” (from specific people) in your head! It really can affect your work and quite possibly make you less honest. Interesting. … But I never knew your hubby didn’t read your work!

    Verbivore — Sweet that your husband asks what you’re working on and you can casually let him read it. Sounds like you’ve found a good balance with him — having him read for you, but knowing you’ll need to couple his response with what you know of his own literary likes. Thanks for the wishes and offering to read — I’d love to take you up on that! I don’t have an ending yet (hubby is being especially kind about reading a book with no ending!), but when I do, I’ll be sure to holler. I always feel bad about asking you because your writing is so literary, but if you want a frothy read, I’m your gal! 🙂

  10. Jersey Girl and Johnny — So sweet how you two support each other! It’s great that you can share your skills and help each other with your writing. And yes, this is my second book, but neither is “out” yet, so please don’t hold your breath! : ) This writing is a long, long business, I’m finding!

  11. I never mind a frothy read! And you always have good stuff for me to look at in terms of structure and pacing, so never mind the literary qualifier. Good writing is good writing, period. I just got your email too, so exciting that you’re almost done with this book.
    verbivore´s last blog post ..Nadine Gordimer – The Pickup

  12. Wow, I’m going to have to come back to this post and read it when I need a pick-me-up because you’re all too kind!

    Verbivore — Since I admire your gorgeous literary writing so much, I take that as quite a compliment. More thanks than you know. …

    And Jersey Girl — Thanks for all the support and cheerful cheering-on. It’s so helpful to have encouraging family and friends!

  13. You know, it’s kind of sad, but I can never even let my darling dearest know what or when I’m writing. Many of the tales I chronicle these days are about the trials and tribulations and hilarity of cross-cultural family life. He would not take lightly to my using his family sagas as grist for my mill.

    My first husband was (and still is) and English professor who would have loved to have read my writing (you remember Tim, Laurie). But, strangely, I found myself without much to say during that time.

    Now, I’m married to an engineer from Romania and I have more than ever to write about, but I dare not ever let him learn that I write. He knows my degree is an MFA, but I still resort to cloak-and-dagger, clandestine activity and only pass my stories around to limited audiences with great stealth lest he ever suspect I’ve touched a keyboard against the strangeness that is his family.

    One short example, for crying out loud, they wanted to keep the dead grandmother’s body in their house for at least 48 hours before calling the authorities to alert them of death — here in Memphis, TN. It ended with me being called a “she-devil damned to the darkest ports of hell” (such alliteration) for calling the police and then my father-in-law chest-bumping a very huge and very Southern Sherriff. Yeah, that’s never a good plan. Then finally my pleading to said officer not to arrest my F-I-L, but rather to figure out how to get an Orthodox Priest to the house to pray the soul out of the body within 30 minutes. How can you not find the humor and the story in that? And I don’t even have to be that inventive. I just have to become a verbal documentarian. Alas, my darling can never learn my darkest secret. I write.

  14. Oh, Shea!!! I will be first in line to buy your book! : ) We’ll come up with a romantic pen name for you, and your secret will be safe with us. (I laughed out loud at your “she-devil damned to the darkest ports of hell”! I can just hear you saying that!) omg, you MUST write.

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