Beta Reading, West Seattle Montessori-Style

Q: What do you get when you mix a class full of middle school students, a draft of a novel, and a bunch of laptops?

A: The most awesome beta-reading experience ever, that’s what!

So, most of you know I’m working on a YA novel. The reason you know this is because I love to talk to anyone who will listen.Or who won’t listen: I once felt sad for a man who was sitting alone at a movie theater and (please don’t hate me when you read this next part) I moved so that I could sit: Right. Next. To. Him. 

He left.

Anyway, so when I finished my novel’s third draft, I uploaded it to Google Docs and (with the teacher’s permission) shared it with all the kids in my daughter’s middle school class at West Seattle Montessori.


Here is what my Wednesday and Thursday afternoons have looked like:

  • fire up Google
  • read comments from actual, live teenagers
  • make corrections in real time online

It’s been super fun, and there is an amazing synergy from that many kids reading all at once. They respond to each other’s comments, they answer my questions, they give critical feedback. (Teens, as you know, are very good at critical anything.)

What’s in it for me is obvious, but what’s in it for them? (I mean, other than reading my totally boss book, of course!) Well, they get to see the real, painful work that goes into writing and revising a novel. They get the confidence that comes from telling a professional writer (I did get paid $200 once) to add a comma or to give more character description or that two Jon’s is one too many. You can see an example of this in the photo above; the text used to read, “My sister and I open our bedroom doors into the tiny hall outside our rooms. I wait for Emma to pass, then join her at our kitchen table.” The revision is so much better!

This is symbiosis at its best, folks. I can’t recommend this enough to you YA authors out there. I’m so glad God lined this up for me: it’s useful and fun! Form plus function! It’s the pink-handled shovel of writing, I tell you!

Was that last metaphor unclear? Maybe I need to get them to start reading my posts…

(One last thing: keep those contest entries coming! Because, they are hilarious, let me tell you, and they keep me occupied and out of trouble. Winner announced June 10–that’s just one week!)


4 thoughts on “Beta Reading, West Seattle Montessori-Style

  1. You and Aeddan are an amazing couple of souls. First – most teenagers think anything their parents are just learning to do is kind of embarrassing. So for Aeddan to readily accept you and your draft into her classroom is totally AWESOME. Secondly – for you to open yourself up to a room full of brutally honest teenagers is the bravest thing EVER. Teenagers don’t have that “filter” completely up and running that allows for diplomatic criticism versus bare bones criticism. I think, however, that is what is going to make this book a best seller. What a truly great idea, Dawn! You are really something and I love you. I am also very proud of you.


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