The Beauty of Beta Readers!

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From dyiMFA:

You’ve finished your manuscript, congratulations! Now what?

After all these months or years spent on your book, you’re fairly close to the material and it can be hard to objectively assess your own work. So, it’s time for others’ feedback.

TIME FOR FEEDBACK

Feedback will help you make the book the best it can be. Just like you’d want feedback on your schoolwork or at your job, feedback on your writing is an important step.

SHOULD YOU ASK FAMILY?

Your mind might jump to the idea of asking your spouse, best friend, or family members. After all, you have access to these people.

This can sometimes work, however, be mindful that:

  •  They care about their relationship with you and may be hesitant to provide critical comments
  • They may not be your target reader and therefore may comment on aspects that wouldn’t be an issue for readers in your genre

The most objective sources for feedback will come from a combination of editing professionals and beta readers.

This article won’t go into details on hiring editing professionals like developmental and copy-line editors. It also won’t cover how to find and work with sensitivity readers. Just know that all of these roles can be really important to the quality of your work. The key is to find professionals that you work well with.

Rather, this article will address a question that a pre-published author asked me: “How do I find beta readers?”

WHAT ARE BETA READERS?

First, what are beta readers? Beta readers are people who read your manuscript before it goes to the printer for publication. The term comes from information technology, where beta testing is used to find and eliminate problems before launching new computer programs.

Beta readers are different than publishing industry professionals whom you’d hire. They’re “ordinary” readers who can point out places where your story is confusing, where the continuity is awry, where plot points are missing or where there are factual errors. Remember though, that it’s unlikely for any single person to find all of these things, so be grateful for any issues a reader finds but don’t expect one person to find them all.

WHEN TO USE BETA READERS

For me, I find beta readers helpful at several stages. Having one or two trusted readers look at an early manuscript can help iron out big issues like plot holes, unlikable characters or action-reactions that don’t make sense. However, they will have to understand that the manuscript may be messy. You may need to get them in the right mindset to overlook any typos or grammatical issues and ask them to focus on the big picture.

Secondly, I appreciate having beta readers after developmental editing and after copy-line edits. The beauty of great beta readers is getting fresh sets of eyes on the work, since you’ll be very close to the material after having been through multiple rounds of edits.

By the way, it’s also validating to hear when readers enjoy the story. Don’t underestimate the joy of getting positive feedback!

HOW TO BRIEF BETA READERS

One key to helpful feedback is to specify what input you want. Your questions may differ at different stages of the editing process. To get honest input, make clear that your feelings won’t be hurt by critical comments. Critique is what you need to make the work stronger!

Here’s are some sample questions you could ask beta readers. Use these as thought starters and customize for your own need:

  • How early in the story did you feel a connection with a character?
  • Which parts, if any, made you feel bored and want to stop reading?
  • Which parts evoked emotion for you?
  • Did anything confuse you? What needs to be clarified? Please highlight the confusing sections.
  • Any scenes that feel authentic emotionally?
  • Any parts where the person’s actions didn’t make sense?
  • Which character(s) were your favorite? Why?
  • Which character(s) did you not like? Why?
  • Did any scene, dialog, or event seem awkward? Perhaps a character does or says something that does not fit with his/her personality.
  • What emotion(s) were you left with at the end? Were you satisfied with the way the story ended?

You can personalize your questions to hone in on a specific area where you think there may be issues, or where you’d like your readers to focus.

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

2 thoughts on “The Beauty of Beta Readers!”

  1. Yes, no, and maybe. I’m on a roll today with responses to absolutes sold by those who want to show there bona fides for being experts at whatever they hope to promote themselves as. Colour me cynical.

    Beta readers can be useful, but I’d argue only for technical stuff where the author has failed to explain or describe something in an unconvincing manner. Otherwise, what Beta readers says can be taken with a pinch of salt.

    Caveats abound. It depends on who the Beta reader is, their agenda, as in are they there to read a story, or to aggrandize themselves as a Beta reader? So many variables.

    Writers practice by writing more and succeed by putting their work out there and seeing what sells. Ignore me, I’m just being crotchety.

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