I finished my novel last year and mid-September is now staring at me, such a nag is the fall when it comes to writing and getting back on track. I mean, seriously. I know I have fifty pages of comments and issues to address before passing my manuscript to my agent.
Since January, I’ve been sorting through feedback from beta readers—volunteers who provided feedback on my book. Also known as superheroes to me. The experience has been all kinds of awesome, as well as terrifying. I’ve had a total of fifteen readers. Their feedback has been invaluable, even if one of my betas hated my protagonist. Regardless, this input helped expose weaknesses in my characters which I have since spent months improving on. Each of my readers have helped sniff out many pertinent issues in some way or another.
Overall, the process of working with beta readers has been smooth and the comments mostly positive. It has identified weak and irrelevant parts of my manuscript that still require work. And work it has certainly been, at times painstaking. But I’m happy to report that I’m almost through the majority of issues…yes, nine months later.
Working with beta readers is important. Below are some things I’ve learned along the way.
- One beta is not enough. Fifteen is a lot! Five betas is a good start.
- Try not to get good friends or family, they’re predisposed to loving whatever you write, no matter how good or bad it is.
- Select members of your target audience, other writers, someone who is not afraid to be honest, and someone who is reliable.
- Find beta readers using social media sites, like LinkedIn or Wattpad.
- Offer format choices: print vs. electronic. Make it as easy for your betas as possible.
- Don’t give your betas a shitty draft. Make sure it’s a polished copy that has been thoroughly proofread.
- Provide your betas with clear instructions of the feedback you’re looking for. A checklist is handy, but nothing too complicated or they won’t do it.
- Try not to be too protective of your work. Don’t take the feedback personally. Remember, you asked for it!
- Set a deadline of when you’d like comments and don’t let it drag on too long.
- Always thank your beta readers. Consider swapping services or giving a small token of appreciation. Perhaps even thank them in your acknowledgements when your book is published!
Remember your goal is to make your book better. You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback you receive, but if you’re getting similar comments, there might be something you need to take a closer look at. No story is perfect. More revisions will always be possible. As writers, we are blind to our weaknesses. Where beta readers aren’t. Like I said, superheroes.
Best lesson of all? It’s not about me. It’s about my book.