Beta Readers

I’m back from a summer hiatus and would like to say that I used the opportunity to jet set around the world in glamorous style but…well, you know…I did get a chance to visit the mountains a few times but we’ve had so much smoke from the recent wildfires that even that experience felt very much on-brand for 2020…

In the meantime, I have been writing and painting – but I’ve also been broadening my beta-reader opportunities, which got me thinking about the whole notion and value of beta-readers. In the past my beta-reader pool has pretty much been confined to friends and family, and, if I’m lucky, co-bloggers here at TKZ:)

By now most of my friends and family have read (and re-read!) many of my manuscripts, but only recently have I begun to look further afield to see if I can get critical input from potential readers. This interest was sparked by a UK historical fiction editorial group who began offering a beta-reader service – which (serendipitously for me) came just after I finished revisions to an old manuscript of mine. What I liked was that these beta-readers will be complete strangers with a love for historical fiction (so they can be as blunt and honest as they like – something I’m never totally sure friends/family are!) and they also must answer a series of very specific questions to help a writer hone in on issues with the book. I haven’t got feedback as yet so the jury is still out on the benefits of the program but I’m excited to broaden my beta-reader reach nonetheless.

So TKZers how do you focus on the beta reader question…Who do you get to be a beta-reader (?) and at what stage in your process do you get them involved? I usually have much earlier input but I’m thinking fresh eyes in this final, just about to submit stage, will be very helpful. What’s your experience been with beta-readers? Mine’s been as mixed as my experience with writer’s groups, some input has been terrific, some not so much…

Glad to be back and looking forward to your feedback on what has worked/hasn’t worked for you all when it comes to beta-readers!

 

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20 thoughts on “Beta Readers

  1. In this digital age, how do you get your ms to beta readers? Do you do it as a PDF or go ahead and create an ebook format? Do you ask questions in advance or wait till after they read it? I’ve wondered about that. On the one hand it’s nice for them to be thinking about certain questions you’d like answers to, but on the other hand it seems off-putting if you want whatever their natural reaction is to the story and you don’t want it influenced by questions. ???

    • I had to put the book in three ebook formats (PDF, MOBI and EPUB) for the beta readers. I find most people now tend to want to read the draft in electronic form (sure makes printing easier!). I like the questions that were posed as they helped focus the critique but they were also broad enough to get a sense of the reader’s immediate reaction. I’ll have to report back when I see the comments and let you know whether I thought the questions worked:)

  2. Welcome back, Clare!
    I’ve got some returning beta readers, but I use my newsletter and blog to request more to expand the group. Some know me only from my books or my blog. I’ve used questionnaires to try to get a mix of those who know my books and those who haven’t read any of them. When I use beta readers–and I don’t for every book–I give them the copy right before I send it to my editor, so if there are things they mention that I think need to be addressed, I can deal with them before my editor sees the manuscript.
    I give my betas guidelines- pacing, characterization, plot holes, continuity, etc. Responses are generally mixed, just as you found, so it’s (as always) my job to figure out which are valid. The comment that mentioning a character’s chest hair peeking above the open buttons on his polo shirt will probably be ignored unless ALL of the betas thought it was gross. You have to separate personal preferences from constructive criticism.

    • Terry,
      It’s always a challenge responding to beta reader and writing group critiques as sometimes there are very specific (weird) personal preferences that you just have to ignore – Like you I tend to favor making changes where an issue is being consistently being identified -shows me there must be a real issue there (like the chest hair being gross:)).

  3. SO nice to have you back, Clare!

    I don’t use nearly enough beta-readers prior to submission. I’m usually racing toward a deadline and don’t have time to spare, but I do value the input from my street team. Not long ago, I expanded my team through my email list. Those who followed through after receiving a free book from my backlist stayed on the list for new releases. Learned that handy trick from Jordan. 😉

    • Thanks Sue – it’s good to be back:) That’s a great idea to expand the be reader list. I don’t think I’ve used beta readers enough at the right time in the process, but we’ll have to wait and see how this round goes to assess the value!

  4. Good and timely post!

    On my last, I sent a .docx of the book to two BRs *after* I made the Dev Editor fixes and got the editor OKs. One BR was on my “street team” (I call them “Founding Fans”), and the other I met in deep discussion of my topic on Quora (I love Quora!). Asked some very general questions but mostly let them just read and make the comments they wanted. Got a couple good inputs.

    For my current one, plan to do the same but would like to expand the BR pool. If anyone here is interested in beta-reading the next installment (short, 50k wds) in my Neanderthal Time-Travel, Time-Slip Adventure series, feel free to contact me. Thanks.

  5. People interested in beta readers should check out The Spun Yarn. They offer an excellent service whereby they match you with three readers (you can specify age, gender, educational level, a few more things) – they read your entire novel and answer a comprehensive set of questions at four points during the reading, then a final series of questions after completion. The owner correlates these for a final report, which is both qualitative and quanitative. I’ve done it twice and each time the report was around 30 pages. Many of my writer friends have used this and found it invaluable for the price which is around $350. Takes about a month to get feedback. These are experienced readers who don’t know you and don’t know each other. I’ve been amazed at what careful and thought-provoking comments they offer, much more substance than I’ve got from writing friends (probably because they aren’t friends and have no need to pat you on the back)

  6. Welcome back, Clare! You were missed.

    I’ve been blessed with generally outstanding beta readers, esp. among TKZ friends!

    B/c I’ve worked with some betas for many years, I know the strengths and weaknesses of each. One is great at catching typos and missing words; one focuses on the big picture; one specializes in fine nuances; several are wonderful about seeing missed opportunities I never thought of b/c I’m too close to the story.

    Each book must stand alone, even though I write a series with continuing characters. For each new book, I find at least one reader who has not read the previous ones. The main questions for that reader: are the relationships understandable? Is there enough groundwork established w/o overloading with backstory? Does this story make them curious to read previous books?

    Clare, you’re so right that blind readers who don’t know you are invaluable for “blunt and honest” feedback. Thanks for reminding me to find more of them.

    • Thanks Debbie!
      I will be interested to see how complete strangers respond to the book versus my usual beta readers. I do think friends and family are so familiar with my style they don’t necessarily pick up on my flaws anymore (too much exposition anyone…:))

  7. I had twelve beta readers for my current work. Several are very close friends who are voracious readers and honest with criticism. Some are acquaintances and others I’ve met through the writing community. They come from different backgrounds and experiences. Since the work was in its penultimate draft, I asked them to ignore any grammar or punctuation errors – my editor would catch those — and concentrate on the story, its flow and emotional intensity. I also gave them a questionnaire to fill out and explained that just telling me they loved the story would be nice, but not helpful.
    About half filled out the questionnaire. The others gave freeform responses. All provided constructive feedback, and I made changes to the book, including one significant one, based on some of their suggestions.
    I like the idea of finding complete strangers to incorporate into my beta reading group for the next book. Having honest feedback is a great gift.

  8. I never really used beta readers because that wasn’t really a thing during most of my career and I trusted my own judgment, but I did work with critique partners and formed criitque partner groups for my writing students. I developed a general list of questions to answer which should work for a beta reader. I’d shorten it considerably and focus on what you are most worried about since betas shouldn’t be expected to do the homework that a critique partner would.

    http://mbyerly.blogspot.com/2017/06/rewrite-and-critique-checklist.html

    And the ethics of being a critique/beta reader

    http://mbyerly.blogspot.com/2017/07/the-ethics-of-critiquing.html

  9. Welcome back, Clare!

    Beta readers are essential to my writing process. I send them a 2nd draft of my WIP and then revise accordingly before sending it to my editor (I’m self-published). I have a “team” of eight or nine, which includes a couple of fellow writers, and a great group of “super readers.” I’m extremely fortunate in that these are either people I already knew or people recommended to me by friends.

    I’ve been writing urban fantasy, but am now working on my first mystery series. I’m doubly fortunate that several of my betas are also avid mystery writers, and I’ve picked up two more, including a former library colleague who I dubbed our branch’s “mystery maven,” because of her incredibly deep knowledge of mysteries and her talent for “reader’s advisory” when it came to the genre.

    Some Indies eschew beta readers and either just work with an editor, or self-edit. I can’t imagine doing that–beta readers are vital in giving me honest feedback, and in helping me see my own work more objectively.

  10. I used betas for the first time this year. Three readers/writers who volunteered to read my 2nd current WIP and answer a few questions I sent them. No grammar, punctuation, or spelling…more flow, theme, believability, and character development. I’d already self-edited several times.

    It was a great experience! They gave constructive input, all of them said, “I couldn’t put it down”, and the main characters were memorable. I’m presently finishing up my 1st current WIP, then will begin revisions based upon their suggestions.

    The experience was almost like a pre-premiere of a movie…it was the spur digging into my flank to press on and make the story better.

    PS: Some of you may remember 1st Page Critiquing it…called No Tomorrows. Y’all were the spur digging into the opposite flank. 🙂

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