Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
You’ve finished a draft of your manuscript and done all your brain can possibly do alone. You celebrate because it’s readable– one might daresay enjoyable– but you know the time has come to let other’s eyes see your story. It’s time for beta readers.
Use these 5 tips to get the most out of your beta readers and kickstart your next draft.
First, some ground rules.
In order for everyone to be happy, make sure that your expectations are clear.
There’s no “right” number of beta readers, but think about what your goals are. If you need super focused feedback, don’t ask all your FB friends to read your story.*
Find someone who is genuinely interested in your story, not in you. Friends can be good beta readers, but they can also pull punches because they don’t want to hurt your friendship with their observations and that will weaken your book.
Let’s get to it.
1. Know Your Strengths (and Weaknesses)
Assess where your writing is solid and where it needs help, then look for beta readers who good at the things you are not (e.g. if you nail dialogue but action scenes are sketchy find someone who has a good feeling for the flow, placement, and content of action scenes).
This can include genre. I’ve found that the best combination is having all but one of your beta readers be very familiar with your genre. This allows you to be supported and understood within the story’s intended context and be given fresh ideas and voice for your characters, prose, and plot.
If you don’t know what your strengths and weaknesses are, find a preliminary beta reader to read over your story and give you feedback about that first. Then go and choose your next round of readers accordingly.
2. Be Honest about Your Sensitivities
Be real with yourself, if there’s a character or scene that (right now) you can’t stand to hear anything against, communicate that. It doesn’t mean that the beta readers won’t comment on them, but when they do it will be gently which will help you to see their points instead of feeling defensive. This saves books and relationships.
3. Communicate Your Desired Level of Feedback
A broad sweep looking at the themes of your story is very different from *insert comma here*. Communicate what you want the readers to focus on and how intensely– not everyone is going to do line edits without you requesting it.
4. Set Your Timeframe
Avoid the stress of wondering if you’re ever going to get those edits back and give people (reasonable) deadlines. It’s ok to check up on them too– just don’t text them every hour on the hour 😉
Also, make sure your beta readers have the space in their schedule to commit to giving you the kind of feedback that you’re wanting. If someone is really busy, pass on them for now and you can have them read over another draft.
5. Choose a Form of Communication
Do you work better in person or over email? Do you want to be in communication throughout the whole process or just go over the whole thing when they’re done?
A shared google doc is great if you want to be able to see edits as they come. Email is a good way to give updates or summaries. Meeting in person allows for more of a dialogue about observations and edits.
My personal method (when I beta read for others) is after I’ve finished a chunk–a chapter or a whole manuscript, depending on what the writer wants– I sit down with the writer in person and flesh out my shorthand comments. If I can’t meet with them in person, I video chat or call because I like to be able to answer questions and explain larger connections and suggestions in real time.
Abigail signing off to regain some mental energy to beta read.
*In the earlier stages I like to have 2-3 gritty readers who will help me overhaul drafts and when things are more polished, I’ll throw a wider net to get a better overall feeling of how my audience would receive my book.