Finding and Using Beta Readers
Updated: Jan 3
The First Time
So, you know that feeling, when you hand your manuscript over to someone to read for the first time, where your tummy does cartwheels and you’re positively convinced they’re going to hate it? Yeah, we all feel like that the first time!
I am exceptionally fortunate to have a group of six wonderful friends who are only too happy to rally around me and coax me along my writing journey. The very first time my friends gave me feedback on my first ever draft, they were so sweet and diplomatic and it took a long night of persuasion, and a few glasses of wine, to have them be brutally honest with me. But once they realised how much I relished their feedback, they gave it more freely and I was able to take their loving critique and grind off the rough edges of my work and fill in the gaping plot holes.
My friends’ belief in my writing gave me the confidence to expand my beta group to include family, ex-work colleagues and new acquaintances met online. Fresh eyes with fresh perspectives – such valuable critique that continually improves my manuscript.
Most wonderful is my beta readers’ investment in my characters, all vying for their favourites. This is integral to helping me maintain my characters’ personalities consistently. There is nothing like someone pointing out that, ‘He would never allow that!” or “That’s not like her to say something like that!” for me to appreciate how devoted my readers are to my characters.
My beta readers push me to enrich my characters’ lives by demanding to know more about their back stories, to understand why they are like they are. And if I get side-tracked with other characters, someone always champions for their favourite character to be involved as well. My story grows all the richer for it!
Even more amazing to me is the time and dedication that perfect strangers put into critiquing my book. I will be forever thankful for their selfless consideration to help me. They don’t need to do it. They don’t get paid to do it. They choose to do it! It’s a truly humbling experience as a new writer to have others invest themselves in your writing.
When people give so selflessly of themselves, it’s only natural for me to give back. To thank my local beta readers, I host Book Club every few months where the book we discuss is the latest version of my manuscript – I shout Thai take away for dinner and provide the wine. A small investment for a huge reward of fellowship, support and invaluable feedback.
For my distant beta readers, I try to give them a sneak peek of a re-written paragraph or chapter that they provided feedback on to show them how much I value their input and advice. Oh, and I do try to weave their name into my story somehow too as a tribute (though this doesn’t guarantee their character will end up a goodie or stay alive – mwahaha!)
For fellow writers who critique my work, it is only fair I offer reciprocal critique on theirs, if they wish.
Receiving critique can be a bitter pill to swallow but if you trust your beta readers, it goes a long way to helping you hear their critique without the sting. My beta readers have a variety of occupations and experiences, which is wonderful for providing diverse critique: some aren’t avid readers, others inhale a book in a day; some don’t naturally gravitate towards historic fiction, one is a qualified historian; and some can spot gaping holes in my timeline, while others are more intuitive to my character’s emotions.
With so much diverse feedback, I have a little trick to decide what I use or not. My rule of thumb with feedback is: if one reader points out one aspect they don’t like, that is an opinion; if two or more readers point out the same issue, that’s my cue to address and rectify it. Far from being disheartened by loads of feedback, I just chug away at it systematically, ticking off each item as I address it. Yes, this sometimes requires lots of re-writing and re-structuring but it’s all in aid of helping me improve my writing and making my story sizzle, ooze and pop goodliness!
How To Get The Best Out Of Your Beta Readers?
If you are considering becoming a beta reader or you are wondering how to extract the best feedback from your beta readers, I suggest using this Beta Reading Worksheet (https://jamigold.com/2014/08/introducing-the-beta-reading-worksheet/) from Jami Gold (https://twitter.com/JamiGold).
Looking For Beta Readers To Read Your Work?
On Twitter, search hashtags:
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Writing can be a long and isolating process but with the right kind of people around you, it is an incredibly rewarding one. For the best experience, build your tribe, gather your supporters and help out others in the writing community.