After you’ve written your manuscript and gone over it at least once, it’s usually time to ship it out to some beta-readers, to get an outside perspective. If nothing else, they can spot the things that you know about your story that you didn’t actually put down on paper.
There are tons of different techniques, and I’ve got to say, this time around, I’m kinda winging it.
How Many Beta-Readers To Ask?
It has been quite some time since I sent a new, fresh book off to beta-readers.
My first time, I just asked my friends on facebook — before I’d jumped into the writing world. I had RPG game masters, english teachers, family, and readers reading it. I tried my best to mix backgrounds, gender, and age. I sent it out to seven readers and heard back from five. I had in-depth feedback from four and high-level feedback from three (there was some overlap).
Since then, I’ve had plenty of critique partners — writers, looking at my manuscript with a similar lens to mine, that I let loose in ones-and-twos on more polished drafts.
For this beta? I asked a middle-grade writer friend, a YA writer friend, and was pleasantly surprised when a friend working on base during quarantine asked for something to do while waiting out his shift, helping make sure I didn’t *just* have writer perspectives.
Three beta-readers. Not a lot, but a nice balance if they all come through — which mine have. Just in time for me to have a block of time between chapters on that never-ending YA revision of mine.
What To Ask For
The best way to get beta-feedback you can really use is — shock-of-shocks — to ask for it. You know I’ve got my 10 Questions I Ask My Beta-Readers, such as: what works, what doesn’t, and what parts they enjoyed.
No matter what you’re worried about: characters, dialogue, world-building, pacing — now is the time to ask. Have them focus on the parts of the story that you care about.
You can even tell them to skip the line edits, if you want! Make this a developmental round of edits, not a copy edit.
They might not address all your questions directly, but by asking, you plant the ideas in their head before they begin, and it can really help direct their feedback.
Should Your Betas See What The Others Are Saying?
There are mixed feelings on this, and clearly, the answer is to do what works for you.
If you’re still world-building or playing with techiques and things, where you want to almost brainstorm what the story could look like with your betas, a shared document with open feedback might be just the ticket.
For me? I make sure they all have their own private copy, so they don’t know what anyone else is thinking. This way, I know they’re all facing it fresh, with no one else’s pre-conceived notions influencing them.
The choice is yours.
How To Compile Beta Feedback
Some people read feedback from beta-readers as it comes in, addressing stuff immediately with the excitement and energy they get from the fresh critique.
I like to sit on it.
Well, I read the draft letter they usually send with the big picture stuff and let it percolate in my brain. But the read-through and all the inline stuff? That waits.
I like to wait until I have feedback from ALL of my beta-readers. And then, I–
Wait. Let’s be honest here. This is only my second completed manuscript. I need to stop talking about this like I have a process. I sorta did this with my 2 or 3 shorts I sent out, but noo really. I just have “what I did last time” and “my vague plan that I’m stalling on by writing this blogpost.”
So, my plan and what I vaguely remember from my first round of betas, longer ago than I would like, is that I’m going to go through the feedback, chapter-by-chapter.
I’m going to have all three beta drafts and my own fresh-copy open at once. Maybe on separate quadrants of the screen? As I see line edits, I’ll see what the other betas thought, and decide if I want to incorporate them.
On a notepad, or gmail draft, I’ll be jotting down the larger stuff (although, most of that, I’d imagine, is not in-line, but instead in the draft letters they all sent me, that I already read).
I know, all the advice says to skip the line edits until you know if you’re even keeping that chapter, but I find getting the line edits out of the way makes the big choices easier, because I’m not overwhelmed with all the ‘clutter’ of the small stuff.
Last time, I printed the whole thing out, going chapter by chapter, making notes, writing new scenes on the back of the pages of the last draft. I’m debating now, and if I should do that before or after I do the quick line-edits. I almost called them ‘easy’ line edits, but they can be quite challenging. They’re just often smaller changes in scope, not difficulty.
To me? I consider changing wording and adding descriptions, etc, as ‘editing’. While changing pacing, characterization, and other big picture stuff are ‘revising’.
So, after I use their feedback to edit my manuscript, it’ll be time to look at the big picture and decide where to go from there.
How do you like to work with your beta-readers?
Are there any things you’d suggest I do differently? Does something else work for you?
Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be back again, next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.
Let’s see… with Gray Dog, I had several folks read it (including Morgan). If I don’t hear from someone in six months, I’ll write them off.
Bigger: I had an article published in the late mag SysAdmin called Egoless Programming (you can find a link on my website), which was intended for documentation – not how to write it, but how to make it a) accurate and b) such that people will actually want to use it.
Big detail: when asking someone to read and comment, get down on your knees and ask them to rip, shred tear. For beta reading, ask them to pull out a box of blue pencils. If they tell you “oh, it’s so good”, write them off. If their whole comment is either “it’s terrible, you should drown yourself”, or “you should have done the whole story this way, not the way you did”, which is their story, not yours), write them off.
What you do want is what works is great, what doesn’t you need to consider… and you really want to know what snaps their suspenders of disbelief.
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