Sunday, September 27, 2015

Using a Beta Reader


By: Stephanie Burkhart 
You’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to submit your “baby” to several literary agents and or/publishers. Wait! It might be a good idea to have a beta reader look it over first.
 What’s a beta reader? Someone who is willing to read your finished story and give you the feedback you need to ensure your story is consistent, makes sense, and holds one’s attention. They should do it in a timely manner so you can tighten your story before sending it off. A beta reader should be willing to read your work and offer honest feedback on what works – and what doesn’t.
While just about anyone can be a beta reader, be selective in asking. You want to look for readers who read the genre you’re writing in and can offer thoughtful feedback.
You might consider 1-3 beta readers so the feedback is varied. The big thing in asking someone to beta read for you is not to pressure them to do it and stress to them that you want their honest thoughts and feelings. Give them a timeline to read the story and if they can’t do it in the time allotted, let them know there’s no hard feelings. I always show my appreciation with a Starbuck’s gift card. Remember, they are taking time out of their schedules to read and offer you feedback, so thank them.
Provide your beta reader with a list of questions that you want feedback on. Examples: 
Is “Johnny” likeable? 
Did the opening confuse you?
When did you know what the story was about?
Is there a scene that made you sad, happy or angry?
 
Once you get your feedback, than your betas, compare notes, and identify the area you need to tighten up. You might have to rework your opening or add a scene to clarify you main character’s motivation. Be open to making the changes if they make your story better.
For me, it’s about honesty. I want my beta reader to be honest with me. I’ve got to let them know I’ll be okay with their feedback regardless if it’s glowing – or not. If they tell me hero is cold and aloof, and that’s not my intention, I’ve got to be open to receiving that feedback.
Question for you: Do you use a beta reader? How many? How do they help you? Do you take all their suggestions to heart?
Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. Her latest childrens book with 4RV Publishing is “Brady’s Lost Blanket.”  She enjoys coffee, adores chocolate, and strives to keep up with the active boys in her cub scout den. 
Find her at:
https://www.facebook.com/StephanieBurkhartAuthor

27 comments:

  1. I use beta readers, and they've proved invaluable to me. In one case, my beta reader convinced me that I was telling the wrong story, and I went back and completely rewrote the novel with a different main character. The revised version was a far stronger story than the original. I've also had beta readers tell me that I wasn't providing enough context in the opening chapter, or that the opening chapter was the wrong place to start and needed to be dropped.

    I generally wait to submit to a beta reader until I'm relatively satisfied with the story, or until I hit a road block where I'm NOT satisfied but can't figure out where I went wrong, or, alternatively, how to fix it.

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    1. Margaret, thanks so much for sharing. Beta readers are invaluable, aren't they? I also have my work looked over by a beta reader(s) before I submit, too.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  2. Interesting article, Steph. I don't use beta readers as such but my main publisher has a panel of readers and every manuscript has to be approved by them. They give feedback to the publisher and it's included in my editorial report.

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    1. It's always good to have feedback so you can improve in your next story. Glad to hear the publisher has a panel of readers. That's a good way to see if the story works.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  3. I've just had the opportunity to try a beta reader for the first time: a friend's 12-y-o daughter who will read and comment on the label of a sauce bottle if there's nothing else handy! She's agreed to read a pirate-themed children's book for me! :)

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    1. Awesome, Paul! And I think you made a good choice. If you've got a children's story than feedback from children is really helpful.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  4. Thank you for an interesting and useful post, Stephanie!
    I always use beta readers after finishing a novel. In my opinion it’s best to find a beta reader who knows more about writing craft than I do, to get feedback from someone who’s more skilled and knowledgeable than I am. And if I can find a beta reader who has read or written lots of books in my genre( paranormal) and has a clear understanding of how my genre works, I’ve struck gold.
    Best of luck with your writing!
    Carmen
    http://shadowspastmystery.blogspot.ro/

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    1. Carmen, I agree. What makes a beta reader successful is that the reader reads/writes the genre you do. That gives their feedback added dimension.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  6. I have the world's best beta reader. :-) She reads my books. I read hers. And both of us are quite willing to point out what doesn't work or if a certain word has been used 10 times in a paragraph etc. It takes time and effort to find a good beta. Great article.

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    1. Victoria, I agree - it took me a lot of time and effort to find good beta readers and I appreciate them.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  7. Ok, let's try this again. I don't use beta readers typically. For the shorter stories I've published, I tried it. I found it to be an unnecessary extra step, though. My publisher has several rounds of edits, so by the time the books make it to print, they're pretty solid. I do have a couple of friends that I use as sounding boards for general concept though.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Michelle. I think if you can bounce idea off friends, that's very helpful, and I've done it myself, but I usually do it with my beta readers. lol!!

      Smiles
      Steph

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  8. I love the idea of beta readers, they're a huge help to any aspiring writer.
    Sylvie

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    1. Thanks for sharing Sylvie. I agree.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  9. I use beta readers...some at various points in my WIP. There two or three (they change) who I'll ask to read up to a major plot change or subplot shift. Their comments will help me take the right direction. Then I have others (usually four) who will read the entire mss.
    I'm also in two critique groups, so I look for and have a lot of feedback. Beta readers are invaluable.

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    1. Thanks for sharing how you use your betas, Michele. Good ideas. I agree. Betas make a big difference.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  10. I'm an indie publisher, and I find beta readers invaluable as well. I write historical fiction, and they can point out words I used that were not yet coined in the era, social faux pas, things that don't make sense, etc.

    I prefer other authors as betas as they tend to see things regular readers do not.

    My final beta is a grammar/punctuation expert.

    I also post on an online forum where readers are good about commenting. This becomes my "focus group." In my last novel, a romance mystery, their feedback helped me follow the readers thoughts about who was the mole. In addition, they told me they thought my heroine was acting a bit immature, and most importantly, they thought the book ended on more of an angsty cliffhanger than I was anticipating which led me to delay the release.

    I would MUCH rather hear comments from betas and a broad range of readers in a 'controlled' environment rather than be surprised with scathing reviews on Amazon....

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  11. I don't often use a beta reader but I do use my critique group. This is my go-to set of people for help with the story. Then I send it off to my amazing editor who can find any mistakes that I missed.

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  12. I've got 1 critique partner that serves as a beta reader, but I would like to get a couple more to get varied viewpoints. I think they're invaluable. We see our same old mistakes over & over.

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  13. Thanks for the questions to ask a beta reader. I hadn't thought about doing that, but it seems like a good idea.

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  14. Great article! I had 3 beta readers- my dad, my niece, and a good friend. :) All provided insight and were honest. They helped me immensely and provided me with the confidence I needed before submitting to 4RV. Since 4RV accepted my manuscript, I'd say my beta readers were on target with their advice! :)

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  15. Beta readers are invaluable. Who you choose, their skills/abilities to spot issues were important considerations. And another? The group has shifted over the years as I've grown in my craft. The best combination was two family members and a multi-published author in the genre.Adding to the unique mix was someone with newspaper experience as a feature-story writer and editor. She has since gone on to become a multi-published western author. Besides providing a good laugh when a grammar construct went wrong, they were invaluable to helping me grown. So far I'd say they have a 90 percent hit rate. Thanks Karen, Sandra, the Nova Scotian pixie and disorderly wordds.

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  16. I use three trusted beta readers at the most, and they're ones that know the score. It's good to get more than one perspective, and usually they don't always notice the same things. An author should make it clear that being a beta doesn't mean just reading so you can provide a good review, but it's about looking for problem areas that need tweaking.

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  17. Timely information, Stephanie. I judge a lot of contests and have recently been editing some self-published novels. It's so much better to seek help before manuscripts get this far. I firmly believe in using beta readers.

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  18. I have a hard time finding beta readers because I don't know a lot of people who read what I write. My daughter is THE BEST beta reader and is brutally honest. I've also recently enlisted a good friend's two daughters. They read my stuff on their work commute. And my best friend will read for me and give me honest feedback. Usually what I want to know is "does this story work?" and "does it make sense?" and "did I leave anything out?" Beta readers can be helpful but you have to be picky about them. And I've had a couple agree to read for me, but then the never seem to get around to it which is very frustrating, so I definitely won't ask them again!

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  19. I don't use Beta Readers, per se, but I have two people I ask for an edit, who are willing to tear my work apart and give helpful suggestions. If I have a children's story, I try it on children. If I have a book based on Biblical material, I ask my pastor to read it and give suggestions (he's also a published author). I find people who would be the audience for whatever book I need read.

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