Writer In Motion: Week 4

WIM Week 4

Part 3: Beta Readers

Late today with this post! FYI—never try to stack four cakes with a lemon filling layer unless you are prepared to bring a level and a knife to the job! Cakeslides like you wouldn’t believe. But while the messy cake is messily devoured, here’s a post on those valuable taste-testers in the writer’s kitchen: Beta readers.

Beta readers don’t have to be writers. Technically, it would be better if none of them were writers. But let’s face it. Writers are readers, or we should be. And many writers don’t have the luxury of haunting the local bookstore for regulars who buy their genre, and then bribing them with cookies to read a story. I’ve found the majority of my Beta readers through the #writingcommunity, but they can come from anywhere.

From my perspective, I don’t mind if my readers are writers, editors, or don’t write at all. They are all readers, and that’s the operative word here. Don’t give your Beta readers something that isn’t finished, that you just want a quick opinion on, or that you plan to rewrite but you thought you’d see what readers had to say before you trash the whole thing and start over. You might actually want them to read your new version, right? So, send them a story that is as good as you can make it, and if you have a CP to help you with that, so much the better. Send to Betas when you feel you think you’ve achieved your vision for your story. You haven’t, but you should feel you have! When you get the feedback, you will discover how much you missed your mark, and then it’s time for more self-edits, consultations with your CPs, and probably another few rounds of revision.

My criteria for Beta readers is less rigorous than that for CPs.

  • They have to want to read the story. If someone doesn’t really want to read, or can’t read past the opening chapter, that’s good to know, but it won’t really help you find out if your whole book works. Time to read is also important. Don’t tell a Beta they have two weeks to read your book. Give them time. If they say they don’t have time, they don’t have time. Respect that.
  • They have to like the genre. I can’t stress this enough. You may even have to look at subgenre. A person who loves urban fantasy may very well say they love fantasy and put your own battle axe through your chest if you foist your 120,000-word secondary world epic on them. I’m not saying that a person who writes and/or reads outside of your genre can’t be a good Beta reader, but I’ve found that it helps to know that in advance. A romance expert may very well help you in with your romance arc in your fantasy novel, but you’ll know that if they say they hate your magic system, that may not be feedback you can really use.
  • They have to tell me which parts they liked and didn’t like. If they tell me why, I’ll love them forever. If they start telling me how to fix it, that’s fine. But I am unlikely to take their fix unless it’s just really, really spot on. In which case, I might be asking to Beta read for them and start thinking about whether or not that writer—and it’s usually writing Beta readers who can’t help themselves and start trying to fix things—might be a potential CP.

That’s about it.

Filtering Beta feedback is similar to what I did for the general critique round. Rule of three. If three people don’t like something, and I know they aren’t genre haters, it’s probably an issue. I mark it, and if it’s a vision thing (aka—I hate your unlikable MC, and they are supposed to be unlikable) consult with my CP. Don’t consult with a Beta about this, and don’t argue with them. It’s their opinion. Thank them, and if you have a problem with the feedback, talk to your CP about it. It may be too subjective for you to use, or they may have a point that your CP can find and work out with you.

After threes, look at where there is agreement by two Beta readers. If I agree, I will put this in the fix or repair column. Again, filter through vision. If I have two people hate something, and that was my intention, excellent! Particularly helpful to me are these emotional reactions because I view that as my own personal area of weakness. When someone reacts in a strong way to something I wrote, positive or negative, I’m evoking emotion! I did something right! Gold star for me.

Everything else I consider on a case by case basis. If it’s something that bothered me, and one reader picked up on that area too, I would be working on it anyway. If one reader piles on in an area that no one else has trouble with, I’ll probably discard that feedback. It’s not that their opinion isn’t valid. I just find it too subjective to be generally useful.

After Beta reading, and after I look through places that I want to fix, I usually work through the story on my own one more time. I might get a CP involved, especially if it’s a place where I have a vision in mind, and want to be sure I have articulated that vision accurately. And after I’ve revised to the best of my ability, I may ask the CP to read and work with me before yet another revision.


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