Beta Readers--3 Questions to Ask
As writers, we all want to write something amazing. We want the reader to emerge into the worlds we created and end with a hunger for more. Whether it’s to entertain, teach, or enlighten, our goals are the same.
So how to do we get to that point? How do we grow in the craft of writing?
An article on the Guilford College website explains one useful method is peer editing:
“One of the best ways to improve as a writer--other than through practice, practice, practice--is by consciously using the criteria of excellent writing to make judgments about what is good in a piece of writing and what is not and then applying those criteria to one's own work.” (http://www.guilford.edu/about_guilford)
Four years ago, when I finished the first draft of “A Light into the Darkness” I passed it along to a few friends. Although getting initial feedback was helpful for me, not all ‘friends’ will give you the hard, honest feedback. When I first started this process, I joined a writing group. Exchanging feedback for feedback, ties into the article above. I not only learned a lot about my own prose, but learned so much more from critiquing others.
However, now that I’m my fourth novel with a loyal fan base following (and not a lot of time to devote to a group), I rely on beta readers for feedback. I’m pretty picky on beta readers. A reader who barely marks up the manuscript, I probably won’t ask them to help me on the next project.
What should you ask of a beta reader?
Honest Feedback—the more a manuscript is marked up, the more potential there is to make the writing stronger.
If it’s a first draft, ask for conceptual editing—Flow/pace, consistencies, characters, descriptions, etc. Someone who reads a lot is a perfect candidate.
For short stories, ask the beta to read the entire piece BEFORE making comments—For novels, read the chapter before making comments.
As the writer, always keep in mind YOU’RE the author. Our natural reaction to ‘bad news’ is to get hurt or angry. My advice is to read through the comments and then put the manuscript away for a couple of days. It’s usually then I realize they are right and figure out what I can do to make it better. It’s not always the case, so if you disagree with the beta (and I suggest you use at least five or more), it’s your call. However, try to see it from their perspective (especially if more than one person points to the same issue).
Some aspiring writers I’ve met at conventions and events, have told me it terrifies them to have others read their work. You might be one of those. But I tell you, once it’s out there for the public, the flood gates of critiques and opinions will come at you. It’s much better to hear it from friends and be able to fine tune it. Even though I have a publisher who does the professional editing, I still work with betas. I want it the best I can get it BEFORE the world sees it.
This step will set you apart from the thousands trying to get published (or self-published newbies).