Hello there my lovelies! It’s Sunday and it’s been a couple weeks since my last post, and for that I’m sorry. Unfortunately, my life has been super stressful and I haven’t felt really motivated to do much beyond what was absolutely required, which unfortunately leaves my poor writing out in the cold. But I’m working on getting back on track, so this week I’m giving you My Two Cents on Getting the Most Out of Beta Readers.
As most of you know, I’m currently working on getting my debut novel published. I’m still holding out a glimmer of hope on a couple of full/partial requests that have been out a LOOONG time, but in the absence of a miracle, I’m also looking into self publishing options. So as I prepare to hopefully publish next year, I’m trying to get my books in shape to send off to editors.
So that means, gathering beta readers to give me opinions on my work.
If you aren’t sure exactly what a beta reader is, take a second and pop over and read one of my older blog posts My Two Cents on Beta Readers which gives you the lowdown on what they are, why you need them, and where to find them. (Just a warning, it’s one of my older ones, so it’s a little wordy, but I promise it’s helpful!)
Today, I’m not going to rehash all that, but what I am going to cover is how to make sure you’re asking good questions, and giving enough information so that you can get the right help on your work.
And the most important (and basically only) piece of advice I’m going to give is— Don’t just hand over your manuscript with a simple question like: “what do you think?” If you do, you’re likely to get a simple comment back—“I liked it,” or “it’s not for me.” This isn’t helpful, and you’ve basically just puffed yourself up more (or deflated yourself if they don’t like it) and your work won’t be any better for it.
If you really want to develop your work, then you need to ask pointed questions about what you think you need help with.
For example, Are you worried it might be slow in some spots? Is there a character that feels inauthentic? Do you worry about your dialogue/character’s personality? Is there a scene/scenes you think might be unnecessary?
I know it may seem hard, and since we’re all trying constantly to get people to like our work, it probably seems counterintuitive to point out its flaws. But ultimately, while betas should be your target reader, hopefully they also have some skills in writing/editing and their help (if you point these things out to them) is going to at least give you some sense of how you can improve.
If your goal is just to get good reviews, you're looking for ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) Readers, not beta readers. And ultimately, ARCs should come right before you’re ready to publish, not while you’re still trying to improve.
Ok, this is already getting a little wordy, so I’ll cut to the chase. Below you’ll find a sample of the questions/comments I generally leave on page one of EVERY beta copy of my manuscript (MS) I send out.
*Note* The bold italicized words are my comments for the purpose of this blog post to explain my reasoning behind each thing/question. The regular text is an actual intro I sent to a beta reader about the second book in my standalone series.
1. I always give warnings (trigger warnings and content warnings). Even if I’ve previously discussed them in email/DM I generally try to leave this in the MS so the reader has it again in case they forgot: Just a couple warnings, it's pretty steamy so be prepared. There are also plenty of curse words, but I don't feel like it's overly crude, and *trigger warnings* sexual abuse is mentioned but not described on the page, infertility/pregnancy issues & death of a loved one
2. I give a general overview of what I hope they will tell me. Big picture items.
I'm basically looking for overall impressions, any plot holes or character inconsistencies you see, and anything that just gives you pause as a reader. 3. This is specific to this MS (but we all know I’m a wordy gal, so this tends to be a theme). I make sure they know it’s a little long (and I know it) and if they feel there is anything glaring I can cut, I want to know that too. Also, it’s a bit long, so if there are any major scenes you feel are unnecessary or draw focus, or anything that feels overly complicated.
4. Again, this example is specific to this MS, but here I include any big picture items I’m aware of, and/or anything other betas have commented about that I want a second (or third or forth) opinion about. I generally try to give them all my concerns/questions in this section. If you don’t mind commenting on the therapy scenes in particular. One beta told me they dragged and I should take them out, and one read a draft without them and said she wished they were there because they helped with the MFCs growth and showed the MMCs flaws. (In this draft, you’ll see a couple parts that are slightly redundant, because I put them in to “summarize” the therapy portions when I took them out. These redundant sections will be taken out if I decide to keep the therapy scenes).
5. This is just my quirk. I tend to edit, so I let people off the hook because some people get sidetracked, so I try to let them know it’s not necessary. Don't feel the need to edit (unless that's something you really love doing, then have at it). I think it’s in decent-ish shape as far as spelling and grammar goes, but it is a draft so there are still likely to be errors.
6. These questions have been called helpful by my betas. They usually all answer them, (even though I tell them they don’t have to) and honestly, they help them know what to look for along the way even if they don’t. But when they do, it sometimes provides positive reinforcement for what you’ve done right too… so I highly recommend coming up with a list similar to this. Finally, feel free to answer these questions or don’t (I included them just in case you want guidance but no pressure).
Do the first few lines/pages hook you enough to make you want to read more, or do you feel like it took you a minute to get into it? (This is a really important one)
When you started reading, did you feel clear on the setting? Throughout the book, did you always know where you were? (Hopefully if they are confused, they’ll point it out where it was)
Was the timeline clear? Did you always know roughly when you were?
Did you feel like the main characters grew and changed from the beginning to the end? (Again, this is part of the “big picture” advice but this is more pointed)
Was anything too predictable? Or too out of left field?
Did the end feel satisfying?
Did any of the characters, even the secondary ones, seem cliched?
Did you feel there were too many characters or did any side characters steal focus?
Did either of the main characters' personalities give you pause or make you uncomfortable?
Were the main characters voices each unique (or did it feel like the same person) (side note, I write dual-POV and it’s important that they each sound like their own person)
Did the dialogue sound natural? Any overused language/words.
What scenes were the most memorable?
Were there any scenes you wish I’d left out?
Did you feel like it was too rushed or too slow at any point?
Did you ever feel there was too much detail or not enough?
Were there any places you felt like you got stuck or that dragged on? Did you walk away at any point?
Anything else I should know?
7. Sometimes the questions are a bit redundant/you get the same answer, but some people need specific prompts to give the information you may need, which is why I have several about characters, several about plot, several about setting, etc
And again, thank you for reading, (8. Remember when you ask for “honest feedback” some people will give it, so be prepared!) honest feedback is really helpful, so don’t hold back! Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to your feedback!
So that’s it guys. Feel free to copy and paste the above outlined sample and adjust it to your specific purpose. I also highly recommend saving a “beta questions” doc, with basic questions you can adjust to each specific MS/reader. If you have a basic outline, you’re less likely to skip it if you feel rushed for some reason.
The worst thing you can do is send a book to a beta with no guidance, because more than half of the time, it will be a wasted exchange. So make sure you ask for what you’re looking for!
And that’s it folks! That’s My Two Cents on Getting the Most Out of Beta Readers. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and give them a direction to look in.
Have a good week my friends!
-Rose Rayne Rivers
P.S. Next Sunday is my birthday! And for my special day, Award Winning author Valerie Taylor is giving me the week off and guest blogging for me! She’ll be giving you Valerie’s Two Cents on Moving from Hybrid to Self-Publishing. Trust me, you aren’t going to want to miss that one, so stay tuned!
Comment below and tell me if I missed anything. What kind of questions do you ask betas?
Also, let me know if you have any topics you want me to cover in the upcoming weeks!
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