By Henry McLaughlin
This week, I want to introduce a valuable tool in the work of self-editing: using beta readers.
Beta readers read and give us feedback on our second draft.
What makes a good beta reader? For me, it’s someone who is an avid reader, a lover of books and story. Being familiar with our genre is helpful, but not crucial as long as they’re comfortable reading it.
They don’t necessarily have to be writers, but again, it helps.
They don’t have to be family or friends. Many advise against using family. I would be especially cautious if you’ve included a relative as a character in your novel. Your reader may recognize them and tell them. The repercussions may not be pleasant … although it might boost sales within your family when the book is published.
I’ve always appreciated a quote attributed to Anne Lamont. “If my relatives didn’t want me to write about them, they should have been nicer to me.”
You can find potential beta readers in your network of writing buddies. I’ve seen some solicit beta readers on Good Reads. I’ve used people in my critique groups as beta readers. A couple of downsides to this are 1) those you don’t choose may feel hurt; 2) those you do choose may be so familiar with your story, they may not pick up issues and concerns as well as someone bringing fresh eyes to your writing.
Besides wanting a reader as a beta reader, I also look for someone I respect and trust to give me honest feedback about my story. I recommend limiting beta readers to three. More than that may result in too much conflicting input. Trying to incorporate everyone could lead to the manuscript being a mess beyond recovery.
When they’ve finished, surprise them with a thank you, such as a gift card to Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Or agree to be a beta reader for them when they’re ready for that step.
Give Them a Focus
When I’ve recruited my beta readers, I send them the manuscript along with specific questions I want feedback on. Here are a few suggestions:
- Does the hero’s character transformation seem complete and believable?
- Where did you get bored and want to skim pages?
- What pulled you into the story?
- What threw you out of the story?
- Are the characters believable? Did any character strike you as particularly memorable? (In a good or bad way?)
- Is the story world believable?
- Does the plot hold together throughout the novel?
- Is the conflict and tension sufficient to carry the story?
This seems like a lot of questions, and we don’t want to overwhelm or disrespect our readers. On the other hand, we do want to give them specific points to focus on. I usually select no more than five questions. They’re based on areas I’m not sure about and need input. But I also don’t want to limit my beta readers. One approach is to include the list of questions and ask them to answer the three to five that strike them as the most important.
Another approach is to point out the areas I’m not sure about and ask them to focus on them. It may be my characters or the plot or the story world. The more specific we can be about the feedback we’re looking for, the better response we’re going to get.
What has your experience been with using beta readers? What did you find most helpful? Not so helpful?
(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, marin, and Stuart Miles.)
Henry McLaughlin explains why using beta readers is an important part of the writing and self-editing process. via @riverbendsagas (Click to tweet.)
Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation and redemption.
Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.
Visit him at http://www.henrymclaughlin.org.
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