Thursday, June 22, 2017

You need beta readers!

We writers have a hard time recognizing our weaknesses or mistakes. We know what we want to say and believe we do so in the best way possible—but sometimes details in our minds don’t make it all the way to the written manuscript.

And some of us are weak on grammar, or story arc, scenes, openings, endings, writing with clarity, using dialogue, creating suspense, fleshing out key characters—and any number of other aspects of good writing.

We need beta readers! They let us know what works and what doesn’t in our manuscripts.

Mark Coker recommends we enlist between 12 and 30 beta readers. “You want readers who represent your target reading base, but you also want some diversity of opinion, so it’s okay to include readers who generally don’t read your category.”

Here’s another interesting tidbit from Mark: “…We found that the best feedback came from complete strangers who weren’t afraid to offend us.”

He offers several practical tips, for example: 

  • We can recruit beta readers on Facebook, Twitter, and other online groups.
  • We can ask our potential beta readers to pass the word on to their friends, “to create extra degrees of separation and to expand your readership.”
  • Use Google Forms to make applications for potential beta readers.
  • He shares a sample paragraph to use in the form’s introduction. 
  • Mark says, “before Google Forms, we provided readers with printed questionnaires within a printed manuscript. We placed questions after key chapters, as well as at the end…. Today…you can accomplish the same feat digitally by inserting hyperlinks to different Google Forms within key points of your book…[or] simply provide a final questionnaire at the end.”
  • Thank each beta reader with a personal email.
  • We don’t have to agree with or use all the feedback we get.

Don’t miss the resources in Mark Coker’s post, Making the Most of Beta Readers.

In Introducing the Beta Reading Worksheet, Jami Gold offers important tips, too. She works with fiction writers but her advice on beta readers applies to memoirists.  

  • “…Many of us find beta readers by offering to exchange our work with other writers in a ‘I’ll give you feedback if you give me feedback’ arrangement.” That way we offer our services, rather than money, for their services.
  • Jami describes A Bad Beta Reader,
  • and A Good Beta Reader, along with recommended “critique phrases” to use—don’t miss them!
  • What If We Don’t Know What to Look For or Ask About?
  • She also shares links to her Beta Reading Worksheet.

“I like to think of beta readers as sort of junior-grade editors,” writes K.M. Weiland. “They’re not full-fledged, bona-fide, paid-and-professional types…. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less savvy—or any less important.”

In her article, Why Non-Writers are the Best Beta Readers, K.M. says we usually recruit writers to serve as beta readers because they know the specialized aspects of writing well. But she warns us not to overlook non-writers.

She raves about the feedback she got from two non-writer beta readers. “I received two whoppingly good critiques… from non-writers…. Both …brought up concerns that my writing beta readers didn’t….”

Read K.M.’s post, Why Non-Writers are the Best Beta Readers, including her list, How to Choose a Non-Writing Beta Reader.

Kathy Pooler writes, “I value this beta reading phase and am very grateful to beta readers who volunteer to take time out of their busy schedules to provide me with their honest feedback and guidance….

“The beta reading process can be grueling because you want constructive feedback, but not everyone will agree with the content or quality of your writing and it does sting. However, I’d rather find this out before rather than after publication. I have learned to filter out the feedback that makes sense and disregard the rest. I try to keep an open mind because what I want most is to present my story in the best possible way.”

Click on Kathy’s Seven Tips for Hanging On To Your Voice Through the Editing Process to learn what we all need to do well: process feedback from beta readers and various editors.  

I hope you’ve found help from these recent posts on beta readers.  

Have you started lining up your beta readers?
Do you have tips to share with us?

Leave a comment below or a message on Facebook.

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