Having recently completed a twice revised version of my first novel (Woo hoo! The first draft is finished!) it’s time to submit the work to some beta readers. If you’ve never heard of this term before it probably conjures the image of the aquatic version of the word.
Beta readers are actually a test audience. They read the manuscript with fresh eyes and point out issues that the writer, who is too close to the thing, couldn’t see.
Speaking as one undergoing this process, it can be a nerve wracking time, but better to have some caring beta readers shine a light on the weak spots than hear them through scathing reviews from strangers.
Some important qualities to look for in a beta reader?
- Honesty—If they’re too afraid of hurting your feelings (or getting smacked), they can’t do their job. Time to toughen up. Defensiveness is not okay during this process.
- They’re book lovers—They’ve got experience seeing a finished product
- They read your genre—It’s hard to evaluate a story if it’s not their cup of tea
- Willing to give a full analysis—In essence, willing to submit a complete review. “I liked it” is hard to make new revisions by.
- Can’t be related to all of them by blood or marriage—Goes back to the first quality
My husband is one of my beta readers but since I’m married to a Dutchman, culturally speaking, I know it’ll be a straight forward review. This is key to the entire process, as is the importance of “listening” when the reviews come in and not “defending” the manuscript as it is now. No one’s first draft comes back as perfect, and that’s okay. I can’t think of a product out there that doesn’t go through a test kitchen first.
If a face-to-face is too much, try sending the manuscript along with some accompanying questions. You can go over the answers later…trembling in a dark corner, clutching a box of tissues. Just kidding! Questions will help beta readers focus their review too, especially if they’re new to the gig.
Here’s a great article for a list of beta reader questions: http://killzoneblog.com/2014/06/15-questions-for-your-beta-readers-and.html
After the next round of revisions it’ll be time to send the book on to a freelance editor who I’m sure will really rip into my baby. This is why they say writer’s need an iron exterior. Rhino skin—Activate!