I have done a lot of beta-reading this past year, and in turn, I’ve had people read my own work. Nothing is more essential in the early stages of a manuscript than its beta readers, so if you have a collection of reliable readers, you should do everything in your power to hold onto them. Below I’ve amassed a series of points that I think are important to take into consideration when you ask people to read for you.
- ) Do not give them a first draft. The first draft is crap. You can write the first draft, edit the hell out of it, and then share it with your readers. And that’s okay. Because, by then, it’s no longer a first draft. But do not give away a draft you haven’t even bothered to edit yourself. That’s a waste of your readers’ time. If you’re desperate for someone to read your manuscript after you’ve completed it, then find an alpha reader to go through and do a developmental read-through while you have the manuscript in its “resting” phase.
- ) Offer your beta readers a list of points you want them to focus on while reading. I personally love when authors do this. This redirects the attention of your readers to areas you’re unsure about. Want to know how the reader reacts to a certain character? Want to know if a particular scene is working the way you want it to? Specify those questions throughout your document or in a separate attachment.
- ) Let your reader form his/her own opinions. This means don’t bombard your readers with your (very biased) opinions of your work before they’ve even gotten to read it. Send out your document with your focus points and then thank them for their help. Don’t tell them what to think. Don’t tell them what you think. Don’t tell them anything. That defeats the purpose of having beta readers in the first place.
- ) Give the readers enough time to read the novel. Your beta readers are probably just as busy as you are, so be considerate of what you’re asking them to do for you. Plan your beta reading around your own deadlines while keeping in mind the schedule of your beta readers.
- ) Accept your beta comments with grace, even if you disagree. It’s a given that you’re not going to agree with each and every comment you receive. It’s a given that occasionally comments may ruffle your defensive feathers. Your beta readers know this. If you have questions about a specific comment, then you should certainly ask, but don’t argue over or criticize feedback. They didn’t have to read your manuscript. Their time wasn’t compensated in any way by helping you. Squelch your ego, thank them, and move on.
- ) If you’re under an agreement of mutual exchange, honor it. If one of your readers is also a writer, then it’s polite to offer to read their work in exchange. If you are in a critique group of some kind, then you should give back what you get. Don’t be that writer who never returns the favor.
In conclusion, make beta reading a pleasure for your readers and you are one step closer to making your manuscript shine before getting it out to the world.
I’d love to know what you all think about beta readers? How have your experiences been? Do you have any specific way of going about it? Let me know in the comments!
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All great suggestions. I have read many friends’ manuscripts, and they’d done the same to me. I’m not brave enough yet to have my beta readers being civilians (aka non-writers) because they don’t understand the process.
Yes, it’s great when the mutual exchange works out! I have a couple friends in the civilian world who I trust to read for me. If they can give you the right kind of feedback, it can be really useful — from the reader’s perspective. But yes, those are more difficult to find.
I’m sure you’re right about civilians, Michelle, I just haven’t found them. That’s okay, I have an AWESOME setup. I write my first draft solo, then take chapters weekly to a critique group. There are THREE other traditionally-published authors. After that round, I go through it a third time, THEN I send my whole book out to some beta readers. It works beautifully.
Thank you so much for #1 especially! Beta readers are not, IMO, to help you develop your story. You should already have that sorted out before giving it to anyone to look at!
I definitely agree. Alpha readers, developmental readers — those kind — can help in the development stage, but by the time it falls into the hands of the betas, it needs to be a fairly solid story. Something they can work with.
The problem with giving out a first draft is that too many things may change in the revision, rendering the readers’ effort ineffective. And also requiring that they read it again and again, which will burn them out.
Thanks for letting me know your thoughts!
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