Beta Reader Bliss – Or Not

betareaderblissIf you’re serious about becoming a published author, you can’t be afraid to share your writing with others. It’s inevitable that some of them will hate it. You know some of them will love it (and I’m not just talking your mom and best friend).

Some people use alpha readers. These people would see the rewritten first draft before it is edited. I’m not a fan of having all the picky things about my writing dinged. I want people to read like a reader and tell me what worked and what didn’t.

This is what beta readers do. I gave mine a huge checklist. Some of them followed it closely and others just marked the text and commented with questions or impressions they had. Both methods gave me valuable insight.

This marked my maiden voyage into the realm of beta reading, so everything felt somewhat surreal. Since most of my betas were also first-timers (at beta reading), I wanted to offer some guidance.

How I found my Beta Readers

Two of my beta readers are people I know. People who read the fantasy genre and know what they like, what works and what makes a good story.

My youngest reader was a former student. I interviewed him personally after he read the book. He had honest feedback and didn’t just “love” the book because his teacher wrote it. His was my first input and it made me break out the sandpaper so the other feedback wouldn’t hurt as much (hopefully).

A book group I meet with six times per year also took the book (a pre-beta version) and read it to offer their feedback. Since I consider them friends, I wasn’t really considering them beta readers, but I will consider their feedback. The first thing they helped me do was change the order of the opening scenes, making a stronger beginning.

The other four readers I found through WANATribe. This is a social media network for artists, and I have found tons of insight and inspiration by interacting with people here. One of the readers I found here was a professional YA author, one a writer with years of editing and PR writing and the final two: beginners like me. I figured that would offer me a diverse sampling of feedback.

Why I love my Beta Readers

One of my beta readers sent me updates as she read the text. “It took me awhile to understand the setting but now that I’m into it, it’s moving right along.” Comments that let me know it was holding her interest.

At the end, when she sent me the marked up manuscript she asked, “When do I get to read the next book?” I had heard that before from a member of the book group who read it. A good sign.

Cuddly beta readers - have claws!
Cuddly beta readers – have claws!

These people told me the truth. Seriously. One of the readers had something akin to a “don’t shoot the messenger” warning attached with his remarks. Troubled spots were noted and marked. Thanks to the sandpaper I spoke about earlier, I hardly even felt the jabs. After all, this was a story they slaughtered, not me.

Only a few areas found common dislike among nearly all the readers. These things will garner my full attention when the next round of revisions begin. Other things mimicked my own worries. Many good ideas for changing the areas that didn’t work also came to light. This is the sort of truth I needed.

All this honesty means I have more rewriting and revision to do before I’m ready to move on to the polishing phase. Not the news I was hoping for – certainly. On the other hand, precisely the reason I wanted beta readers in the first place. The outcome for my novel: positive.

Most of these betas volunteered to read the new manuscript or other work from me. In the end, that means they didn’t hate my writing or my writing style, which is good news.

Bottom line: this beta reading experience encourages me on my path to publication. I will use beta readers for my future projects and recommend the same for all of my fellow writers (who might be reading this).

If you are a young adult who loves to read fantasy, please use the contact form on my home page to send me your information if you would like to read the polished version of Daughter of Water. Of course, I will want honest feedback. I promise not to make it look like English homework.

Any other experienced beta readers out there? What do you like the most about the beta reading process? Writers: what sort of input do you want from beta readers?

5 thoughts on “Beta Reader Bliss – Or Not

  1. Sharon, this post was so helpful! I’m months away from beta readers, but have thought about it a lot. You said you provided your betas with a checklist of things you wanted specific feedback on—where did you find that or did you come up with it yourself? Would you do anything different with your next round of betas, either the types of people you’d ask, the items you’d ask them to pay attention to/look for in your book, etc.?

    1. Kelly-
      I read several articles about beta readers – what to expect from them more than where to find them. I printed a list of questions from a few sources but I didn’t use those. They helped me start thinking about what I wanted from my betas.
      I decided I wanted them to read as readers – not as editors (although most of them made editing comments as well). I asked about character arc, plot, setting and flow. I thought my setting descriptions (since it’s fantasy) might be weak so I asked several pointed questions about that. I wasn’t sure my characters were authentic so I asked specific questions about each one of them.
      I’m sure I’ll use the same system with my next book. I would like to have at least two readers from my target audience next time. I would like to get input from at least two published authors next time, as well, although not necessarily YA authors. Otherwise, I think the variety I had netted me important information and is helping me make my manuscript much stronger.
      Glad I could be of help. Thanks for stopping by.

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