Before I had finished the third draft of my manuscript, I kept it from view in much the same way a vampire would shy away from the sun. Whenever someone would walk into the room, there would be a lot of hissing and flailing of arms attempting to protect the work in its infancy.
There came a time though, when I knew I needed fresh eyes on it. I knew the book wasn’t perfect, far from it. But I was at my wit’s end at figuring out how to make it so and, quite frankly, I was sick of looking at it.
Handing my manuscript over to my beta readers was not as daunting as I expected. I’ll admit, the first time I hit ‘send’ there were a few deep breaths and a bit of nail biting, but then it was a matter of sitting back and waiting for the feedback.
If you’re at the stage of looking for some beta readers, then here are my top six tips for you:
1. Ask friends/family as well as other writers but CHOOSE WISELY!
I find the idea of asking another writer to read my work incredibly daunting. If you feel the same, choose one or two friends or family members to read for you. If they love you enough, they won’t be judging you while they read (hopefully!). But it’s important to make sure you choose those who will give you honest feedback and not just tell you it’s fabulous because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings.
Eventually, you’ll have to hand your work over to another writer though. They know what they’re talking about, or should do, and should be able to give you the technical, structural tips you need.
2. Choose people from a variety of backgrounds
I didn’t do this intentionally. But as I’ve started receiving feedback, I’ve realised my readers bring a wealth of experience to the table which will benefit different aspects of my manuscript.
For example, one of my readers is a high school teacher. He gave a lot of structural advice about things I’d been struggling with, ultimately improving the flow of the story. He is also a bit of a grammar nazi. Not important at this stage, I know, but it saves a red face when others read my work.
Another reader is a voracious romance reader, though not in my sub-genre of small-town contemporary. This meant she was focusing on the relationship between the main characters and the ‘dirty deeds’.
The next reader I did approach because of her background. As a writer of a story set in a small rural town, though never having lived in one, I wanted someone who could critique this area of my manuscript. I made contact with a reader from the town that inspired my story (see my post on How setting became my muse) and got some great feedback from her in this area, though she also proved extremely valuable in giving feedback on my characters.
My next reader will be my writer critique partner. Eeek! Wish me luck!
3. Prepare questions for your readers
Think of areas where you are struggling or where you want clarification that you’re on the right track and jot down some questions for your readers. Think of plot, character development, setting, etc. This will not only give them some guidance if they’ve never done this kind of thing before, but will get you the kind of feedback you need.
4. Ask for positive as well as constructive feedback
Although it’s important to know where you’re going wrong and where you need to improve, it’s equally important to know what you’re doing right and where you’ve impressed readers. Those positive comments will give you the motivation to keep going and help to steer you in the right direction with the areas that don’t work.
5. Categorise your feedback
Remember that the feedback you’re getting is only one reader’s opinion. Don’t take everything as gospel. If, however, every reader is mentioning that the scene in which the cat manages to overpower the flesh-eating zombie is totally unbelievable and utter crap then you might need to take notice.
I’ve found it helpful (for my own sanity) to categorise the feedback I’ve been getting. So far I’ve found most comments will fit into one of four categories:
Yes! That’s the answer I was looking for! This is where readers identified those issues I’ve been struggling with and their feedback has given me clear ideas of how I want to address the problems.
Bloody good idea! I’ve loved getting feedback about issues I hadn’t considered a problem, but I can see how they will improve the story.
Nah, that won’t work. Sometimes a reader will mention something that I know just won’t work or readers won’t be interested in. This is where you need to remember one reader’s opinion doesn’t always count.
Haha! You have no idea what you’re talking about! Occasionally a reader’s background or experience will influence their feedback. For example, my male beta reader was confused by my heroine having “heat pooling deep in her belly” when confronted with her hero. Hmm, guess you’ve gotta be a chick to understand that one!
6. Collate your feedback
As you start to receive feedback from your beta readers, it can all get a little overwhelming. The are so many comments, covering so many different aspects of your manuscript. Where do you start? How are you going to tackle yet another draft?
I need to see all the information in one place to get a clear idea of what I need to change. Below is an image of what I have in mind or you can download the Word document here. If you have another way of collating your beta reader feedback, feel free to mention it in the comments below.
GOOD LUCK with finding your beta readers. I hope you’ve found this post helpful.