My Beta Reading Experience (Part 1)

As Vengeance Will Come is my first novel it stands to reason that I’ve never had beta readers before. In this post I describe what I did, how it worked out (part 1, anyway) and what I’d do differently.

Who to choose as beta readers

Listening to the Writing Excuses podcast it’s pretty clear that the who and why of beta readers varies from author to author. Some authors want industry insiders to beta read and other authors want average Jill-and-Joe reader.

Ideally I was looking for people who would cover off on some of these criterion:

  • could be relied upon to give an honest assessment. Liars, be they ever so motivated by noble sentiment in this instance, will not help me improve my craft.
  • well-read in my genre. Not only do they read a lot, they also read in fantasy/sci-fi so they can compare or contrast, and have some kind of benchmark or knowledge of common norms.
  • people who are likely to provide the most valuable feedback. More than just a thumbs up or down; detail behind what they liked or didn’t like.
  • grammar aficionados. Although I was more interested in the sweeping narrative than the minute detail, I’m also happy for someone to spot errors.

To be honest I didn’t feel like I had an already assembled go-to group. Quite possibly this is something I need to remedy. Maybe some of my time online needs to be spent on genre forums. Decision made: I’m going to try it getting into a few fantasy forums.

Without a go-to group, I just about begged passersby. I did manage to pull together a group of people who were willing read for me. It helps to remember that these people were doing me a favor. They were taking time out of other leisure activities to read a first novel (with all its inherent problems). Good people.

How I managed the Betas

beta readers

In the interest of focusing the feedback I inserted a page at the beginning of the book with some directions for my beta readers. By putting it in the book it meant that it was always available for them to refer to, not something separate in an email that might get lost or deleted.

Inserting a ‘due date’ is also a must. The last thing I wanted to do was leave it wide open. I didn’t want to be delayed by a well-meaning but continual, “I’ll get it to you soon.” I gave my readers two months, which I thought was a reasonable timeline. While setting a date I correctly guessed that it would be pushed out, but at least there were still goal posts. One beta reader returned it super fast and others around the due date.

I also gave my readers an ‘out’. The last thing I wanted to do was harm friendships or make it a heavy chore. Again, generous volunteers should not be abused.

I’ve also heard of some authors providing templates or more structure for their beta readers. I likewise have ideas for a number of tools that I’d like to be able to implement in the future.

I received feedback from only a portion of my beta readers, and I think that is to be expected. Life happens and sometimes unavoidably crushes everything that stands in its way. It’s also a reflection of my choices: I knew some people read less, and in different genres than were ideal.

It’d be naive to think that some readers didn’t just got bored and hit the delete key, too-kind to tell me.

I did intend on sending a reminder email to my betas at the halfway point, but didn’t do it. I didn’t want to harass them. In hindsight a single (or couple of) reminders really isn’t that much hassle and may have increased the number of returns I received.

Going back over the text, I question if it was too early for beta readers; a heinous crime. The goodwill of potential betas shouldn’t be exhausted with three-quarter-baked reads. Choosing and working with beta readers is absolutely a skill that needs to be developed. Beta reading is also a skill (one that I don’t possess myself). Undoubtedly as my skill improves for picking betas, and writing, others will become more interested, improving the fruitfulness of beta reading.

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