Hello readers! It’s a special day for me, it marks the first time my novel is going off to strangers to read. Lovely people (or maybe not so lovely, I’ll let you know when I get the feedback) who have agreed to read my ENTIRE novel and answer a list of questions I’ve prepared for them.
My novel, codename ‘All That Glitters’, has been my constant companion for the last 18 months. We’ve laughed together, cried together and sure, maybe once or twice I might have let my boyfriend read an excerpt of her but this is the first time someone else is really going to get to know her. And it is terrifying.
What are beta-readers?
Assuming you are the first reader of your own work, beta-readers are the next stage of readers and work as your focus group to see what does and doesn’t work in the eyes of readers who aren’t personally connected to you.
When to use beta-readers?
It’s up to you when you choose to use beta-readers though I personally wouldn’t send a first or even second draft. At this stage, the writing is still fresh enough for me to see the mistakes in my own work and be able to clean up the story, cut and add sections and make sure the flow is there. I’m using beta-readers now that I’ve done as much as I can personally and I need an outside perspective to guide me from here. Some people might opt to submit their work to beta-readers after the first draft to gain feedback on plot and help with a ‘developmental edit’, I can definitely see the benefit of this however it didn’t suit me for this specific project. Thewritelife.com also recommends sending your manuscript to beta-readers in batches, so that you don’t use up all your willing participants in the first round and then have no one to show the all important changes to. I feel like this is a good suggestion I’ll utilise in my own editing.
Where to find beta-readers?
Finding beta-readers can be a challenge as you need someone to commit to reading a whole novel in a reasonably short amount of time and ideally know enough about your genre to give an informed opinion. It’s not always ideal but sometimes the best option is to pay somebody, there are freelancers offering these services that can be found via a quick Google search or via agencies and websites like Fiverr. I found my beta-readers on Fiverr, I’m happy with this method as it’s relatively affordable for a student like me, the nature of the website means there’s a clear delivery deadline for the project and the beta-readers have plenty of reviews and examples of work on their profiles.
Personally I wouldn’t consider friends and family to be beta-readers unless you’re lucky enough to have contacts in the publishing industry (the dream!), they’re just too close to you and generally don’t want to rock the boat. The ideal beta-reader is constructive but not scared of being brutally honest, best to fix any issues before you submit your novel to agents.
How many beta readers should I use?
Thewritelife.com recommends 3-5 though I think it really depends on your genre and target market. I’d certainly agree that 1 isn’t enough, though. Writing, like all art is subjective and one opinion isn’t really significant enough to guide the changes you make to your manuscript. However, I feel like if your beta-readers are well versed in your genre of choice and unbiased, two reader-reports is probably enough to guide your next round of edits, as a minimum. I don’t think there would ever be a need or more than 10. Personally, I’ve submitted to 4 beta-readers for now.
Should you request specific feedback from your beta-readers?
Before submitting my manuscript to beta-readers I created a questionnaire that included 16 questions, a mixture of closed and open ended questions that address my concerns but also ask the reader questions about their emotional response to the story. I feel like giving the readers the same set of questions will be a good way to identify common problems or recurring themes. If all 4 readers find something unclear or didn’t gauge what was going on in Chapter Five, for example, then I know I need to change it. What you request of your beta-readers in terms of feedback is going to be dependent on what stage you’re at with your manuscript and what your main concerns are. I think it’s a good idea to get specific feedback on the opening scene, even as specific as the opening line and paragraph while you have the chance. This is as little as an agent might look at before deciding whether or not to read on and it’s your one opportunity to really grab your reader. I’ve asked my beta-readers several opening related questions.
Perhaps I should be celebrating reaching this milestone with a bottle of champagne but there’s no rest for the wicked! I’m already thinking about what I should be working on next and worrying about what my readers are going to think of my work. Are they judging me? Will they like my characters? Will they hate the ending? Will I need to cut one of my favourite scenes? It’s an emotional process and we writers are fragile people- tough on the outside, like marshmallow in the middle!
Writing this novel has been one of the biggest commitments and achievements of my life and I’ve been totally in love with the process. My characters feel like real people, I have actual emotions towards them like love and hate and empathy, it’s something I would have heavily judged someone for saying before but now I’ve actually done it I know exactly what authors mean when they describe this feeling. I always intended to publish this novel traditionally, my goal is to find an agent who believes in my talent and my vision, although now that the time to submit is getting closer I’m actually freaking out a bit. Am I ready for one of the loves of my life to be criticised and rejected? Rejection is an inevitable part of the writing process and I’ve experienced so much rejection over the past year since I’ve started submitting short stories and pieces to journals and competitions. It doesn’t make it any more fun, though.
I suppose the ultimate goal is to make sure ‘All That Glitters’ is the absolute shiniest and sexiest she can be and therefore criticism is a GOOD thing. I just really don’t want to be told I’ve wasted my time and there’s absolutely nothing salvageable in my work, but deep down I know that won’t happen (fingers crossed). I believe in the drama and appeal of my story. She deserves to go out into the world and knock ’em dead!