Writing a novel isn’t the hardest part; it’s the entire process that can be time-consuming. Editing takes up the biggest chunk of time because it’s more than spell checking and grammar. It’s also getting feedback. Reading your work to yourself isn’t enough. Having additional eyes on our work is one of the most valuable aspects of the editing process.
Good beta readers and critique partners can be hard but not impossible to find. Luckily, social media has opened up a great window of opportunity for writers to connect. Twitter has a dense #writingcommunity that is very supportive. There are also large groups of beta readers and critique partners on Facebook. Joining a group can be very helpful and the first step toward getting more perspectives on your writing.
Fresh perspective is the chief reason beta readers can be instrumental, even those who don’t specialize in your genre. Some beta readers take very detailed notes, while others take a broader approach. Communicating what you need your beta reader to look for can help. Some writers choose to set up questions in advance for their beta readers. Take care, however, as questions can sometimes lead a beta reader. Questions in advance can inadvertently plant negative thoughts about an area they might not have considered if you hadn’t put it under a microscope before they’ve been allowed to read your work and form their own conclusion.
Beta readers are especially helpful for those who push the envelope. There’s nothing wrong with sensitive subject matter in your writing. However, it’s wise if you are writing a controversial topic to use a wide range of beta readers to provide a global view. If 9 out of 10 beta readers like your work, then that’s a good sign. Though, some writers choose to use sensitivity readers for areas that might be touchy topics. You should also be careful to select people who understand your genre and also those who aren’t “triggered” easily.
It’s totally cool to have readers from other genres. However, they have to know, for example, that your manuscript is meant to be a fast-paced thriller and not slow literary fiction. It’s surprising how often people judge a work wrongly based on genre confusion or what they’re typically used to or prefer reading.
Working With Beta Readers
- Utilize Social Media: Join social media platforms to help you find beta readers, such as Facebook groups and Twitter threads. Follow and befriend as many writers and authors as you can. Don’t be shy. Engage with other writers to get the most out of it.
- Provide Clear Instructions: Be very clear with your beta readers. Do you want them to give you a general first impression? Do you want thorough notes? Would you prefer minimal notes? Do you have a list of questions you would like your beta readers to answer? Are there areas of your manuscript you need them to focus on?
- Get A General Consensus: Don’t go changing things too quickly, and at the same time, don’t drag your feet either. Being stubborn and refusing to take feedback into consideration can only hurt you. But a good rule to follow is if most readers complain about a specific aspect of your work, then it’s wise to make changes to those problematic areas.
- Offer To Be A Beta Reader: A great way to find beta readers is to be one. There are so many writers out there in the Twitterverse. Join the #writingcommunity by posting, engaging, following, liking others, etc. Hop on Facebook and join beta reading groups. Offer your services as a beta reader in exchange for a beta read. I’ve done this myself, and it was a great experience. Fair warning: If you post that you will read work in exchange for a beta read, you might be stuck with many manuscripts to read. I ended up reading around seven manuscripts when I offered my services in exchange for beta readers. However, I also got around seven or more beta readers to read my #WIP.
- Don’t Take It Personally: Some beta readers and even critique partners can be very harsh. If you’ve dealt with very mean feedback, it can be painful. I’m not going to lie. It sucks. The very best way to handle any sort of criticism is to keep your answer super short. No matter how ruthless the feedback is, simply say, “Thank you for your time.” That’s it. If you say any more than one sentence or a length of a Tweet, you risk sounding defensive, argumentative, or you might even be tempted to get into an actual argument.
- Use A Templated One-Sentence Response To Harsh Feedback: If it’s a challenge to stop yourself from the temptation of getting into an ugly blowout about a criticism you disagree with, then practice a scripted response. Write out a templated one-sentence response and stick to it. Practice with a trusted friend your one-sentence response that you plan to say to your harsh critic. Have your friend say rude things about your work, and practice ingesting those words. Sit with that bad feeling and learn to absorb it. Learn to put on your professional hat and simply recite your concise one-liner response. You’ll get better at keeping your answers short and to the point when you do this versus over-explaining/defensiveness. The best way to communicate your very short response is through email. If you do so on Facebook messenger, be careful not to get pulled into a back and forth, especially with negative feedback.
- Surround Yourself With Supportive Writers: If you can’t handle being friends with writers who critique you in a nasty way, then you don’t have to associate with them anymore. It’s okay to part ways. While you don’t want to surround yourself with “yes” people, it’s also helpful as a growing writer to surround yourself with other writers that support you and give you more balanced feedback – the good and not always the bad.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The beta reader tips above were formed through trial and error. I’ve experienced a wide range with beta readers, from great experiences to ones that hurt my feelings. Through it all, I’ve gotten stronger. So, if you’re currently in this process, I totally get it. The road to publishing isn’t easy. Finding good beta readers can be challenging, but social media offers us a great opportunity to connect. Sometimes you can also hire a professional reader, which often is a more established writer. Whatever path you choose, when editing your #WIP, get other eyes on it. You’re not objective with your own work, especially after you’ve revised it and reread it for the tenth time. Feedback, even the harshest critiques can be useful in order for us to grow as a writer and sharpen our craft.