#EditingTip: Benefits of Beta Readers & How To Work With Them

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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.


9 thoughts on “#EditingTip: Benefits of Beta Readers & How To Work With Them

    jennylynnangelo said:
    August 19, 2021 at 11:16 AM

    I love the templated one-liner response idea to harsh feedback. That’s a really good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      August 19, 2021 at 11:27 AM

      It’s honestly the best way to approach harsh criticism. I’ve heard the hard way that it’s best to keep responses super professional and short.

      Liked by 1 person

        macabeliam said:
        August 19, 2021 at 11:33 AM

        We’ve all been there with criticism. You wouldn’t be human if you did not feel the sting of harsh feedback. I agree with you that we can definitely learn from them. I also like the short answer response and keeping it down to no longer than a Tweet. I’m going to try that.

        Liked by 2 people

    realryangray said:
    August 19, 2021 at 11:20 AM

    As an editor, I can say that beta readers really help. Nearly all types of writing need more eyes on them and not just yours. Beta readers catch stuff that someone like an editor may not catch. Beta readers can catch story stuff that can be useful. Good article.

    Liked by 1 person

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      August 19, 2021 at 11:28 AM

      Agreed. As a writer for a company by day, I have several people read the content I write before publishing anything.

      Liked by 2 people

    stephaniechongmin said:
    August 19, 2021 at 11:21 AM

    Facebook groups are a great place to meet beta readers, that’s how I was able to find some of mine. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Phil Huston said:
    August 20, 2021 at 10:52 AM

    I appreciated all your effort here, but in truth I’d trade a dozen beta readers for one real editor. The unfortunate truth in the indie community is the concept of “way to go!” and “authors” treating their work like children. A good, solid, professionally disinterested editor will rip you a new one, It’s not their job to be our friend or spare our feelings but to ask pointed questions about our writing. What’s this? Must you start every scene in passive voice? How many echoes do you need on one page, don’t you own a thesaurus? Not to mention all the rhetorical issues from wordiness to inside out sentences. Beta readers come in all shapes and sizes, from an editorial approach to simple liked it or not. Never be afraid to hold your ground if it’s style, but always be willing to address real issues like crap dialog, bunny chasing, head hopping, scene continuity… Ask for the truth, even if it’s a shred, even if you need a crying towel because that’s where real content gets developed.

    Liked by 1 person

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      August 20, 2021 at 11:50 AM

      I couldn’t have said it better. You hit every valid point and reason why we need both editors and beta readers. It’s good to get your manuscript shredded, and at that point, practice the one-liner scripted response. Say thank you for your time and leave it be if tempted to argue. A one-liner response makes us mature as writers. At the same time, we can go to a trusted friend where we can vent, cry on their shoulder or use them as a “crying towel.” But before editors, agents, and readers taking out their valuable time to read our work and provide input – we should do our absolute best to remain professional. You’re right. That’s precisely how we develop our manuscript and make it better. Phil, thank you for your thoughts and for taking the time to read my post. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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