07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beta Readers – An Author’s Secret Weapon?

It's the holiday season - 1 December. I can't give presents to everyone, but I can offer you some fabulous advice - find BETA READERS.

What’s a Beta Reader, I hear some of you ask? Well, they’re a weapon in a writer’s arsenal, and I find them a tool really worth using – if you find the right beta.

The purpose of a beta reader is to help me write the best story I can, by pointing out the weaknesses in the story, the areas they’d like more, the parts they simply love and just about anything else about your book.

A Beta reader is just that. I use ‘readers’- people who are not writers. I have critique partners amongst my writing friends, so what I want is pure reader input – how has my book entertained them and would they buy it.

Writers use Beta Readers in different ways. Nalini Singh doesn’t give them any direction; she simply wants feedback on the story. I, on the other hand, give my beta readers direction. Here are some of the questions I use:

Did you find anything confusing about the story?

What did you love?

Did the story take any turns that lost you?

What did you think of the characters?

Would you change anything?

Is there any place that you felt the H or h acted out-of-character?

Did you find the ending satisfying?

However, just like critique partners, you don’t have to agree with all their feed back.  In my soon to be released Regency romance, INVITATION TO SCANDAL, one of my cherished Beta readers didn’t like what I did to one character. But that character’s fate was pivotal to the book and therefore, I couldn’t change it.

Here’s some of the fabulous detail I got from my Beta Readers:

Did you find the ending satisfying?
"Again, I would have LOVED!! LOVED!! LOVED to have read that Anthony and Melissa were at the wedding and are living happily ever after that she is expecting or has had a baby or two and that Melissa and Rhea are just as good friends as Rufus and Anthony. I’m a hopeless romantic.  Made me wonder if Samuel and Maggie will have a story? Will they????? Something like Anthony and Melissa?  What about Stephen? Will he have a story? What about Alex? Will his story be coming? What about Stephen? Daniel too? OMG!!!! I CANT wait for this book to come out. I am crossing all my fingers that Alex and Stephen will have books coming out. Do you have any ideas when this Rufus' book will be released? Is there any chance the other characters will have books. I’m very sorry to pester you."

If that isn’t the best pep talk I’ve ever received I don’t know what is! But it’s not all roses…

Did you find anything confusing about the story?
"No, I understood the plot and the storyline.  Two people trying to prove themselves in this world.  One to become independent and the other to redeem his family name. And the both of them would do whatever it took to do to make it happened. My only problem with this book was the number of times that Rhea moaned about her parents’ marriage and that she wasn't going to be dependent on any man and Rufus being betrayed and how he will never love again and that he would never trust a woman."

The last comment was a flashing red ALERT – things need to be tightened. So I have tightened them and it’s made the book much better.

How do you find good beta readers? – ask. Use your blog to request a Beta Reader or Facebook or visit readers forums and ask. Specify what you are after. I was very straight on the point that I wanted ‘READERS’ only.

When a person applies, ask them what they read. It helps if they read and love your genre. Ask them what their favorite books are and why? Ask them if they review books and if so where. Then go and read the review. Do they have a good understanding of the genre and could give you sound feedback.

Tips for good beta reading:

1. Don't be afraid to ask questions.  If something wasn't clear to you, it probably will be unclear to others also.

2. Be specific in your feedback. Point out the exact spots where things don't work, not just vague generalities.

3. Make suggestions (which are free to be ignored) as to how the problem can be solved.

4. Point out the good bits too. I know as an editor, I tended to be oriented towards "fixing the problems", but I realized that one needs to point out favorite bits not only as a leavening of encouragement, but so that one doesn't end up losing those bits in the rewrite!

Tips for authors:

1. Give your beta-readers some direction, especially if they have not done this before.  At the least, tell them the kind of things you wish them to pay particular attention to, such as characterization, plot, or style.  You want them to look at the things you are weakest in, and that they are strongest in, so they can help you improve them.

If they are inexperienced, you might want to give them a list of questions to keep in mind while they read, such as:

* Are there parts of the plot which are confusing?
* Are the characters behaving out-of-character?
* Are there turns of phrase that are clumsy?
* What are your favorite bits?

2. Thank your beta-reader(s) even if what they said wasn't helpful. After all, they spent their precious time reading your story and thinking about it. Worth a ton of thanks.

3. Remember what your beta-reader said is only their opinion, it isn't gospel. This is your story, you have the say. On the other hand, do listen you your beta-reader, because what was the point in asking them to beta-read your story in the first place if you don't?

4. If a suggestion is made that you can't agree with, explain why.
It may be that when you explain your reasoning, or the intent of that bit of the story, you may be able to figure out between you something that works for both of you.

I was lucky. I found several very useful Beta readers and I’ve dedicated my second book, INVITATION TO SCANDAL to them.

I can’t recommend strongly enough that authors try Beta Readers. They give their time for free and offer valuable insight. I can’t do without them…

Have a wonder Christmas everyone and I'll see you in 2012!


Paty Jager said...

My daughter is my beta reader and she does a good job of telling me when I'm off! Good post.

Sarah Raplee said...

Hi Bron,

Thanks for all the great info on finding Beta Readers and how they help you write a better book! One question: How do you protect yourself from piracy if you give it out to people you don't know?

I wouldn't worry about this except that piracy has become a big problem for some authors.


Judith Ashley said...

Feedback in any form is a blessing to writers. We don't have to use it but I believe it is in our best interest to consider it. And I've heard so many authors, agents and editors say that if you get the same feedback from 3 people Pay Attention!

I know the people who read my manuscript and tell me what they like about it, are excited to read the next one, can't understand why my books are out on shelves and e-books turn me into the energizer bunny (well, not exactly but I do feel pumped up and ready to go back to work)!

Looking forward to seeing you in 2012!

Diana Mcc. said...

Great post! I'll keep this list of questions and add to it for my Beta Readers.

Happy Holidays!

Bron said...

Hi everyone
Thanks for stopping by.
Sarah - I think you have to go with your gut feeling. You are never going to be able to stop a determined pirate!
I ask them if and where they will review the books they buy and read, this is important for a couple of reasons. By reading their reviews you can gauge how well they understand plots and characters, plus, you want a beta reader who will go out there and talk about your book too! If she looks legitimate i.e. blogs or reviews on well known blogs then you have to have a little faith in her. I always put Bronwen Evans copyright 2011 in the header of the PDF so it is on each and every page and ensure the PDF cannot be altered.

Nalini Singh gave me this advice - "Put as many copies of your books out there, into readers hands. Word of mouth is the best PR for sales."

Marion Spicher said...

Thanks Theresa. I'll be looking for beta readers soon. Great post. It's a keeper.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thanks, Bron.That's kind of what I figured. Great post!

Tam Linsey said...

I'm saving ths checklist. Thanks, Bron.