Happy December everyone!
Before I get into this week’s topic, it’s time for a little update.
Life’s been hectic.
In a good way overall, but hectic nonetheless. As the end of year draws near, work is busy, social events are busy, life if busy.
Throw in some sickness, appointments, and other commitments, and it’s all a bit crazy!
But, one awesome thing I’ve been able to do, is do some beta reading! Fellow debut fantasy author, R. M. Krogman, has been kind enough to provide me with a copy of her novel Liberation to beta read. Yesterday, I finished it.
I’ve so, so loved being able to dive into a detailed, imaginative fantasy world and see a story come together, and be able to provide feedback on it.
But wait, what is beta reading you ask?
Let me explain!
Imagine this: you’ve just finished writing the story of your heart, the novel you’ve always wanted to write.
You know it’s good, but it will, inevitably need editing. Yet, at the same time, professional editing can get expensive.
So, before spending your money on a professional, beta reading steps in!
The beta reading process involves recruiting a number of readers who can read your novel and provide chapter-by-chapter feedback on the story, characters, and writing. It’s an opportunity for you to receive feedback on many aspects of your novel, without spending money. It also allows you to hone your skills and your novel before a professional takes a look – after all, why pay them to point out issues you could have fixed yourself (with a bit of help?)!
But how to go about it? Well, here are my thoughts on the best way to go about the whole wonderful process of beta reading…
How do I recruit them?
There are a few options here – finding Facebook writers groups or beta reading groups is one method, along with other social media platforms and their connections. You can find writing friends and beta read each other’s work. If you have any personal friends who enjoy the genre, this could be a good avenue too (just be sure to stress to them they need to be honest, not ‘nice’ in their feedback).
I’m sure there are other ways, but these are the main ones I used!
How many beta readers should you have?
Well, that’s entirely up to you.
First, you want a decent sample size.
While having feedback from one or two people can be incredibly helpful, it makes a big difference if, say, one of twenty dislike your main character, as opposed to thirteen out of twenty. The greater sample size makes it far easier to distinguish between one person’s opinion, and a wider pattern that might indicate you need to address a potential issue in the story.
Another thing, keep in mind not everyone who initially agrees to beta read will finish the novel. It’s natural, people get busy, they overcommit, they lose interest, they forget. It happens, and it’s not personal. One potential workaround is to give people a due date. It may work, but it may not. Hopefully, it will attract only the people who can (mostly) commit!
Start small, and see how you go. If you have too many beta readers, it can also get overwhelming and hard to keep track. See what works for you, and remember, you can do multiple rounds of beta reading! For instance, ten people could read the story, and based on their feedback you might make some changes, then get ten different people to read the story.
But, who, specifically, should you get to beta read for you?
Well, realistically, you need to think about the target audience for your book.
By that I mean, the people who are most likely to enjoy your story.
For instance, if you have a fantasy adventure featuring a woman in her 20s as the main protagonist, including some romance and adventure, then your story will likely be most appealing to women in their 20s who love to read fantasy and romance.
Similarly, if you write military fiction featuring grizzled soldiers, then your story is likely to be of little interest to romance readers.
So, while you can have some ‘wildcards’ in your beta readers, it’s best to have a decent majority fit the general target audience you’re aiming for – and prioritise their feedback. For example, if the only beta reader who finds your fantasy romance protagonist too focussed on finding love is a man in his 60s who likes hard sci-fi, then perhaps it’s warranted to give that beta reader’s thoughts a little less attention in that area.
Try to have the majority of your beta readers be people who read in the genre you’re writing in, who like the kind of story you’re trying to tell.
But, what do I ask them?
The simple answer is anything you like!
The more (potentially) helpful answer, is to ask them questions that directly relate to the story, characters, and what they like/dislike. You want to gauge whether they like the characters they’re *supposed* to like, and dislike the characters they’re *supposed* to dislike. You need to ask if everything is clear, or are any passages confusing (and if so, which ones!), what their favourite or least favourite parts are, and why!
When I requested beta readers for Seregn, this is an example of what my questions at the end of each chapter looked like:
- What are your initial thoughts?
- What was your favourite part(s) and why?
- Were there any parts you didn’t like and why?
- Were any parts confusing/unclear?
- What are your thoughts on Ada?
- What are your thoughts on Giles?
- What are your thoughts on Elsie?
- What are your thoughts on the first scene (starting with Ada dashing to the train, ending with her falling through the doorway)?
- What are your thoughts on the second scene (when Ada gets up after falling through to the end of the chapter)?
- On a scale from 1-5, how much did you enjoy this chapter?
- Do you have any predictions or theories moving forward?
Now, you don’t have to do it this way. You don’t have to ask these specific questions. It can be done in whatever way makes the most sense to you. But, one thing I absolutely recommend, is asking for feedback at the end of each chapter. This means you’re getting feedback on exactly each chapter, rather than more general feedback every few chapters or only at the end.
But how do I send them my book?
Well, you can do it with a classic PDF and email, or you can use apps/sites like storyorigin.app.
Now, there’s always a concern with writers of others stealing your work, and I get that. I know it doesn’t work the same in other countries, but in my home country, Australia, you automatically have copyright on anything you produce.
Otherwise, see if you can build a bit of a rapport with your betas, recruit from Facebook or Insta writing groups where people are going to be more reputable than completely random strangers off the internet.
Lastly, keep in mind that writing a book is a mammoth task – but so is publishing. I fully suggest caution, but I think it’s unlikely someone who volunteers as a beta reader – especially if you have recruited them from a writers or readers group – would go to all the effort of trying to publish your book under their name.
That sounds like a lot of feedback, how do I go through it?
Yep, it can be! It’s entirely up to you how you’d like to go through feedback, but in the end, for me, I used Excel. See below for an example:
|Initial thoughts?||Favourite scene?||Least favourite scene?||Anything confusing?||Thoughts on Ada?||1-5 Scale||Theories?|
By organising my feedback this way, it gave me an easy way to look down at everyone’s answers to the same question and find patterns.
This seems like a lot…
Yes, yes it is. But, it is a low cost, effective way to get feedback that can improve your novel before going to a professional editor. How good!
A final word of encouragement…
Getting beta readers is hard work.
Keep in mind you are essentially asking someone to do work for you, for free.
It may take time, and you may only have a couple. That’s what ended up happening to me!
But, every little bit counts, so don’t get too disheartened.
This is a really, really useful way to get feedback on your story. And guess what? You don’t have to listen to it!
So take heart, and enjoy the process!