Thursday, May 2, 2013

Beta Readers


I've sent Hot Mess, my current WIP out to Beta readers across the world.  I have two that I consistently get great feedback from, as well as my critique group.  The rest are from Goodreads.  I'm of the opinion that the more sets of eyes that see the story and give feedback on it, the better it ends up being.

My first foray into Beta readers was a disaster.  I gave my first novel, Hunkalicious, to eight members of my family and friends.  My mom was the only one who responded.  Turns out, Hunkalicious was awful, and they probably couldn't get through it, and didn't have the heart to tell me.  I ended up cutting 75% of it, and calling it Neighborly Complications.

Based on that experience, I realized that everyone was right:  friends and family don't need to beta.

But I still needed some.

I was talking online with an old school friend of mine, Jen, and discovered that she'd been writing, too.  She offered to beta Dream On for me.  And she was awesome.

Cool.  So I had another beta.

Jen, and one girl I had met online were now my beta readers, and they had completely dichotomous views on what I should do to improve my story.  I chose to go with Jennifer, because I actually knew her, her education level, and trusted her.  I think that was a good choice, because the other lady quit speaking to me, for reasons that are completely unknown to me.

I published my first three stories and started looking for reviewers, to get some stars on my Goodreads and Amazon profiles.  This is how I met my next beta.

Paris offered to review Chef's Delight, and when she read it, she found so many issues with it, that I was quite frankly embarrassed, once she brought them to my attention.  The beauty of digital publishing?  I immediately took Chef's Delight off sale, and hurriedly revised it.  So, Paris agreed to be a beta reader as well.

Back up to two beta readers.  And my mom.

I had been told that I needed at least five beta readers.  I joined a critique group online, and I am so totally lucky it's a good one.  There are four other writers, and we all post our WIPs up and critique and encourage each other.  One is really great about characterization and plot development, two are awesome with finding redundant phrases and words, and the other is my own little cheerleader, while still pointing out flaws in characters.  Those ladies are godsends to me.  I love each and every one of them.

So now, I have six.

But wait, I need more!

I don't know why, maybe it's an insecurity thing, but I just want to make sure that I've done everything possible to have a quality product to publish.

So I go to the Goodreads forums, and start a couple of threads looking for beta readers.  These threads are iffy, at best.  I'll send out fifteen copies of my WIP.  I'll get back four, "This is great! Don't change a thing!"  I'll get one or two where the reader tries to correct grammar, comma usage, etc...The rest, I can only assume hate it, because I never hear anything back from them.  Ever.

I know I have six great betas.  The rest are icing on the cupcake, so to speak.  This is the final push before the last round of revisions.  Once the betas finish, and I decide whether or not to implement their suggestions (some I will, some I won't), then I give the final one or two more read throughs and send it off to Catherine, my editor.

This is by far the most nerve-wracking part of the writing process, for me.  Getting other's feedback on my WIP.  This is where I find out if my ideas are good (of course they are, but everyone needs some validation), and if I have gotten them on paper/computer in a manner that tells an entertaining story.  Because that's my goal: to entertain.  Right?


  1. Beta readers - tricky all round. I've found friends and family aren't the best solution, for pretty much the same reasons as you.

    My husband is great for reading and telling me if things work or not, but I have to ask him very specific questions and it he's never going to give me a full critique.

    I used to belong to one online crit group and it turned into a writing-by-committee situation. One guy's fab story was utterly destroyed when he tried to incorporate everyone's varied suggestions. Then, one guy took one of my crits (where I essentially praised the story, no less) way too personally and went on a bit of a rant in our group about it. It has kind of made me nervous, especially as I am very empathetic to the writer's nerves about putting their "baby" out there for others to crit.

    Betas - important, but elusive!

  2. I really lucked out on my critique group...Some members have left, and we all have lives outside of writing, so sometimes the crits get a little sporadic. But they are the best, most supportive women (I think) I could ask for to look at my writing. Between the critique group and you, I feel like my tool box is filling up.

    About the suggestion-taking, I've thought about a blog post just on that, because you, as the author, have to decide which suggestions work for your piece. It's like we were talking about in an email, I think, where some critiques want to change so much that it's not your story when it's all said and done.

  3. Yeah, exactly right on deciding which suggestions to work on. It must come with time and experience as a writer, because it is difficult at times to know when to follow a reader's advice or not. We are so attached to our work, it is hard to be objective.

    I have had to cut things from a story because all the readers disliked it, things that I personally loved, but in the end I wanted the story to work more than I wanted to keep in a "darling." Still...sometimes, you have to keep the things IN that make your story, YOUR story. But, how do we know the difference?

    Part of it might be having the right readers for the right story. My writing group loves happy stuff, and I write some dark stuff and they always try to get me to rewrite it with a lighter touch. My husband reads the same story and says, "You're scary, but I like it."