NaNoDodo Day 19: Beta Readers

By Anne Perry

Posted on November 19, 2014 in Books with tags Nanododo, Writing Advice

Look. This is going to be some of the most important advice about writing anyone will ever give you. Find a beta reader you trust, and trust them.

There’s a lot to today’s tip, I know. So let’s break it down.

1. Find a beta reader you trust. Theoretically, your beta reader will be the very first non-you person to read your work. So you’ve got to trust them: to give you good feedback, to give you honest feedback, to give you helpful feedback, and to give you timely feedback. It’s scary, giving over something you’ve worked on for months or even years, and asking for someone else’s opinion. What if they hate it? (This question, by the way, bedevils every writer on the planet. I promise!) But start by giving it to someone sympathetic – someone who’s well-read in your genre and likes your kind of book. This person is your test-audience. This person can and should tell you what’s working and what isn’t working.

Do not go looking for a cheerleader. That kind of beta-reader will make you feel like the best writer on the planet, but won’t help you write a better book.

Do ask for specifics. What worked, and why? What didn’t work for this reader, and why not? Don’t be afraid to probe. Sometimes your beta reader will be reluctant to criticise you, but you must encourage him or her to give you critical – not mean, but well-considered – feedback. But, if your beta reader is having trouble being particular about what worked and what didn’t, don’t press. Try to come away with at least a general sense of the reader’s responses, and then work through them yourself.

2. Ask your beta reader to feed back honestly. You must be able to trust your beta reader to give you honest feedback. As I said above, a cheerleader will make you feel good, but won’t help you write a better book. Don’t cherry-pick your beta reader’s criticisms, either. If your beta reader tells you there’s a problem, don’t dismiss it out of hand because you don’t think it’s a problem.

3. Take that feedback well. After receiving your feedback, thank your reader. Do not argue, and do not respond telling the beta reader that they misunderstood something. Even if you feel certain that the feedback is wrong, take the criticism on board. Consider what your reader has said and why. If one reader felt this way, others almost certainly will.

4. Give yourself time. After receiving your feedback, don’t immediately start changing things. Think about it. Think about what the reader said, and how changes to address that will affect the work as a whole.

We’ll get into the fine art of editing your own work tomorrow!


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