Two weeks ago we looked at what beta readers do – but how does this process work when you’re the writer? What does your squad need from you, besides your draft?
Above all else, working with beta readers is a cooperation. Today I’m giving you a few pointers about what to do and what not to do so you’re prepared 😉
Give them pointers. There’s a chance that some of your betas will be new to this process, and won’t know what to look for, so a list will make it much easier for them. This is also helpful for betas who have done this before – maybe even for you – because you might have specific things you’d like them to look for. I already mentioned this two weeks ago in my post about what betas do, but personally I have a problem with repetition, fight scenes, and under-describing settings, so all of those are on my list.
Be sure to include how you’d like to receive their feedback, too. Would you like a list of bullet points, chapter by chapter? Or maybe a general summary at the end of each chapter? Perhaps you’d prefer they track their changes in Word? Chances are, if you have five betas and leave them to it, you’ll receive five different feedback formats. You’ll have a lot of feedback by the end of the process, so having all these different formats would only make everything more complicated. Let them know what’s easiest for you (ideally when you first ask for betas) to take at least some of the pressure off – of you as well as your betas.
Set them a deadline. Beta reading a book is a huge task and takes a lot of work. You might have deadlines you need to keep yourself, and I can tell you from personal experience that having a deadline helps. I beta read a manuscript once which had no deadline and I was told that I could take however long I needed with it. This resulted in me prioritising more urgent tasks and not putting the time in. Make sure your betas know when you need their feedback to avoid this very thing – and if you don’t have a deadline from the start but that changes, let them know as soon as you have a date.
Let them know that it’s okay to drop out. I feel this is quite important, because sometimes other things come up or get in the way, and your betas should know that it’s okay if plans change. I hate abandoning voluntary projects, but sometimes it can’t be helped. I still feel bad, but if I know that the writer understands it takes the pressure off.
This is especially important when they don’t want to continue because they don’t like your book. No one book is for everyone, and if your book doesn’t work for one of your betas (or later, readers) that’s okay. The vital thing here is to assure them that it’s fine, and that you ask them why they don’t like your book. If it just doesn’t work for them personally, you’re okay. If it’s because the world building is bad, your characters all sound the same, and most of your pages consist of run-on sentences, you’ve got work to do.
Don’t get defensive. I can’t stress enough how important this is. When I had beta readers go over Rise of the Sparrows, two of my betas asked me if I’d get mad if they pointed out mistakes. Now, my friends, writers who react like that miss the point of having beta readers. If you’re not prepared for criticism and honest feedback, you’re not ready for betas, never mind for publishing. Reviewers can and will be rough. You might feel that their dislikes are unjustified. But you never, ever, get into an argument over it. Your betas do you a favour. A massive, huge favour. Don’t get angry when they tell you that they don’t like a character, or a certain scene. That’s the feedback you want, and the reason you asked for betas in the first place. You thank them. You don’t make them regret that they volunteered.
Organise their feedback in a way that works for you. Because it’s really easy to get lost in all that feedback if you don’t. And you’ll get lots of it, trust me! With Rise of the Sparrows I had 21 A4 pages worth. I’ll go more into how I made sense of it all in two weeks time, but for now suffice it to say that you want to organise it somehow. A separate file on your memory stick, post-it notes, a notebook with handwritten notes, an app on your phone – whatever works for you. Just do yourself a favour and organise it all, and don’t leave it until the last second because you will pull your hair out if you do.
Ask if you’re not sure! Sometimes, something your betas say might not make sense to you, or one beta might point out one thing which seems kinda huge but none of the others have flagged it up. If you’re not sure, about anything, ask your betas for clarification! This doesn’t have to be about small things only, either. If your betas suggested to add a scene somewhere, you can send it back to them and ask for feedback on that, too. As I said above, working with betas is all about cooperation. It’s not a ‘they do their thing, I await results, and then we never talk to each other again’ kind of situation. I’m not suggesting you ask them to read the whole draft again, but a couple of scenes – especially when they insisted you add them – should be fine. Ask if they’d be willing to take another look, and don’t get defensive if they say no (“But they agreed to read everything!” Sure, but don’t forget that you’ve added stuff since then.). If they finished their beta read and have started other projects, you can’t hold that against them.
Beta readers work for free. I’m not telling you that you can’t reward your betas if you want to – you’re absolutely welcome to! – but I don’t want you to feel an obligation in that regard. Some writers offer amazon vouchers in return. You might offer a signed copy of the book they helped improve. Personally, I offer a discount on all my editing services to all my betas. Generally, however, betas don’t receive anything, and they certainly don’t get an hourly wage! If you want to offer yours something you definitely can, but don’t feel like you have to or else you’re not doing this right.
Make sure they know you’re grateful. Your betas do you one massive favour, friend. It takes time to read an entire book and take notes, especially if your book needs a lot of work. I recommend being a beta yourself at least once, so you can really get a sense of the amount of work that goes into this process!
Are you about to work with betas for the first time and have more questions? Ask away! 🙂 Or have you worked with betas in the past and would like to add something to this list? Share away! 🙂 Make a tea, grab a biscuit, and say hi.
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