So I just received feedback from my second beta reader earlier today and I’m totally on cloud nine! Both beta readers loved it and both were able to give me tangible feedback that I can use to refine the story even more. I’ve mentioned beta readers before and how important they are, but I thought that in honor of my own beta readers I’d dedicate an entire post to them!
How do you select a good beta reader? Good question. My first beta reader, erm, alpha reader, I suppose, is always my husband. Though he rarely reads the entire thing, he’s the only one I’m comfortable showing my work to in its earliest stages. I also do this with my teen daughter from time to time, but she has a talent for disappearing when I say, “Hey, I’ve got something I want you to read.” She hates not knowing what happens next and in those early stages even I don’t always know what happens next. It drives her insane.
Tim’s a great first-reader because he can’t stand to tell me when something sucks, but I know him well enough that I can read his face. He doesn’t have to say, “Honey, this blows. Don’t quit your day job,” because I can see it flash across his forehead like a marquee. And when I see that, I know I need to refine my premise before pressing on. When I get a deep hearty laugh out of him, I know I’m on the right track. Also, no writer needs to actually hear that their work is terrible in the early stages. That could be disastrous.
But Tim wouldn’t make a great beta reader because, well, he can’t stand to tell me when something sucks. And by the time your work is with a beta reader it should be nearly as polished as you can get it. If it isn’t fantabulous by then, you definitely need to know it.
A good beta reader, well, reads – a lot. They know a good book when they find it and they can clearly articulate why it’s a good book. They can also rip apart a bad one, with specific notes as to why it didn’t hit the mark. Great beta readers spot plot holes from a mile away and don’t mind saying it one bit. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re cruel about it. On the contrary, they want your book to be good too and are willing to say what works and what doesn’t to help you get it there. And as we’ll see in a minute, they’re also willing to ask smart questions.
For example, here’s a direct quote from Jaime, one of my beta reader’s on Oliver’s story. I’ve only edited where names/events would be spoilers for future readers.
“Pacing was perfect. I never got bored or felt like I could skip and not miss anything. And if it is geared towards boys in the early teen years, then you hit the nail on the head as far as pacing. No, I don’t think it was given away too early. [I had asked if the villain was obvious too soon.] I think [redacted to avoid spoilers] carried it out to where I was never positive, but not fully surprised. And that is a good thing because you don’t want it to be something that comes completely out of left field and frustrates the reader by making them think that they could never have figured it out.”
She was not only able to answer my question about the “big reveal” but could clearly explain her position. This is the kind of response you need. I have no doubt in my mind that if she thought I’d given it away too soon, or in the wrong way, she could and would have said so in a way that I could’ve used to fix it. In addition to this, Jaime found a couple of grammatical errors that I would’ve been mortified to send to an agent. (Thanks, Jaime!)
Here’s another example from one of my other beta readers, Ruth. Ruth also found a few grammatical errors and even a name slip-up. It’s interesting to note that the grammatical errors found by Ruth aren’t the same ones that were found by Jaime. This is a perfect example of why having multiple beta readers is so darn important. No one is going to catch everything. No one. (Especially the writer – we’re simply too close to the story.) Anyway, back to Ruth’s feedback…
“I just finished Oliver’s Ghost Machine. It was a wonderful read. I read it over the course of a couple of days. I love your imagery. It was very descriptive and had me making some great mental images. Oliver and Rufus were both spot on as typical teenage boys. They were very lovable in a “gross” boy sort of way. Teenage boys would easily relate to them. I could see many of my freshman boys really reading this book. I also like the “Steampunk” flavor to this. Not sure if it was intentional, but it would appeal to sci-fi fans. You did a great job building suspense and keeping the reader engaged in the story. I absolutely love the crude humor. It would certainly draw in the teenage boys. Here are a couple of things you might want to edit…”
The edits she included were basic silly mistakes such as a homophone error and even a possessive error. But then she asked a question that made me sit back and want to slap myself in the forehead. She asked about a left over subplot that I’d failed to tie up – I mean not even a little. I left that bad boy out there flapping in the wind. Here’s that smart question I mentioned earlier:
“…you talk about everyone in the family and wrap up the story nicely. But not too nicely, so you could have a sequel. 🙂 I like this. However, you leave [redacted] out. Intentional? Just curious what happens to her…”
Whoa. She’s right. I left it out. I know what happened to her, but it didn’t make it to the page. And this, happy writers, is why beta readers are so important. There’s a lot going for this story – and that makes me blissfully happy. But there are also a few things I need to tinker with before sending it out and I wouldn’t have known about it any of it if it hadn’t been for my beta readers.
Thanks again to my wonderful husband, who always say he loves it because he believes in me a million times more than I believe in myself. And to Jaime and Ruth, who read good books and didn’t mind taking time out of their busy days to read mine.
And I can’t forget Chastity, who was one of my first beta readers for my very first manuscript (which had to be particularly painful). Her amazing feedback led to the development of one of my favorite scenes and one of the most hilarious characters I’ve ever created. She’d said she felt as if the pacing was too fast at the beginning of the book. I took a closer look and sure enough, she was spot on. Thanks to her as well – keeping our fingers crossed that that story is about to earn me and agent! 🙂
Beta readers are the bomb, y’all! They need they’re own holiday or something.