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Working with Beta Readers

Updated: May 4, 2022

Beta readers that give authors feedback on their manuscript from the point of view of an average reader. They give feedback on the ‘big picture’ details such as character, worldbuilding and dialogue.

I’m committed to sharing with others what I have learned in the journey. I may have been enjoying writing since I was eleven, but previously my readers and editors was just my mum (hi mum) and my younger sister. At that stage of my craft, I was never going to have the courage to send the manuscript to anyone else. That’s okay. I wasn’t ready.

What do I need to remember when working with Beta Readers?

- Feedback from Beta Readers is about your manuscript not about you.

- Beta Readers do not replace the work of an editor, they provide you with feedback before you reach the stage of requiring an editor.

- You’ll want more than one Beta reader but don’t give yourself too many.

- Communicate clear and realistic deadlines to your Beta Readers.

- Ask your beta readers any particular questions about your manuscript.

- Ask what format your Beta readers want the manuscript. I had some Beta that wanted digital and some that preferred a hardcopy to write on.

- Be open to feedback but don’t implement all of it straight away. Consider what their feedback might mean for the overall manuscript or series. Look for remarks that were made by more than one reader… this is a good indication that something definitely needs tweaking.

- Prompt your Beta readers by giving them questions about your book. Not all my readers used these questions for prompting but it gave me an overall picture of their thoughts. You can view the information and questions I sent my Betas on my resource page. Resources | KJBurrage Author

- Look for a diverse range of Beta readers.

What did I personally learn from my Beta Reader experience?

My first issue was I have been a little obsessive with editing. As soon and I got two manuscripts back I started ripping through their comments. By the time I got the third lot of feedback I had done another two self-edits. Fast forward to the fourth and fifth beta readers and I had been over and over my manuscript. Beta reader four and five still provided some great feedback which I have used in my final edits before sending to my editor, however I just made the cross referencing harder for myself.

It may have been more productive for me to set the manuscript aside and look at something new to give myself a break. By the stage I felt I was almost ready to engage an editor the words were bleeding together when I looked at my manuscript. So, just prior to giving my manuscript to my editor I gave myself a couple of weeks break and worked on a different project. I gave myself enough time to do a final edit before handing it over. My concentration levels and productivity improved by setting the manuscript aside for a little while.

The second issue I came across was what to do with the feedback once I got it. I didn’t think this through too well and ploughed straight ahead. By the time I did a few re-edits I had a system where I (kinda) was able to cross-reference comments. While there is no hard and fast rule about how to run through Beta feedback, perhaps it would have been better if I thought it through before charging ahead and getting myself a little lost.

What went well with my first Beta Experience?

I wanted to write my own synopsis. But boy it’s hard to write about your own work. I had invested quite a lot of time writing it already, but I just wasn’t happy with it. I asked my Betas to have a look at my synopsis and provide me with some insight or feedback. One of my readers was able to point out what lines she loved, what drew her in. She also pointed out phrases that were confusing or too wordy.

Some readers pointed out where they were getting confused with what was happening during the action scenes. As the writer I can picture these scenes easily, they’ve come from my imagination. By readers telling me where they were lost, I have been able to tighten up a few of my action scenes.

This might be a little embarrassing to admit but I learnt how to use Track Changes in word. I have never had to use it before this project. In the past my readers have all used hard copies so when I got their notes back, they were all handwritten!

You don’t have to write your book alone. Along the journey there are different ways to get help and feedback. Beta readers are just one part of the process.

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