How to Prepare to be Edited: Beta Readers
Beta readers, has anyone here used a beta reader before? Anyone know what they are? Okay, we have some people who know who they are. These are more common with fiction writing. A beta reader is a nonprofessional reader that tests your work. They're not gonna check for errors, they're not gonna be looking for small line item things. They're going to be saying, "Does this work as a whole? "How do I react to it emotionally?" "This character, why did their interest half way through? "This piece of research doesn't make sense "with something else you pointed out later on." So, friends and family are fantastic, and they're usually more than willing. They want you to succeed. But don't pick them, let them read it. But don't let them beta read it. They're always gonna have positives. And they're always gonna be bias. They're skewed in the fact that everything you do is beautiful. And we don't want rose colored glasses right now. So, a beta reader is going to read the work alone. They're not go...
nna read it as part of a critique group. Now, if any of you are part of writing critique groups, I think they're fantastic. If you're thinking about finding one, absolutely. They're more part of the creative process though. So, when you get a beta reader, they're gonna sit and they're going to experience it as your intended reader will. I would recommend between two and four. You need to get a wide perspective to see what consistently works, and what consistently can be improved. So, the other consideration, is if you want them experienced in your subject and field. A lot of fiction fantasy and science fiction writers will have only people in their genre read their work. The feedback will differ. They're in tune to what's already happening in the field. So, if you've written something that's familiar or plays off someone else's writing, they'll be able to flag it 'cause they'll know. In addition to finding all of the other issues, they'll have a nuanced view of what specifically you're writing about. Now, to work with them, usually they're doing it for free, out of the goodness of their heart, and to help you. So, set some expectations with them, help set them up for success. Set a return date and allow plenty of time. They've got their regular life. And maybe even other leisure reading going on. So, make sure you give them plenty of space to read, marinate, and then, put together their critiques. But make sure you do set a return date. It's very easy for, "I'll look this over for you real quick." To turn into, you've seen them at Thanksgiving, and nothing's happened, so give it a deadline. It's a serious project. Make sure you share with them if you want any specific feedback. If you're worried a piece is rough in an area. Or if there's parts that can be improved. Point that out. And then, ask for comments throughout the entire work. It's not only helpful to point out something that didn't work. But point out things that did work. "This flowed really well. "I'm in love with this part." And you'll get an overall reader reaction. And ask for thorough notes, not just critiques. So, if someone looks at your work and says, "This doesn't work." That's not as helpful as them saying, "This doesn't work because I read this "and it distracted me, it confused me, "it pulled me out of the story." So, always ask a reader a because statement when they offer a critique. Now you've got everyone's feedback, sitting down, put everything together. Review it all together. You're gonna want a balanced review. And if you have two people who feel one way, and two feel another, it could be overwhelming to have these various viewpoints. Put everything together, pretend like they're your audience, and read them all at once. It can be a little overwhelming, so remember it's about the book. It's about this specific project. It's not about you or your writing skill. It can sometimes be overwhelming to face multiple comments, talking about weak points. But it's done out of kindness, and it's done with good intent, and it is about this piece of writing. Any points of confusion are fantastic places to focus on. If two or three people are getting confused, you've got a chance to go back and rewrite, and you can revise and make it better. You can make it tighter, cleaner. There's a way you can improve. And then, finally, you don't have to do everything the beta readers say. They're there to give you an extra voice. Only integrate comments you feel improve your work. 'Cause it is your work, it's your name, it's your byline, it's your project. Now, it's not difficult to find beta readers, but it can take time. Typically the best way is to create reciprocal relationships. So, you find someone who reads for you, and then, you read for them. The best way is to either find someone in a writing group or a blog. Twitter, actually, is fantastic for connecting writers. If you find a hashtag that you're connecting with, and you start communicating with people who participate in that hashtag, they're a great place to look for a connection for a beta relationship. In person writing events. Someone next to you can maybe be your beta readers, you know? And then, finally, be helpful with instructions. They're doing it to help you, so make it easy for them. Make instructions clear and easy to understand. Be very straightforward with your requests. If you come to them saying, "I have a thing. "Can you just, you know, let me know your thoughts?" It's harder for them to contribute. Say, "I wrote this, I'm worried about chapter three, "and this character, go." It's much more easier for them to help you. And be appreciative of the effort. Even everyone who loves reading, a beta read is very different. So, be grateful for their time and their energy. They're there committed to you, and your book, and helping it be better. This is actually something that's a new consideration. I don't know if any of you have heard about a sensitivity reader. But these are becoming more common. A sensitivity reader identifies issues with bias, cultural inaccuracies, representation, and exclusionary language. So, for example, say you have a person who prefers this pronoun "they", used as a singular pronoun. And you write a piece about them, and you use "he" or "she", that's exclusionary language because that's not including the language that they prefer. Same thing if you're writing about a culture that's not your own. It is always a wise idea to get perspective from that culture, from that group you're trying to represent to ensure it's being done accurately and respectfully. Sensitivity readers usually charge because it's a bit of emotional labor to get through these projects. And if you think you need one, you probably need one. (audience chuckles) All right, so if we're feeling a little stressed, and we're like, "I don't know "if I can build these relationships. "I want to have this feedback earlier." You can absolutely do that. People offer manuscript critiques. There are paid beta reading services. And they're generally specialized. So, if you want someone to read your book, your article, your short story, you'll be able to find a beta reader who specializes in that content. You would evaluate them and hire them just like you would an editor.
So, as I listen to this new concept of a beta reader, I'm thinking about beta testers.
So, similarly, would you do like an A B test? Just going in with your A game?
Just going with your A game. So, that's actually where the term comes from. I love that you caught that. It is a beta test of your book. And that's why they're called beta readers. But typically, once you feel like you're at the final draft stage, then you send it out to these readers. And then, they usually come back and say, "You're actually not quite at the final draft stage. "Here's some things we think you should change." And then, from there, you can keep going.
So, if there are things, top of mind, that you can feel that you potentially would need work on, would you direct them at the end, or to certain questions?
Absolutely. So, I recommend putting together a clean piece, and an instruction list, a request list on top of it. And in that separate document, that won't actually influence their reading. 'Cause some people just say, "Oh, just put a note in the manuscript, "or a comment in the Word doc." That's actually gonna hinder the reading experience. But yes, anything you're kind of wondering about, that's nagging you a little bit, write it down and see if it pops up for them too. Some beta readers start with these concerns. Other beta readers just start with a fresh text. And then, they review these list of queries and concerns. And very often, they'll be like, "Oh, yeah, you're right." And you know, like if it's flagging for you, you know your writing. They're usually going to agree and say, "Yes, this could be improved upon."