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Your opus is complete, over sixty-five thousand words which you know … well, hope … connect together for a story. A few of your friends and family members have offered to help you by reading your stuff. Beta Readers! You’ve been told you need them so you sign up the ten of your nearest and dearest who have volunteered.
George, Carrie, and Anne tell you it’s the best stuff they ever read and sure to be a best-seller. Miller and Evans never get back to you. Ingrid sends back several pages of things which need fixing to make your science fiction story have a proper romance; you aren’t writing a romance. But Marc, Simone, Duck, and Margaret responded with vague things about “I think something is wrong somewhere after the beginning.” and “The big fight didn’t make sense.” and “Some characters need work.”
For the future, mark the first five off your list. You don’t need fans reading your stuff; you need critics who get back to you. Ingrid should write her own book if she thinks the world needs more romances. The other four, well, they need some guidance.
Fortunately guidance is at hand thanks to a Magical Words post written by AJ Hartley on the ABCs of Beta Readers. When the blog group created, “How to Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion” this post picked as a best-of-the-best and Mr. Hartley made a minor modification with the letter “D” making it even better (see page 220 of the book).
Give your beta readers the ABCDs and ask them to only write the letter as they read through:
A = Awesome. This part is really, really good.
B = Bored now. I’m about to put down the book if things don’t pick up soon.
C = Confused. I backed up, re-read, and … huh?
D = Don’t Believe It. Girl, this is worse than the D&D game where we all had +5 weapons at first level. Dude, I don’t know how you cook, but bread takes more than 10 minutes to rise.
Previous posts on Beta Reading can be found: here.