Editing Rant: Beta Readers

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Having your manuscript read by READERS (not editors or writers) can help indicate where modifications could be made. Ask a few friends – friends of friends are better – spouses and close friends tend to be bad because they know how you think and see stuff you meant to put in even if you didn’t put it in. Not every one who agrees to read the book will actually get back to you; continue asking and providing reading copies until you have at least two female Beta reader and two male Beta reader responses.

Again, these are READERS, so you need to give them specific instructions on how to help you create the best manuscript possible. You will need to ask them not to proofread; what you want is a reaction to the story and characters. Have them provide only letter responses (if on paper, in the margins – if on computer, while in comment mode). Just ABCD – A = Awesome, I love this, made me laugh, cry, etc in the emotional reaction range; B = Boring, I started skipping sentences/paragraph/pages here until I got to the next part I enjoyed; I put the book down to do something and didn’t need to pick it right back up; C = Confused, Didn’t understand, wording was awkward and had to read twice to understand, I thought the character did something else earlier, where did the gun come from?; D = Didn’t like, starting to hate the character here, this is one of my triggers, a pet peeve of my this is. If they stop reading, they need to indicate when they were done reading the story.

Now, review what you get back. If only one person had a reaction in an area, okay – but if two or all four have a reaction, especially the same reaction, something might be wrong there. It’s okay to have a conversation with them about their markings but approach it carefully. Say for the confused response, some writers like to respond with “Well, this is what I meant.” – that is a no – the reason you have Beta readers is they represent people you will never meet. These are the people reading your book in California and Wisconsin and Australia and England. If it is not on the paper, they will not see it. What the response should be for “confused” is, “Well, I’m trying to get across this – do you have a suggestion?” If you talk to your Beta Readers, first THANK THEM, and secondly ACTIVELY LISTEN to their responses; don’t create arguments in your head. Actively listening is a tough skill to learn.

Remember to approach any of their comments like the architect and builder of a house showing it to potential home owners. The buyers know how to live in a house, not how to build one. So they come in and complain an area is “echo-y”. The builder then goes “How do I fix that?” – the potential homeowner says, soundproof the walls. That is a no. But maybe the ceiling needs dropping, or adding curtains and cloth-covered furniture will fix the problem, or carpet.

The beta reader’s job is to point out what they love and not love about a book; the professional writer’s job is to listen and then figure out what the real problem is.

Related posts:
4/21/2016 Beta Readers (Magical Words April 12, 2016)
3/2/2017 Beta Readers (Magical Words July 9, 2010)