Monday, December 23, 2013

All The Feels: The Trifecta of Beta Readers

The Trifecta of Beta Readers

In the last All the Feels installment we talked about the essence of beta readers: the nuts and bolts of who they are and what they do. There was some great discussion that followed on Twitter including this question from Katherine:



So I thought today we'd answer Kath's question by exploring what I call The Trifecta of Beta Readers. There are three separate times during the writing process I utilize beta readers and each time they serve a different purpose.

Beta Reader(s)Group #1: Early Readers--Does this story make sense to anyone other than me?

You've written your first draft, gone back and done some revising. You know you've still got a ton of work ahead of you but, first, you need to face the possibility that it might not be worth it. If your story doesn't grab people, you probably want to know that up front, before you devote hours and hours to revising and perfecting it. 

These are also the beta readers that can tell you if your overall concept makes sense--particularly if you're writing something out of the box and fantastical--and whether there are any glaring inconsistencies.

In this situation you are just looking for readers. They don't necessarily need to be the most critical readers, but they should be people who like reading the kind of stories you write. They definitely don't need to be writers. Here, you're just looking for someone to tell you whether or not the yarn you're weaving is worth its weight.

With this group you don't necessarily want to offer a lot of guidance. Something more than, "can you read this and tell me if it's good" but not nitty-gritty in-line feedback. Ask them whether the plot grabs their attention, to mark points where their attention started to drift, whether the characters were likeable/dislikable enough, have them highlight favorite parts and parts they loved to hate.

Where do you find Group 1? Anywhere. Facebook friends, Twitter friends, easily bribed adolescent family members, etc. And while I'm calling this a group, you may only need one or two. This is the easy part.

Beta Reader(s)Group #2: Mid-Process Readers--The Revisionaries.

You've done some serious editing now and put your manuscript through the wringer with critique partners. There are still some things you're not sure about--feedback you've gotten that you're not 100 percent in agreement with, subplots you're still trying to fine tune, etc. Your second group I call "The Revisionaries" because in addition to asking them to do what Group 1 did, you're also going to ask them to weigh in on more specific things that have developed (or not developed) during your editing process--whether your main character is too whiny (and where), are the sexytimes steamy enough (or too steamy depending on your target audience), whether your antagonist is believable or over the top. You want them to look for inconsistencies that may have developed during your editing process, things that don't make sense because you cut a section or chapter and there's a plot gap as a consequence.

 
You may have some writers in this group but they should be different writers from your critique partners. Your critique partners have already had a chance to weigh in and have a different role in your process. Where CPs sort of have carte blanche to tear and shred your words and identify the chinks in your armor, beta readers receive guidelines from you on what you're looking for feedback on.

Note: if they're not willing to follow your guidelines, they aren't very good beta readers.

Where do you find Revisionaries? They're harder to come by than the first group for sure. Here, you want critical thinkers, people who are well-read in the current market, people who have an eye for details and a good memory. People who read quickly are also helpful at this point. Good places to look for Revisionaries are members of your book club, members of your online writing community--whether that be twitter, CPSeek.com, Scribophile, Critters.org or other similar groups, writers you've met at conferences who already have a critique group but are willing to take the time to swap mss and read. Most importantly, you need folks who can be candid with you and whose feedback you are willing to trust.


Beta Reader(s)Group #3: The final countdown--Feet to the Fire readers.

You've now incorporated an assload of feedback into your manuscript. You've taken the crits from your critique group and applied it, reworked the things your Revisionaries encouraged you to iron out, and you think you're ready to query. Before you do, find one or two more people to give it a final reading.  

 
What are they looking for? Anything and everything. Gross errors in grammar and spelling, plot holes and inconsistencies, things that don't make sense, things that could make more sense, what's funny, what's sad, what's better than Cats. Tell them they are the last people who will see your words before an agent does and you want them to throw everything at the wall they can think of.


So, like, no pressure or anything.

You can find these readers in any of the places above, and you'll know them when you do. Though you'll be tempted to have them read what you're working on right away, save them until you get to this point.

For me, these readers are hand-picked. They are hypercritical, voracious readers, writers, and have candid personalities. Most importantly, they have virginal eyes--they've never read a previous version of my manuscript. They're looking at it the same way an agent will--fresh and unbiased.



What do you look for in beta readers and where do you find them? When, during your writing life, do you utilize them?





Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger, Facebook, Goodreads, & Twitter. If you've got suggestions for a future All the Feels post, contact Dannie via the contact form on her blog. She is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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