Lessons Learned From Having Beta-Readers

    As a writer, every experience you have, every word you write, every sentence you agonise over, has value. There is always something or someone to learn from. I was so happy to get my story, Golden Revenge, back from betas recently! I learned, and am learning, so much from their feedback and the experience!



    Some of you expressed interest in how I sent out my story to betas, so before I jump into the lessons I've learned, here's a quick overview of how I did it:

Recruitment: I sent out a timid request for betas within a blog post, and garnered my readers' interest in the comments. I then found these blogger's emails and sent another email with more details such as deadlines and the wordcount, asking for confirmation of interest. During this time I asked for my betas' individual preference; Word, or Google Docs, and chatted to them about any extensions that might be needed.

Preparing: I separated my (extensive) story into chapter batches; one batch for each week I was sending it out, which totaled seven (with the last being a double batch). Each week, a few days before I sent out a batch, I would do a read-through for typos.

Sending it Out: When I beta-read for others, I usually felt uncomfortable commenting on the same document as other betas, so I made sure to give all my betas individual documents. While this made more work for me, I wanted them to have the best experience!

Finishing Up: With the last batch, I sent out around fifteen general questions about the story's plot, characters, etc. Then, when each beta finished up, I sent them a personal email of thanks. After all, betas are amazing! Now, time to edit...



      Here are some lessons I learned from having betas, about the process, and about my editing style!

1) Be Flexible

When I sent out Golden Revenge, due to its massive wordcount (my latest count came in at 135K...) I suspected I would need to allow extensions to my optimistic two month deadline. Not only because of the length, but because the chapter batches went out during the holiday time. 

Betas give up so much of their time to help you make your story the best it can be! They have busy lives and a lot on their plates, just like you, so be prepared, and willing, to give them the time they need! Though you might struggle with waiting, I assure you, it'll be worth it!

2) Expect Mixed Opinions

As writers and readers we are diverse, and so are our tastes! I had some betas who loved one character and connected to them deeply, and then other betas who found this character flat and hard to connect with. This is partly why you should try and get at least three, if not more, betas. Everyone has different opinions, so if you have more than three betas, you can, for example, get a feel for if you need to rework a certain character, or whether it's more of a personal preference! 



3) Everyone Gives Critique Differently

I often read feedback from betas as they sent it back to me (mainly because I was eager and wanted to see what they had to say!), and depending on how you handle criticism, this may or may not be the best idea for you. Just as everyone has a different writing voice, so too does every beta have their own critiquing voice. 

Some might be more straight to the point and forward, others might give five positives before getting to the negative. Don't take any of it personally! We all have different styles of communication, and though some of them might be harder to digest, everyone's opinion is valuable! (Unless they tell you to burn up your work and never write again -- this hasn't happened to me, but I know others who have had cruel betas. If someone says that to you, ignore them, and go read a hundred positive comments from your other betas!)

4) Trust Your Gut

When reading through my chapters before sending them out, occasionally a sentence would make me pause in my reading. Most of the time I thought I had gotten distracted by something around me, but I wasn't, actually. A lot of sentences my betas said they didn't understand/weren't clear, were where I had been taken out of the story in my read-through. Don't ignore your gut feeling! Pay attention to it, and what it might be trying to tell you.



5) Allow Time to Reflect/Talk it Out

After receiving the overall questions from some betas, I needed to take a step back and think over the issues they pointed out. During part of this time, I had a long phone call with my absolutely fabulous critique partner (*all the hugs*). Chatting with her kicked my brainstorming juices back into gear, and a few hours later, I had a breakthrough! I'm now pursuing this idea with the hopes that it will elevate my story to another level.

6) No Quick Fixes

I will, if a bit ashamedly, admit that when I got feedback on my second draft, and a few things were pointed out, I said: "Oh right! Yup! I know how to deal with this!" I found a quick fix, a band-aid to put over the problem. I was so eager to send my book out to betas, I now don't think I sent out the absolute best version of the story I could. The issues might not have been obvious to everyone, but for me, having them pointed out a second time, taught me to look for the long-lasting, and better solution instead of slap-dash job. Your writing deserves the best solution!


A MASSIVE thank you to all who beta-read for me! I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the time, effort, and love you put into reading and commenting on Golden Revenge. Thank you, and thank you again! *sends hugs and chocolate*

Have you had betas before? If you have, what did you learn? If you haven't, are you nervous/excited about having them? Aren't betas fantastic???
Thank you for reading this long post, and have a wonderful day!

Comments

  1. I've used betas and their feedback is extremely helpful. I'm learning to get more organized with how I handle the beta process and learning what works for me. I've not done a questionnaire before, but it's something to consider.

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    1. Yes, their feedback is so helpful! :) I hope that if you use a questionnaire, you find it useful. Thanks for commenting, Meka!

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  2. This is awesome! I’m going to be searching for alphas/betas for a massive series before too long (yikes) and found this super helpful! :D

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    1. Thanks Faith! :D I'm glad you found it helpful; good luck with your own beta process!

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  3. Ahhh! This post was soooo soo helpful, Melissa!

    I'm almost half afraid to be a beta, because while I do give positives, I tend to red-pen things....a lot....

    I'm nearing the beta stage on an old work....it's the closest thing I've got to being published. I honestly am going to need it in order to progress with it.

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

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    1. Aww I'm so glad! <3

      Well, we all beta-read/critique differently, and someone might feel like they need a more red-pen critique! Just remember to point out positive things as well, and I think you'll be fine. :)

      Ahh that's so exciting! I hope you have a good beta-reading experience! :D

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  4. (I definitely appreciated having my own copy of the document to comment on, so thank you for that! :)

    It's fascinating to see more about your side of the beta-reading process, Melissa! I hope everyone's feedback helps you to make Golden Revenge the absolute best it can be. :D
    - Jem Jones

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    1. (You're welcome, I'm glad it made you feel more comfortable!)

      Thanks Jem, and thank you for all your help! :D

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  5. While beta-reading for you, I realized how nice it was to have a copy of the doc for myself! That's one of the several things I learned from the experience! :D

    These are all great things to keep in mind, Melissa. Thank you for sharing! *hugs* <3 <3

    Lila @ The Red-Hooded Writer

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    1. I'm happy you liked having an individual doc! It was a bit of work making all those copies and individually sending them out, so it's good to hear it was worthwhile! :D

      Thank YOU for being my beta, Lila! *hugs* <3 <3

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  6. Great post! I'm referencing this for when I send out my book one day. :D

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    1. Thanks Gray! :) I hope it helps when you come to that exciting stage in your writing journey!

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  7. This post is absolutely dead on! I really like the method you used for sending chapters out in batches. Next beta round I'm definitely going to try this, as well as doing separate documents for everyone...

    Thank you for posting this! It's inspiration for me to keep editing and get my next WIP out of betas. XD
    jeniquablog.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks Jeneca! I hope my method might make sending out your work to betas next time, easier! :) Aw, you're very welcome. I'm so glad it inspired you! <3

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  8. I'm gearing up to work with my betas in the next couple of weeks! Right now I have 3 signed up, but I'm hoping for a few more :) Honestly, I'm TERRIFIED, but reading about other people's experiences is really helping to calm my nerves a little bit. If you guys can survive the critique, so can I!

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    1. Oh, how exciting! I hope you're able to find as many as you need! Aww I'm sure you'll be fine. *hugs* Best of luck with that, Rebeccah!

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  9. Aw! I'm glad this was a good experience for you. As authors we get so close to our stories, it's hard to recognize some things but that's what betas are for! Best wishes with revisions!

    storitorigrace@blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Victoria! <3 Yes, that's one of the reasons it's so important to seek out feedback!

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  10. I really liked having my own document. I'm glad all the feedback was helpful to you. Your story was amazing!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Skye, thanks so much! <3

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  11. Thank you so much for letting me beta for you! Your story is so amazing and unique! *hugs*

    I just got some feedback for a story and am trying to figure out how to fix it....

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    1. You're welcome; thanks so much for beta-ing for me! <3 *hugs*

      I understand the feeling! Make sure to take some time between reading the feedback and fixing the story; work on something in the meantime, then you can come back with fresh eyes!

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