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...
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!