Indie Author Weekly

104: On working with beta readers

March 23, 2021 Sagan Morrow Episode 105
Indie Author Weekly
104: On working with beta readers
Chapters
Indie Author Weekly
104: On working with beta readers
Mar 23, 2021 Episode 105
Sagan Morrow

Have you ever wondered what it's like to work with beta readers for your manuscript... or best practices for working with beta readers... or whether YOU need beta readers? That’s exactly what’s happening on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!

This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books.   

TUNE IN NOW to find out why beta readers might be a good idea (or not) for your manuscript, what the process was like for getting beta readers to share their feedback on Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience, and what I’d do differently next time... 

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:

Let's chat about this episode:

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever wondered what it's like to work with beta readers for your manuscript... or best practices for working with beta readers... or whether YOU need beta readers? That’s exactly what’s happening on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!

This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books.   

TUNE IN NOW to find out why beta readers might be a good idea (or not) for your manuscript, what the process was like for getting beta readers to share their feedback on Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience, and what I’d do differently next time... 

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:

Let's chat about this episode:

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Hello and welcome back to Indie Author Weekly! This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. I’m your host, Sagan Morrow: a productivity strategist and author of polyamorous romcoms.

Now, have you ever wondered about what it’s like to have beta readers for your story? Well, that’s exactly what we’re discussing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!

For our new and returning listeners, you can now get all Indie Author Weekly podcast episodes plus book and writing updates delivered directly to your inbox each week at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes—link is in the show notes.

Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today, I want to share about my recent experience working with three beta readers for my upcoming novel, Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience. In this episode, we’re going to explore why beta readers are a good idea, what the process was like, how the results turned out, and what I’d do differently next time. 

I want to make a note of two quick things before we really dive in:

First of all, can I just say that beta readers are amazing incredible people? They volunteer to read a rough draft of a story and take the time and energy out of their day to provide thoughtful feedback on how you can improve it. That is absolutely amazing. It’s a big commitment! It means so, so much to me that people out there are willing to do that. That’s so wonderful. 

Second, here’s a teaser about the Small Town Stilettos romcom, for your reference: 

Big city fashion designer Margaret "Peggy" Malcolm never dreamed that she'd be stuck back in her tiny hometown. But when her aunt dies, Peggy needs to handle everything with her estate... and it turns out to have a rather unusual stipulation: Peggy needs to marry her childhood sweetheart, Logan Finley, in order to access her inheritance.

Visit GoodReads to add Small Town Stilettos to your Want To Read list! Link is in the show notes.

Okay. Now, why should you get beta readers for your book in the first place? Beta readers provide you with insights on what’s working—and more importantly, what’s NOT working—with your story, from the reader perspective. As writers, we often get too close to our work, where we forget about one thing or another. We take certain elements of our story for granted, or we might assume that something is really clear, when in fact it’s kind of messy. Beta readers provide some distance from the work in progress so that we can find out what the reader’s experience is like as a third party. 

In other words, beta readers can point out all the things that aren’t working, or the things that they’d prefer to see more or less of, when we are too close to our work to see for ourselves. They can help us to realize if parts of the plot are too slow or too rushed, and whether we need to do more character development or relationship development in various stages throughout the manuscript.

This means that getting beta readers is like peeking into the future, so that you can make awesome improvements. Beta readers are a crystal ball for what future readers will be saying about your book! I love it. They are such a gift.

On another note—from the other side of the table, I feel like being a beta reader would be a really good idea as a way to get early testimonials, if you are wanting to be a developmental editor or that kind of thing. If you want to be a freelancer who helps authors develop their stories, but you’re struggling to get your first few clients, maybe talk to some authors about being a beta reader so that you can both build your skillset and get their testimonials on it. Just a thought.

All right. So, what kind of beta reader process did I use for Small Town Stilettos

I had three beta readers for Small Town Stilettos. I had them complete a short survey confirming that they understood what the process would look like and the timeframe I was asking them to commit to.

I took my manuscript and turned it into a fillable PDF, with three questions after every couple chapters, and a series of questions at the very end. That way, it was easy for the beta reader to jot down their thoughts and notes directly into the manuscript, if they wanted. It also helped guide their feedback toward specific areas that I especially wanted their feedback on.

I gave them three weeks to read and provide feedback, which happened to be the end of December, just a few months ago. After all of them submitted their feedback, I compiled it into a single document, chapter by chapter, so that I could refer back to it as I went through the entire manuscript myself and jotted down notes. This was helpful for me to look at when a beta reader said something like, “I wish we got to know the love interest better,” or “It feels as though this friendship is rushed”—it gave me an incredible opportunity to identify key areas of the manuscript where I can flesh out scenes or add more to it.

My beta readers provided very thoughtful feedback, which I was so grateful for. It was funny—two of my beta readers both said, “I hope this doesn’t come across as too harsh!”, which was very sweet of them. Their notes weren’t harsh at all! But I totally understand that we sometimes feel the need to temper our critiques—we don’t want the artist to interpret our comments in the wrong way or to hurt their feelings and such. 

However, frankly, if you, as the author, are going to take beta reader feedback as a personal attack, then you really shouldn't have beta readers. The entire point of beta readers is so that they critique your work and point out the flaws with it. So I actually really loved that my beta readers were willing to be so candid with me in their feedback. My story is going to be so much stronger because of their candid, very thoughtful feedback.

By the way: there are 2 reasons why I have NOT gotten beta readers for my previous novels in the Polyamorous Passions series. Reason #1, I didn’t want to be swayed by other opinions while I was writing my stories. I had a clear idea of what I did and didn’t want to include in the books, and I didn’t want to second-guess myself. Reason #2: I wasn’t ready to receive candid feedback for a work-in-progress. 

That’s why I waited until now to get beta readers. Because I knew that the beta feedback would be a great supplement to my ideas for Small Town Stilettos, rather than swaying me to go in a different direction than planned, and I also knew that I’m now in a place where I welcome critiques of my works in progress. And I’m really glad that I DID wait until now, for both of those reasons. So if you’re considering getting beta readers, make sure that you trust in yourself, and also make sure that your ego isn’t going to get in the way of accepting criticism. 

Okay, so: the feedback itself was, as I mentioned, extremely useful. My beta readers made some really great points about areas of improvement, and in some aspects, they pointed out elements I hadn’t thought of before; in other aspects, they reinforced what I was already thinking about. 

The only real issue I had through this process was that one of my beta readers didn’t provide her feedback until more than 4 weeks after the others—so, that was 7 weeks after I’d given her the manuscript. And I mean, 2021 started out as a gongshow, so I understand that it was a hectic time of year. She also ended up unexpectedly moving during that time—there was a lot going on! So I totally understand that her feedback was delayed. 

...But at the same time, I also felt really bad for my other 2 beta readers who did get me their feedback so much earlier. One of them wasn’t feeling well and she still got it to me within a month of receiving my manuscript. If I had known in advance that the third beta reader was going to take that extra time, I would have given all of the beta readers that extra time. It also definitely threw off my own timelines for working on rewrites and edits, which is unfortunate.

I think in the future, if I have beta readers again, I’ll make sure I give them a little bit longer of a time period to read and provide feedback, and I’ll also give myself extra buffer time with the assumption that they might not give it back to me within the timeframe they agree to.

The other major thing that I want to think a lot about before getting beta readers in the future is this: figuring out at what stage of the manuscript to send them a draft. Some of the beta reader feedback included comments where they didn’t like the main character that much, because they felt that she’s selfish. When I was starting to work on rewrites, I realized that this was a result of giving my beta readers such an early draft to look at: Normally, my characters start kind of “rough” in the first couple drafts. It’s not until after the third draft or so that we really start seeing the layers of complexity in their character. So that was my bad. I truly believe that if I’d given a later draft to my beta readers, they would have a very different opinion of my main character. 

So that’s something I’ll need to think about, if I get beta readers again: how far into the writing process should a beta reader read your book? I don’t really have an answer to this. It’s something to potentially experiment with down the line!

Lastly, I think there’s also a huge benefit to getting beta readers who are already familiar with our work. One of my beta readers is a book blogger who’s been reading and reviewing my books right from the beginning, so her feedback was super valuable because she knows my work. She knows my writing style and my characters, and was able to provide me with nuanced feedback based on that past knowledge of my work. That was really cool and helpful!

I am so excited about Small Town Stilettos. This story is going to be so much better because of the feedback that each of my three beta readers gave me. I am so thankful for all three of them and the suggestions they gave me. It is such a gift to hear their feedback and their reader experience so that I can improve the book before publishing it later this year. 

Stay tuned for that! And in the meantime, definitely add Small Town Stilettos to your Want to Read list on Goodreads.

And that, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly! Access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast.

Thank you so much for tuning in. Please take 2 minutes to rate and review Indie Author Weekly on Apple Podcasts—I really appreciate your support. 

Until next week, this is Sagan Morrow, signing off the Indie Author Weekly podcast.