Should I have Beatings from My Beta-Readers?

I sent my first novel out to be reviewed a few weeks ago, and I chose to send it to an elite bunch of crack commando readers/editors that I know. The notorious ‘Beta-Reader’ phase.

I have since waited patiently, and slightly nervously for their critique to return. If it came back quickly would that mean good news? Or would it mean that they just took one look at it and thought that the entire reading of it would somehow irreparably burn their retinas? But then it took a few weeks, so did that mean that they were being so conscientious that it took time to write down every annoying, irritating little trait?

Well, the wait is over, and I received my first feedback yesterday, and I was delighted by it. Not because they told me that I was probably a literary genius, or that it was just perfect as it was and that they could think of nothing else that would improve it. No, I was delighted because it told me of all the things that made it crap.

What would be the point of sending your manuscript, your precious baby, the thing that you’ve nurtured and protected over the last few months, out in to the wild just for it to be ripped to shreds on it’s first flight? Surely it makes more sense to send it to a nursery slope first, where it can learn how to defend itself and fly adequately before you let the big boys play with it.

This is the task that you want Beta-Readers to perform for you. I was delighted because all of the feedback was completely right. I couldn’t argue with any of it, and neither should I have. My role is to listen to this feedback and make decisions accordingly. It was such quality feedback that I know exactly what it means, and more importantly exactly what I can do to improve it.

I am ever so grateful for my friend for being so honest, which is a hard thing to do with someone you know, but she understood the process enough to know that this is what I really needed. I’m also grateful for the fact that she didn’t just say it was crap, which has given me more confidence than I thought it would.

So, to answer my own question, should I have beatings from my Beta-Readers, the answer isn’t just beatings for the sake of beatings, but if the manuscript deserves it then I need to be able to take it. Better that some people you know give you some constructive pointers, than a whole internet of scary strangers just abuse you.

Do you use Beta-Readers? and do you find them useful?

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12 responses to “Should I have Beatings from My Beta-Readers?

  1. Do you always use a group of friends to beta read? I write children’s books…well, one so far and it isn’t published yet, but I have had a friend read it and she more or less just corrected my grammar. She’s a first grade teacher. I don’t have someone who isn’t afraid of hurting my feelings. Where do I find non-partial readers?

    • I’d love to help, but I’m not sure. I was lucky enough to know some friends who were editors, and equally lucky that they agreed to do it, gratis.

      I think that you could try posting a request for beta-readers on twitter, or whichever other social media tool you use. You may get lucky. Also, there must be a service provided by someone on the internet, but it may well come at a cost.

      Failing both of these suggestions, just use your friends, but instead of asking them to look for typos, get them to tell you what they thought of the story. Give them a guide to what you want; i.e. opinions on structure, characters, pacing. The worst you’ll get back is hopefully their objective opinion.

      Good Luck.

  2. Really glad you got good value out of it Mike! Obviously very different but I love constructive feedback on my photographs, a good conversation about a picture often beats hours of fruitless shooting.

  3. Beta readers are important. It’s wonderful that you know someone yet they can be honest and frank about their critique.

  4. Just discovered your blog after writing my own post for tomorrow about my quest for a beta reader. 🙂 And I have to say I agree — if something needs to be ripped apart to make it better, by all means rip it apart.

    I like using beta readers. My problem has always been that people read part of the book and then life happens and their dog needs orthodontics and their child ate a whole walnut shell and oh my god has it been eight months already?

    So…basically I have sort of politely requested that my most recent betas commit to some sort of time frame if I want extensive feedback. It depends on what I’m looking for (I always tell them specific things I’m looking for, whether it’s characterisation, structure, plot, etc.) how much time I’m willing to twiddle my thumbs and bang away at a new project. When I’m someone’s beta, I try to give them the same courtesy. No more than two months is my general rule, but if someone’s waiting on me and only me, I try to get stuff back to them within a month.

    • I think it’s difficult to tell your friends explicit instructions, but in this case you have to. I told my readers that I wanted it back within the month because anything after that us wasting both our time.

      Thankfully they’ve all stuck to it. Perhaps I’m frightening. 🙂

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