Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting the Most from your Betas

I'm on a bit of a beta reader kick right now. Must be because my precious darling is in the hands of betas and so (unfortunately for you) this is all I can think about. I've decided to go with it and offer a little bit more advice on betas.

So now that you have the right readers for your story, it's important that you help guide them so you can get the right kind of feedback. While we'd all love to hear "It's perfect, don't change a thing" that is unlikely to be true or helpful.

Are you asking the right Beta questions?

I suggest giving your readers a list of questions to get the ball rolling. Below is the list I use. These questions are fairly general and are just a starting place to let your beta know the kind of feedback you are interested in.

1.      Did the beginning (first few paragraphs and pages) capture your interest and pull you into the story? If not, what was missing?
2.      Were you able to get into the story quickly?
3.      Were there any parts you wanted to stop reading or where you found yourself skimming or skipping over?
4.      Can you relate to the characters? Do their emotions and reactions feel real?
5.      Does the dialogue sound natural?
6.      Were you able to picture all the characters and scenes? Do any of them need more description? Do any of them have too much description?
7.      Were there any parts you found confusing?
8.      Are there any questions that aren’t answered by the end?
9.      Did the stakes/risks feel real?
10.  Was the ending satisfying?
11.  Was there any scene or character you just didn’t like?

I also use a cover letter for my questions. Some beta readers are going to be old hands or even writers themselves, so they know the drill. However, some of your readers might be unsure how this all works. I use the letter below to fill them in on the importance of their role.

Dear Reader,
            Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for my novel. I appreciate the time you are willing to give to read my book and provide feedback. This is an important step on the road to publication which makes you important to the success of my work. So thanks again.
            I have provided a short list of questions to get you started thinking about the book. Please read through them before you start reading so you can have them in the back of your head while you read. Feel free to provide additional comments on any other topic you feel is relevant. All of your feedback is valuable. Also, feel free to make comments directly on the manuscript.
            Please know that I do not consider this a finished work and I anticipate you will have lots of suggestions to make it better. I understand fully that my novel has flaws, and I am grateful that you are willing to help me find them. There is no comment or observation you can make that will hurt my feelings. I am genuinely looking for your honest feedback. If you hate it, I still want to know.
            Last, I ask only that you do not share this work with anyone unless you have first checked with me. It is my intent to publish this novel, and any public distribution of this work prior to that time could jeopardize my chances of publication. If you have a friend who you think would enjoy the book and could provide helpful feedback, I am open to additional readers. I only ask that you check with me first.
            So, again, thank you for your help. I look forward to getting your feedback and making a better novel.

The last full paragraph may seem like a bit of overkill, but since I use teen betas I thought this was important.

What questions do you ask your readers? Have you found a method for getting the best feedback? Share your tips below so we can all learn from our collective greatness!

3 comments:

  1. All good questions to ask! If you have a mss out with a beta reader it might be good to take time to pamper yourself or go have fun, shopping, hiking or whatever. In other words, try not to worry about it. I know that helps me.

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  2. Great information. I'm not sure I would have thought to ask half the questions you listed here.

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  3. Those are excellent questions. I'm reading a friend's work now and it helps to have suggestions on what kind of feedback the author is looking for.

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