Monday, March 31, 2014

Choosing Beta-Readers: Who? How? Why?

This week I got 8 people lined up as "Beta-Readers" for my second novel "THE SHIP".

For those not familiar with beta-readers, they are basically test readers for you book.  They will read the story and give you feedback on what they thought of it.  But what kind of feedback am I talking about?

Well this may vary from writer to writer.  For me I'm looking for the following feedback:

1-Did they like the story? (this is a given, I have to know whether or not the story is even working for my readers in the first place)
2-How was the pacing?  Did the story drag a lot, or was it too-fast paced and hard to keep up with?
3-Were the characters likable and did you come to care about them?  Did they intrigue you?  Did you want to see more of them in the future?  (I'm working on an ongoing series where I will rotate some of the cast from time to time)
4-Spelling errors?  (I've done my best but some things will still slip past me so a few more sets of eyes doesn't hurt)
5-Grammatical issues?  (I've chosen my team from a variety of people including a few authors and grammar nazis who will be more than willing to point out areas of concern)
6-Did the story flow well?  Were there areas where there were contradictions in who was where during an action sequence?  Was there an idea that got confused and hard to follow?
7-FINALLY: What did they think of the piece overall?

This is a lot of questions I know, but this is the book's testing ground.  One of your last chances to work out the bugs and iron out any problems before you unleash your work on the public.  And trust me, sometimes the public can be unforgiving and harsh.  Remember, most of them will be putting out money to buy your work, so make sure you strive to put out a really good product.  Your reputation is on the line whenever you put out a book.  Never slack off on quality or it'll hurt the sales of your next book.

As I mentioned earlier in this entry, I'm doing a series.  So one of the things I made sure to do was get at least a couple of beta-readers who did NOT read the first book.  People are not always going to buy your books in order, so make sure you keep each story neat and self-contained that anyone can jump into whatever part of your series they happen to spot.  Give enough references to past events from earlier books so intrigue them enough to maybe want to check out the earlier books, but not detract from the one in their hands at that moment.

Beta-Readers can help your work tremendously.  And like editors, you don't have to take EVERY suggestion they make to improve the book.  You want to keep faithful to your own vision, but weigh the pros and cons for each change.  Some may prove to be a master-stroke, while others may not.  After all beta-readers will not know your long-term vision for your book and have all the insights you do.  So be careful how you take their advice.

Finally, always be gracious even if they give advice you don't agree with. Remember, they're trying to help your book become something even better.

Until next time, take care and keep writing.