On Beta-reading

I’ve been reading a lot of self-published books lately, and nearly 99% of these are one or two edits short of ready (in terms of style and content). One way to rectify this is to find reliable beta-readers, and then listen to what they have to say.

Whenever someone asks for beta-readers, they always say that they want brutally honest feedback, but I’ve been beta-reading since it was called “Hey, can you read my novel,” and it has been my experience that generally they do not want you to be too honest. As to what they do want, I can’t really speculate, confirmation perhaps, but they don’t seem to want that for which they’ve asked.

If you ask people to read your manuscript, the hope is that you did so to make it better; let them do the job you asked them to do.

If a beta-reader comes back and says that your manuscript is not ready, then you should listen to them because this is a READER telling you that they probably would not buy your book.

If a beta-reader says a particular image, metaphor, sentence, passage, paragraph, or chapter, isn’t working for them, and your first impulse is to explain it, or tell them why they are wrong, then there’s a 99% chance that there is a problem with said image, metaphor, sentence, passage, paragraph, or chapter.

I can’t express this strongly enough; if you have to explain it, it doesn’t work. Can you explain it to every reader? You’re a writer; what you mean is suppose to be on the page.

You asked someone to read and give feedback, and they read, and hopefully gave you what you asked for, whether to liked it, or actually really wanted it. Whether you ultimately accept or use the advice or correction given, SHUT UP. Why? Beta-reading can be hard, time consuming, work. Be thankful. If you ask for advice and someone gives it, they’re not interested in why you don’t want THAT advice. Take or don’t take, that’s your business, but keep it to yourself.

Unless you have a huge pool of potential readers from which to draw, defensiveness and a lack of gratitude will saddle you with a reputation as someone adverse to criticism, leaving you with no one who can provide needed feedback.

Plus, if you’re busy defending what you wrote (defending yourself, actually), you can’t discover whether or not they are right and there is a problem. If you do feel the need say something to a beta-reader, try this: “I’m trying to do X. Is this not working?”

There is nothing wrong with writing to write, but if you plan to publish, take it seriously, and when I say seriously, I mean as death.

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6 thoughts on “On Beta-reading

  1. Donna Amis Davis 29 September 2016 / 13:16

    Thank you, Al! That is really great advice, and I’m right there, right now, or at least very soon. Very timely word for me!

    • Al McDermid 29 September 2016 / 15:24

      Thanks. Listening to beta-readers has been an immense help.

      • Donna Amis Davis 29 September 2016 / 16:45

        I am excited to be embarking on this journey soon. I’m getting my thick skin ready.

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