Well, not so long ago, the second draft of my novel was completed and oh my god, was that ever a relief?
But then came the question of how to proceed from there – I felt sure that the manuscript wasn’t in a fit state to be self-published, or put in front of an agent or publisher quite yet, not if I valued my reputation anyway. But I had come to a bit of a stand-still, I’d found all the flaws most obvious to me already, but now I could hardly see the wood for the trees.
So, like many people before me, I turned to the internet for advice – and boy was that ever a mistake. The conflicting advice I found there was about enough to make my head explode.
It was a term I thought I was already familiar with – having used what were known as Beta Readers in my fanfiction writing days. The Beta’s I worked with back then some eleven years ago, as it turns out, were actually super Beta’s. I would write a chapter of my latest (usually Ashes to Ashes based) fanfic and email it over to my Beta.
To this day, I have no knowledge of who she was really – she went by the tag Emzi.x and she was a higher level English student, more keen on correcting the work of others than taking up the pen herself, she was awesome.
But here’s where the difference comes in – Emzi.x would send back a corrected version of what I had written. Then all I had to do, was hit upload, job done.
Over a decade further along my journey, I discover that ordinarily, that is not what Beta Reader’s do. A Beta’s job is to read through your work and provide you with feedback – be it feedback on the story itself, any typing errors they spotted, in short anything they liked or didn’t like. They give you the feedback and you pick and choose what changes to make yourself.
And here is where the conflicting advice comes in. Many writers will tell you that you simply MUST have Beta Readers – while others will insist you avoid them like the plague.
Some who favour Beta’s, will tell you to pick very carefully, making sure that each and every one of them is in your target audience while others will insist you cast a far wider net, to get a varied opinion.
One school of thought will tell you to pick only a handful of trusted Beta’s to show your work to, while others are adamant that you should aim for a pool of twenty Beta’s and upwards to better show patterns in what is liked and disliked.
So, what’s a writer to do when faced with such opposing advice?
Make it up, of course.
I decided the best way to move forward would be to invite ten people I knew, from varying backgrounds and readerships, to be my round one Beta’s, knowing that even though all ten had said yes, there was a high possibility that they wouldn’t pull through.
Of that ten, four have come through at this point and a fifth is still positive they want to be involved. That’s not a bad rate of return for such a mixed bag and it gives me the opportunity to see what people who don’t ordinarily read in that genre make of it, as well as getting the viewpoint of those who know what to expect.
My next step? Beta Reader groups are abundant on Facebook – and I’m in several. All of them are full of writers and readers who I already know are looking for something to read and are happy to give feedback. So, I’ll post in those groups and see what interest I get back.
Once I’ve got all that lovely feedback returned to me – it will be time to pick and choose what advice to incorporate into the novel and what to ignore. A task that should be fairly easy to do, with patterns in opinion readily showing through after so many have taken a walk through my world.
But I’m curious, what do you think of Beta Readers? Are they important or an unnecessary practice? What would you do differently from me?
Thanks for reading guys, drop a comment in the box below and start a conversation about this – let’s see if we can make the answer obvious.
Much Love, TR.