I recently finished another manuscript and needed some beta readers. This is far from my first one, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Let me share some with you now.
#1 – Give them instructions. Chances are, your beta readers are not professional editors, agents, and publishers. They don’t understand exactly what’s needed in their analysis. That’s perfectly fine, just give them a bit of instruction. For example, this manuscript I just finished is a picture book. Unless you have read the countless dozens I have, studied them as I have, read advice and articles as I have, you’re not going to realize a few things. One of those things is that the words don’t tell the story so much as the pictures do. I recently read The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket, and a prime example of this relationship. Nowhere does the writing tell what the bad mood looks like or that it’s floating around, etc. The artist does that. This is one of the instructions I gave my beta readers.
#2 – They aren’t trying to break your soul. OK, you just poured your literal soul onto a piece of paper, and someone had the audacity to criticize it?!?!?! Yup, that’s pretty much what just happened. But like our real soul, where we think we’re doing right but may be doing things very very wrong, we need a little instruction every now and again. When someone tells you something about yourself you don’t like, you probably dismiss it at first but then maybe, later, when you’ve grown a bit, you realize they might have been right all along. We don’t have that kind of time here. Take a deep breath, here it goes. Most say just keep getting critiqued over and over and you’ll get used to it, etc. Not for me. That didn’t work. What did work was to stop looking at it like the love of my life and more like a business. I’m building a car, not displaying my insides for the world to see. They’re telling me the gears don’t switch well, not that my favorite character isn’t working. What worked for me is to step back, aka strip the story away from my chest kicking and screaming, and then look at it. Once I’m in that mood, I take suggestions far more easily. It still hurts, but I’m more open to it, and that makes a better story.
#3 – Don’t take every single statement to heart. Like I said, they’re not professionals, and even if they were, each one will be different. I’ve seen countless authors, “One beta reader said this and now I have to fix it.” I’m like, “Why? Is it actually a problem? How many betas did you have?” If your answer is 6 or more, why do you care what that one said? Don’t get me wrong. That one could see something no one else did that does need to be changed. This is where you have to put your manager’s cap on and make the big decisions. Not everything they think needs changing needs changing, and you have to be the one to decide that.
#4 – Make a list and check it twice. Not everyone is cut out for beta reading. If they never get back to you, if their suggestions don’t line up right, they’re probably not the best reader for your books, just like a certain agent isn’t the best agent for you or a certain publisher, or, you know, a spouse. Everyone is different, and not everyone matches up. That’s OK.
Hope this helps you with your next manuscript. Good luck!