Why Beta Readers Are Awesome

When I picked up writing again after taking time away from it while my children were young, I felt behind. I began writing fast and furious. I had an idea for a novel-a women’s fiction. After I had written about two drafts, I thought I might actually have something so I went to my almighty, intelligent friend Google to find out now what? Google informed me I needed to find beta readers.

After some research on beta readers, I went to my next resource, my best friend who, (besides my husband) has been my cheerleader. Also knowing she’s an avid reader, I asked her if she would be willing to read my manuscript. I warned her it was probably, most likely, a mess. But she graciously accepted. Not only that, she also wrangled a few other readers for me. They were a couple friends and colleagues who were enthusiastic about reading my manuscript. I recruited my sister, who I knew loved reading but who also has a critical eye and would tell me the truth.

So began my journey into what a writer/beta reader relationship looked like. That manuscript had five beta readers. Four of which didn’t live in the same state as myself and three whom I’d never even met in person. I emailed all readers, included a short synopsis, and questions I wanted them to answer and attached the manuscript.

While I waited for their feedback, I started something new. A short story, which I ended up submitting to an anthology and was later chosen to be published. Then I got started on another novel. When the feedback came back, while there were plenty of suggestions, the majority was positive. It gave me the “spark” and I was hooked on writing again.

Here are some tips on beta readers:

*Choosing Beta Readers:

When finding beta readers, it’s best to not ask all of your loved ones. Asking your mom, spouse, sister, brother, grandmother sounds like a great idea. But in reality, your family will likely sugarcoat their feedback and you’ll come away from the experience thinking you’ve got a New York Times Bestseller on your hands. While in reality, you most likely have a decent plot with somewhat manageable characters, a nice setting, and stakes that need amped up. I try to stick to asking only one family member, two at the max. While also recruiting readers who either like the genre of my manuscript and/or are avid readers in general. A good idea is to choose other writers. I like to get a mix of all of the above. But mostly, I save other writers as critique partners. *Also, be sure to find people/readers you trust.

*Questions to ask Beta Readers:

  • Did the first sentence, paragraph, chapter pull you in? Did they grab your attention enough to want to continue reading the book?
  • Were the character’s goals clear enough?
  • Were you able to visualize what the characters looked like?
  • Was the dialogue believable? Did it flow?
  • Were you able to imagine the setting?
  • Did the scenes flow? Did you feel there were any I should add or cut?
  • Did you find any inconsistencies or discrepancies? Any places I got a character eye color wrong? Things like that?
  • Did you notice any plot holes? Things that didn’t make sense or need to be explained?
  • When did you take a break/put the manuscript down/go to the bathroom?
  • And anything else you feel would be important to point out to me.

This list has changed over the years. I’ve sort of simplified it. These are the ones that are most important to me. You may find ones that are better suited for you and your books. I also shortened it because when you ask someone to read an unpublished book, you’re asking for a huge favor. I don’t feel it’s fair to also inundate them with a thousand questions on top of that. Typically, I send my beta readers a coffee gift card in return for their time/generosity. I can’t afford much but it’s another way, beyond my words, to tell them thank you. They are awesome and just took time away from their schedules, families, hobbies, to do a favor for me.

Beta readers are often the first readers, (beyond yourself) to take a look at your project. They can tell you if you’ve got an interesting plot and intriguing characters with an eye-catching setting. Yes, opinions are usually subjective, but that’s why it’s important to get a handful of readers. I typically stick to 3-5. If the majority of them are telling you there’s a problem in an area of your manuscript, chances are you may want to take another look at that. Even having a literary agent, I don’t just send her my rough drafts of my next novel. I send them to beta readers and critique partners before my agent ever gets a hold of it.

I hope you find a great group of beta readers and if you’ve already found them, thank them or give them a shoutout to show you appreciate them! 🙂

Nanowrimo-The Murky Middle

Congrats! You’ve made it to the murky middle of *Nanowrimo!

If you’re participating in Nanowrimo this year, kudos to you! If you’re not, that’s okay too. Nanowrimo doesn’t fit into everyone’s schedule. For some, it can cause severe stress and anxiety. Or, if you do participate and then don’t win, that can be disheartening. Putting the pressure on yourself, in somewhat of a public setting takes courage and can be nerve-racking. You make the choice for yourself and what you think you can handle based on your daily agenda and where you’re currently at with your writing. I think the purpose of Nanowrimo is to get you in the habit of writing often, or every day. It challenges you to set a goal and stretches you to reach that goal.

This year I wasn’t going to participate in Nanowrimo. I participated and won in 2017 and 2018. The reason why I wasn’t going to is because those two manuscripts I wrote those two years are still sitting there with 50-60k words in first draft form. But I found myself on medical leave from my day job after a surgery and with an outlined plot for a new manuscript. So I decided to participate for my third year.

If you’re following along with the goal of reaching 50k by the end of November, then you’ve probably reached around 25k by now. I’ve always found reaching the middle of any novel, regardless of Nanowrimo or not gets you to the “murky middle” or “saggy middle” and it can be the place a lot of writers want to give up. It’s a tough place to be. The thing I always try to remember is, if the middle of my book is boring for me, it’s definitely going to be boring for my reader. So the key is to keep the pace going and the momentum building so it doesn’t become “saggy”. Save some of those smaller “ah-ha” moments, or twists/turns, or secrets for the middle. Don’t give them all away in the first 3 chapters or save all the big reveals for the ending. If you give them away too soon or too late, your reader will either quit reading your book because you’ve already revealed all the good stuff, or because they’ve lost interest from not revealing things soon enough.

With Nanowrimo-because the point is to reach 50k in the month of November, if I become too bogged down by the middle, I’ll move straight to the ending, the downhill slope. If your novel has been outlined or plotted enough, you usually know the ending. I focus on that. I write all of the big reveals, the two love interests make their way back to one another so that happily-ever-after can be achieved. Sometimes, writing the ending actually helps me to go back and write the middle, making sure the character arcs are all there and the pacing is moving along so that the ending makes sense.

Good luck Nanowrimo participants! Halfway done, halfway to go. We got this!!

*Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month; where the goal is to write 50k words during the month of November. Check out the details on their site: https://nanowrimo.org