As I’ve previously written, feedback from beta readers is invaluable. TV producers have been using this method for years to determine if a show is worth investing in beyond a pilot episode or season.
Let’s assume that you chose ideal beta readers in your target audience, you provided them with guiding questions, and you’ve collected their feedback with a handy survey tool, like Google Forms.
First, thank your beta readers. Follow through on any promises you made in exchange for their feedback. If that’s a copy of your published book, let them know that you’ll keep them posted on your progress.
Then you’re ready to begin revising.
First, you read the feedback. All of it. Even if you read individual responses as they came in, sit down with all the responses and read through them in one sitting.
Hold space for the emotions that will show up. It’s totally normal to swing from elation (He loved it!) to anger (What does she know? Nothing!) to despair (I’m the worst writer. Why did I think I could write a book) to confusion (Did they even read my manuscript? What are they talking about?).
After my first round of developmental edits and revisions, I was ready to receive beta-reader feedback for Love Letters to My Body. I wanted to make the task as easy as possible for me and my readers.
First, I identified what my ideal readers looked like. Then I made a list of everyone I knew who fit into those descriptions, and who might be willing to give me specific feedback. Once I knew WHO I wanted to ask, I turned to the questions of WHAT I wanted to ask and HOW I wanted to ask.
Trying to manage multiple email threads felt daunting to me, and I also wanted my beta readers to have the option to respond anonymously. I turned to Google Forms to create a survey.
Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.
Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book). Who is your ideal reader?
How many readers: 5-??? This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.
When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.
Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written). If you have a newsletter, ask your subscribers who would be interested in beta reading for you. This is a great way to engage with your fans, but remember that you can (and should) be picky with your selection. Say yes to the folks who regularly engage with you.
You can also reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; or hire a professional.
We’re not talking fashion magazines, folks. In the book world, a style guide is the rulemaker you’re choosing to follow. And for writers in the US, the most accepted style guide for books is Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).
CMOS covers how to treat numbers, where to insert commas, when to hyphenate, and so much more. It’s currently in its seventeenth edition. The online version is my favorite way to work with it, which I do almost every day, because it’s so easy to search. I also appreciate the forum and Q&A included in the online version. For $35 a year, it’s well worth the subscription.
Chicago’s got one issue though. It was originally written for nonfiction books. And that certainly shows up sometimes. So if you’re writing fiction, there may be instances where Chicago is “silent,” meaning you will have to figure out what you want to do yourself.
What should my word count be? is a question that every writer asks at least once in their writing career, and with good reason.
Having a word count in mind can be a goal to work toward. Looking at you, NaNoWriMo.
It’s also a good idea to know what expectations your readers might have around book lengths and the hours they’ll spend with you. And those expectations vary wildly between genres: epic fantasies can be four times as long as a middle-grade mystery.
What’s your favorite book, or who’s your favorite author, in the genre you write?
If you can’t answer that question, then it’s time to head to the library or bookstore.
Reading other works in your genre has so many benefits for you as a writer:
Be Inspired: Read with curiosity and wonder because inspiration abounds everywhere, especially in books we love. Maybe you’re just inspired to exist in a world where a book like this exists. Or maybe the author is clever and plays with structure in an interesting way. Or prompts you to wonder about something that becomes your next great idea.
Find things to avoid: What does the author do that annoys you?
Stay current with trends.
Support a fellow writer.
Learn about comps (when writing a query, book proposal, or preparing your elevator speech). Comps is short for “comparative titles.” It means books that are similar to yours.