We’ve all seen the old guy on Shark Tank (Dragon’s Den), clinging to his dream, sinking thousands of dollars into something no one wants. Despite constant rejection, he is committed to the idea that if he believes in something enough, his dream will come true. Optimism is a fine virtue, but it cannot overcome good sense and the ability to recognize when you’re wrong.
This is not a blog about giving up, especially not on writing. You may never publish anything, and your stories may actually be awful, but writing is more about you than everyone else. That said, if you want to be a better writer, one that entertains their readers, you have to listen to those readers. They may not know art, but they know what they like, and they will tell you. Your job is to take their feedback, filter it, then apply it.
Critiquing someone’s work is difficult. I wrote a guide on how to best approach this daunting exchange for both writer and reader. As a creator, writers are naturally defensive of their work, but removing your rose-colored glasses is imperative to the improvement of your craft. When you’re so deep in your own world, it’s hard to step out and see its faults, but that’s exactly what you’re asking your beta readers to do. Let them.
Sometimes the readers will dislike a certain character, or wish the story had gone a different direction. They will each have their own complaints or suggestions, and not all of them may hold merit in your eyes. It is your final say on what to change and what to keep, but don’t be stubborn, and don’t shut out their voices.
Do you want to know when you’re wrong? Here’s a very simple formula:
If one reader dislikes something, you can probably ignore it.
If two or more dislike something, you should consider their argument and try writing their alternative suggestions.
If half of your beta readers dislike something, change it.
Rewriting your story may hurt, and you already know how time-consuming it is, but you got through the early drafts, and your end goal is to make it great. Don’t resist this opportunity to make your novel better.
Make sure you have enough beta readers for a good sampling. Even five people is not a big enough test audience to help you. I plan on handing out 15 copies of my book, knowing that at least 3 of them will never result in feedback. I also intend to cover a diverse demographic, varying the ages, gender, genre interests, and general negativity levels (I know who loves tearing things apart) of my readers. I’m also considering choosing 5 strangers to randomize the readership.
Let me know if any of you would be willing to join my group of beta readers.
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