Beta Readers (Part Two)

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Just over two months ago I sent my first novel out to beta readers. I ended up with exactly 30 brave souls, a sprinkling of friends and family, past and present. If you read my earlier post on Beta Readers, you’ll see that I had a solid plan for tracking readers and guiding reader feedback with a questionnaire.

Tracking

reader_tracking

Above is a partial screenshot of my tracking spreadsheet. You can see a variety of information being tracked, including dates of delivery, completion, and reminder emails. This really helped me to see which people might have needed a different format, nudge the folks who may have forgotten to get started, and stop bothering those who had already finished. It beats going back through emails again to check the same information for 30 people.

Results

You can and should give your beta readers a deadline (mine was 60 days), but you should also understand that ‘life’ will take a giant ‘dump’ on ‘best intentions’ any chance it gets. I knew going into this that not all readers would get back to me on time, and I also knew some would just disappear. 21% of the betas never acknowledged receiving the book.

This is a numbers game, and your first time out with beta readers requires a large dataset to start. I assumed 10 of 30 betas would meet the deadline, and 3 to 5 would cross the finish line at their leisure. 9 of the 30 (27%) came through on time, and I have yet to receive any stragglers, but I have enough information to move forward on my next draft.

Making Sense of the Feedback

There were notes highlighting issues I already suspected, but not all of the responses were congruent. Some people connected with a main character that others felt needed fleshing out. Readers were gripped by the story at different points, leaving me to wonder what I can cut from the beginning to get everyone into the story faster.

Thankfully, no one outright said it was a flop, or that one half of the book was literary torture. My next draft, at this point, isn’t going to be an overhaul, and that does make me happy. For now I’ll improve it where it’s weak, polish it where it’s generic, and tighten it throughout with aggressive edits. When I’m finished, I’ll begin to query, the next phase in my journey toward publication.

Thanks

As I mentioned in the other Beta Reader blog, it’s important to thank your beta readers, even the ones who couldn’t meet the deadline. Some might come through on later reads, more eager to read Science Fiction over Historical Fiction, but some just won’t make the cut again. I’m thankful for the 9 that took the time to read my book (one person actually reading it twice). These people are special, and might never know just how important they were to me. A person who writes is a writer, but they are only an author if someone else reads their work. You made me an author, and I thank you.

Happy writing, everyone!

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