Beta Benefits

I talked about sending a manuscript to betas in a previous post and the madness that inspired. Now they’ve fed back and I wanted to share what the experience was like.

This is the first time I’ve reached this stage of the writing process. I don’t know if that makes a difference or not. Certainly this time round it made the experience thrilling!

Generally speaking my betas were ace. The feedback came in varying forms, ranging from phone/real life chats, to emails and more. One essentially line edited the manuscript, another wrote close to a book himself and one got back to me within seven days!

At first the length and depth of feedback was a little overwhelming as was the realisation of the amount of work I had to do. Even minor changes quickly rippled out through the manuscript to the point that I was writing new material as much as rewriting or refining.

I also made one major error: I jumped too soon.

To clarify, when I’d had some but not all of the feedback, I could see areas that needed work and I was itching to fix them, so I plunged in and started writing.

Big mistake.

The work was purely focused on fixing problems rather than writing story and as a result I lost something important in the process.

A few deep breaths, and long chats with my wife later I calmed the <censored> down and waited for the last of the betas to get back to me.

Their opinions varied but I was surprised by the number of common issues they identified. Plot holes, weaker characters, issues with the protagonist; the same things each time. And sometimes they liked bits too!

All in all the experience was incredibly valuable though quite humbling. I’d known there was work to do but hadn’t appreciated how much. As a result the sense of having written a book has gone, replaced with the sense of having written a draft that will allow me to write a book in the future.

I think being a good beta reader is a real skill, not just in giving criticism but in giving it in a positive way. I really appreciated how sensitive and thoughtful my betas were in the way they approached me. Opinions were offered as opinions only, honesty was given and generally the spirit in which they approached the project was enthusiastic which was a real boost.

If there’s one thing that stands out it’s the level of engagement and energy they gave to my work.

That’s not to say it wasn’t hard at times. I was moaning recently to Em that at the start of the year I had two books (my other manuscript is going to betas shortly) and now it feels like I’ve got two partly written drafts. It’s like I’m going backwards not forwards. The reply was:

“It’s called writing, darling.”

Indeed.

As I work on the next draft I’m left wondering how best to thank these good folk. Any ideas welcome in the comments.

10 responses to “Beta Benefits

  1. Sounds like you have good beta readers. Any first draft which doesn't get ripped to shreds by this process hasn't been properly critiqued!

    But the way I tend to look at it is you do still have a book, it's just still in the process of being transformed from passable to excellent. 😎

    • Not sure I'm with you on the shredding but I take the point that there's no point in saving the writer's ego at the expense of the book. And I really hope you're right with the other thing!

  2. I've recently finished beta reading for a friend. I know too that I had my first novella beta read and it's interesting to see what three different people come up with. Sometimes sorting out the suggestions can be difficult. My second novella I worked one on one with an editor – loved that experience. However I think betas do a fantastic job and the best way to thank one is well just to say thanks and let them know whether or not you found their suggestions useful etc.
    Helen recently posted..#tuesdayserial – WIZARD – Part 13My Profile

  3. I love that you nailed the most crucial part of betas: identiying what they agree upon. If one person hates something, they can always just be oversensitive. If people agree that a joke is offensive, or that a character is terrifying, or that the voice keeps coming off the page, then you're on to something.

    Godspeed, Mr. Newman!
    John Wiswell recently posted..'U' is for 'The Uncanny Valley.' You probably saw this coming.My Profile

  4. Beta reading sounds a lot like assimilating all the feedback on technical docs at the day job. At least you're your own manager!
    Katherine Hajer recently posted..#fridayflash: truth be toldMy Profile

  5. Glad to read you had good beta readers with constructive criticism in a polite manner.
    Such summaries are really helpfull for people, like me, that haven't gone through that sort of thing, or at all reached that level in the writing process. It's a good heads up and a valuable advice – not too jumpy, remember it's called writing : )
    Cindy Vaskova recently posted..DaymaresMy Profile

    • Thanks Cindy. I've read a lot of established authors giving writing advice but I haven't come across much for people getting feedback for the first time.

      Good luck to you when you get there!

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