The beta reader stage of the writing process is both fun and nerve-wracking at times; your manuscript has likely been through critiques and an editor by now and it's fairly close to "final product"; now it's time to see how readers react!
In my last post, I talked about what beta readers ARE and ARE NOT; now I want to talk about how to work with them!
Whether you choose your betas from friends, family members, or a sign-up form on social media, it's important to always remember this is a stage in the professional process of publication. You're soliciting feedback to help you improve your craft; you have some say over how this goes. Because of this, going into the process prepared is hugely important. You have a choice whether to just hand off your book and hope for the best (which can totally work!) or to be structured in your approach. I've found having some structure has helped ease the stress of the beta-stage, so I wanted to share a few tips that may be of use to you, too!
Compile a list of questions for them to answer I cannot stress enough what a lifesaver this one was for me! In early beta-reading attempts, I did the "throw and hope" method, and found that I received such wildly varying styles of feedback I did not know which way to turn. Further down the line, I learned from a fellow writing coach how segmenting the book with questions about each section helped her pinpoint what needed fixing, and based on questions other writers suggested using with beta readers, I compiled my own list to pass on to my betas (you can find my personal question list HERE and feel free to modify it for your own readers!). Once I started using this method, everything became so much easier! I was able to pinpoint trouble spots in specific groups of chapters and tackle them intentionally.
Choose people who understand your genre/story type This one is HUGE, guys. Remember that beta readers are your test audience for how your book will go over with readers. If you're looking for beta feedback as a fantasy writer and your best friend in the whole world never reads fantasy, than while you may want her support, she is not going to be able to give you the clearest scope on how a fantasy reader would receive your work. It's fine to solicit beta feedback from a few people who are new to reading in your genre, but make sure you're getting more than half of an audience viewpoint from people who read within that target audience.
Have a schedule for feedback submission Especially when you're first wading out in the waters of the professional side of writing, it can be hard to have things like deadlines and schedules for yourself - let alone setting them for other people! However it's incredibly important to treat working relationships as what they are, whether you're in it with an Editor, CP, or beta reader. At some point, you need to have feedback in your hands in order to sort through it - whether you need it in a few weeks or a few months, there is a deadline out there. And it can be very difficult if you have seven out of eight people's feedback and you're waiting on that last one for two extra weeks! So when you start out, have a plan for a schedule and communicate this clearly with potential beta readers; this allows people to choose in or out based on their availability and will help everyone avoid headache and hassle down the road.
Don't be afraid to admit it's not a good fit Potentially the hardest step of all is when you work with a beta reader only to find they are not a good fit - and this likely WILL happen to you at least once. During one beta reader round I solicited feedback from a person who refused to meet the deadlines or answer the provided questions; this made it extremely hard to work with their feedback because I was able to compile everyone else's in a timely and structured fashion, but not theirs. Unfortunately, after chasing them for feedback and the deadline coming and going, I was forced to admit this was not a healthy beta/writer relationship and I could not solicit from them again.
This can really hurt, but it is okay, guys. Not everyone, even friends or family, can be the perfect fit. Having good boundaries and a clear sense of what you want from the beta process will help minimize these experiences and make it easier on you and them to work together toward your mutual goals.