I’m talking writing, here. Fiction writing, to be exact, though even non-fiction writing benefits from multiple sets of eyes reviewing everything from sentence structure to fact-checking. You write alone, but critique partners or groups are key in helping you build a solid story.
I’ve been working on my revise and resubmit for the past couple months, and sent my manuscript off to a few beta readers. I’ve gotten feedback from almost all of them now, which gave me the idea for this post.
Beta readers are like the tasting panel for your book. You’ve done the research, mixed and remixed and revised the recipe until you think it tastes pretty good. You’ve let other people sample the brew, maybe even worked in the kitchen with them, and they’ve offered suggestions and advice that improved the flavor, color, and texture of your creation.
Refining the recipe is a necessary step. You’ve done that, and you could release the new and improved product into the wild and wait for people to try it, and hopefully love it.
Better, though, to toss the finished recipe off to a test panel made up of people who just like a good-tasting product, and people who have discerning taste–maybe super-tasters–who can tell whether you used old seasonings, or if the cow that gave the milk grazed in a grassy pasture or munched on hay. The panel can tell you there’s too much nutmeg, not enough vanilla, or just enough cinnamon. They’re the ones who will recommend more marshmallows, or less chocolate, or melting the butter instead of softening it.
They’re the ones that help you make those last-minute tweaks before you submit your creation to the judges.
My beta readers ranged from a fellow writer (in a different genre) to a retired school administrator to a couple of mindful readers. By selecting different types of readers, you get a better picture of how the story might be received by an audience.
Feedback. It does a story good!
I’ve gotten detailed feedback from my betas–some more detailed than others, of course–all useful. All valuable. My betas noted things I totally missed, like lakes are frozen in the winter in MN (don’t ask 🙂 –total brain cramp on that one), and if you mention something significant early in the story that affects one of the main characters, that something should probably play a bigger role in the story later on.
As the writer, you’re too close to the story to see these types of details. Someone who has never read the story has a better chance of seeing those bits and pieces that could make or break a reader’s enjoyment of the work. Beta readers are a resource all writers should utilize, but especially writers of longer works. There’s more opportunity in longer pieces to miss things, leave holes, or overdo bits.
Finding good beta readers might be tough, and might alienate you from those friends for a long time, but people like teachers, fellow writers, and avid readers (of something more than graphic novels or Harlequin romances) can point out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved.
I have a couple weeks to revise my WIP before I send it off. Then cross my fingers that the agent will like my changes.
To my beta readers: THANK YOU!! *applause* *fireworks* You provided me with valuable feedback and great suggestions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you spending the time not only reading my story, but writing up your notes for me.