Last week I spoke about the importance of working with beta readers, and what they do. This week, I want to show you how to prepare your manuscript, and setting goals for your beta readers.
It’s your choice on whether or not you do this, but I always ask my beta readers which format they would prefer the manuscript in. PDF, googledocs, .doc etc. They are doing me a favour, so the easier I can make it for them, the better.
Of course, this depends entirely on what writing tools you have access to. You may decide that you will only use one format for everyone. But you need to ensure that every beta reader is okay with the format chosen. Some people may not have access to one, or more.
I also make sure that the manuscript is double spaced. This makes it easier to read, and to make comments, especially in google docs.
Beta goals and deadlines
The most important thing you need to do is ensure your beta readers are aware of the goals and deadlines you have for your manuscript.
You may have an idea of what aspects of your novel needs work, or you might not. Every writer is different after all. But if you have any areas you specifically want your beta readers to pay attention to, you need to let them know. Whether it’s looking for plot holes, character arcs and likeability, or setting and tension.
Some beta readers will dive right in and do some really detailed reading, picking up on things you may not have even thought about. Others may only read on the surface. The quality of comments you’ll get is something you don’t know until you get them.
And speaking of comments, make sure your betas are aware of what type of comments you’re looking for. You want your beta’#s to critique where they think you’re weak, and praise where they think you’re strong. It’s important that they explain why they didn’t like something, not just that they didn’t like it. Yes/no/maybe answers aren’t helpful to you. Believe me.
Now, some beta’s won’t pay attention to this- they’ll answer ‘no,’ regardless of what type of comments you’ve asked for. They’ll give negative critique without any explanation as to why. It happens. And if it does, it’s imperative you contact them to see if they can elaborate.
Types of feedback
In my experience there are two ways beta readers can give feedback- through in line comments on the manuscript itself, or by answering a short questionnaire at the end. How you want your feedback relayed is up to you, although I find that using both gives a wider range of comments and critique to use.
In line comments tend to be shorter, which isn’t a bad thing. It let’s the reader get their thoughts out straight away on any issues they have, or ask questions on anything confusing or may need clarification. Be wary, as some betas will line edit (which is where they make changes to how you’ve written something,) or grammar edit (where they’ll pick up on any grammar issues,) which is something you don’t want them doing- that’s not their job.
Questionnaires are where you can ask specific questions relating to plot and character for the betas to answer. Was the protagonist’s motivation clear throughout the novel? Were there any unanswered plot threads? Did the magic system make sense to you? And so on and so forth. It’s where you can question every weak spot you feel you have, and hopefully get some detailed answers. An ‘any other thoughts,’ question can let the beta’s detail any other issues they have, that you haven’t already asked about.
Sending the manuscript
It seems a little silly, but I will always reiterate when I send the manuscript that it is a volunteer, unpaid position. There are some people out there who professionally beta read- they charge you for their services. So make sure your betas are aware to avoid any issues further down the line.
How you send your manuscript is up to you. Most people will send a few chapters each week. Some may send the entire manuscript. Do whatever works for you, but make sure you’re not giving your beta’s too much work- they do have their own lives after all.
The first time I sent out Nephilim to beta readers, I sent the entire manuscript with a five week deadline. It worked, but the wait for the questionnaires was long.
The second time I did a beta session, I separated my manuscript into Acts 1, 2, and 3, with a total 8 week deadline. 2 weeks each for Acts 1 and 3 (roughly 10 chapters each,) and Act 2 with four weeks, (with 18 chapters.)
This meant I could start working on Act one revisions while my beta’s were reading Act 2 and so on. This worked well for me, so it’s how I’ll keep doing my beta sessions going forward.
Next week we’ll talk about how to deal with the feedback you receive, and how to make it useful.
Good thoughts and happy writing!