Even after our previous post here about beta readers and the fabulous discussion last week on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table with Mark Wayne Adams, some questions still linger about this topic. I also want to elaborate further on a few points.
One reader/listener asked about the distinction between critique groups and beta readers. Authors who participate in critique groups get feedback on our work as we write. The feedback is provided by other authors who may or may not be writing in our same genre. The critique group members may have more or less writing skill than the author receiving the critique.
Beta readers provide their feedback on a completed manuscript that, ideally, you have self-edited and cleaned up to the same degree that you would before sending it to an editor, agent, or publisher. Your beta reader group may be made up of any of the following:
- a member of your target audience or your ideal reader
- someone who won’t tap dance around your feelings, but will be honest, constructive, and kind in delivering their feedback
- someone who is reliable and will follow through their commitment to support you
I always recommend that authors avoid selecting family members and friends as their beta readers. On the call, however, Mark told us he uses his kids to get feedback on his children’s books. Often, children provide unadulterated honesty, so it is a point well-taken that my advice might be excepted when applied to books for kids.
One listener emailed to ask about payment to beta readers. Beta readers should always be volunteers. Paying someone to provide feedback automatically introduces a bias into the process. Some of my clients have provided a thank you in the way of a small gift card, flowers, or some other token after the reading was complete.
Another listener wondered about the applicability of this process for nonfiction books. Most of the same principles and practices for beta readers apply equally for fiction and nonfiction. The differences will come primarily in who you select and the types of questions to be asked.
Keeping in mind the five purposes of nonfiction (respond, instruct, inform, persuade, or narrate), your beta group will be most helpful if it includes someone who has knowledge of your topic. Someone with a penchant for fact-checking would be helpful if your manuscript includes data, citations to other works, and the like. Important note: this in no way relieves you of the task of making sure everything is accurate before giving the book to your readers.
If your book is self-help or instructional, including someone who has a burning need for the process or the methods discussed in your book, as well as someone who has overcome, successfully implemented, or moved beyond or through the topic you write about would be incredibly helpful. Both of these types of readers can provide insights on whether your process, steps, or methods are explained clearly and completely, or if they are sufficiently persuaded, depending on the purpose and approach of your book.
Finally, enter into the beta reader process knowing that after your readers finish, you will need time to absorb, filter, and incorporate their feedback. I have seen authors initiate this process then wholly dismiss all the responses they received. What you do with the feedback is, in the end, entirely up to you and it isn’t necessary to heed every suggestion, but be respectful of your beta readers. If you engage in this step in the writing and publishing process, whether you act on every single comment, suggestion, and insight you receive or not, fully honor and acknowledge the time and energy your beta readers have gifted to you.
I am so grateful to all of you who have called in to listen to our Author Education Series, CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer's Table. For those of you who haven't heard yet, this is a free series that you can sign up to participate in anytime. We provide you with a phone number and the time of the live call (it occurs once monthly). Then you call in to listen to the discussion about a writing or publishing topic and participate (optional) in the Q&A session. If you would like to sign up or if find this resource valuable already, please share this link: AroundTheWritersTable.com/Conversations. Information about our next guest, Patti Brassard Jefferson of PJ Boox Bookstore, will be available soon. ~ Gina Hogan Edwards