When I wrote book 2 in my The Fountain Series, The West Woods, I posted on social media to get Beta Readers, and had 61 people offer. *Facepalm*. I didn’t want to sift through 61 opinions on my book, but I did need a gut check from fans of the series.
- Would they like it as much as Book 1?
- Would they accept that Book 2 is a prequel?
- Would they forgive my main character, Courtney, for the things she did in Book 1?
These were the worries I had. So, from the 61, I invited a dozen, including teens and adults who read Young Adult. (Fun fact if you write for Young Adults – Adults are the ones who buy the books, and also the ones who review them, because kids don’t have Amazon accounts, so you need to make sure your book satisfies them too!)
Now, if you are lucky enough to find Beta Readers, treat them like gold. They are not your proofreaders. They are not editors. And unless they are also writers, they may not have the skills to suggest how you can improve your book. The skill you need from them is being readers, and letting them react to the story you’ve written.
Many of my Beta Readers have never given a writer feedback before, so I make it as clear as possible what I need them to do. That way, they don’t have to stress that they’re “not doing it right”, or that they’ll somehow let me down if they don’t love everything about the book. Bring on the feedback, because once it’s out in the world, you can’t take it back.
Writers often ask me when to involve Beta Readers. I like to get this feedback before I send it to my editor, so that I’ve got a good idea of how others will receive it. If I’m on a short timeline, I also sometimes send it to my editor and Beta Readers at the same time and then incorporate all the changes that come out of their reviews in the same revision pass.
The first thing I do is give my Beta Readers a clear timeline. I like to ask them to read my book in 2 weeks. Here’s a quick tip: If you send your book to Beta Readers, and they don’t finish it? That might be feedback in itself. I hope that once readers start it, they rip through it cover to cover, just to find out what happens.
And to let them enjoy it and not stress, I make it clear that I don’t expect them to edit along the way. Instead, I give them a list of questions to answer when they’re done reading, including what characters they liked the most, and who they liked the least, which scene was their favorite, which was their least favorite, etc. Want the exact questions I asked Beta Readers for The West Woods? You can grab them here, I’m happy to share.
I sent PDF copies of the book to the adult readers, and I printed, bound, and mailed out hard copies of the manuscript for the teen readers (I’ve found they’re more likely to be able to read it on the go, or evenings if they don’t have to use a device). And 2 weeks later, the feedback rolled in.
I sat down to go through the feedback and look for trends, taking a deep breath. After the third set of answers, I started to relax. The book was in good shape. I wouldn’t have to gut it. A few minor tweaks and it would be off to the publisher.
I went through the adult feedback first. They enjoyed the book. They connected with the main character and her story. And every one of them said that the climax scene – involving a dramatic break up – was their favorite. No surprise there, it had everything. I’d spent a long time perfecting that moment. Readers said it was heart wrenching and raw. Exactly what I was going for.
Next, I moved on to the teens’ feedback. I read the first set of answers, and then the second… and my shoulders crept up around my neck. The teens said the break up was their least favorite scene.
- “It made me so sad I had to put the book down for a few days”
- “I cried for her, and it just wasn’t as uplifting as Book 1”
I stared at their answers, stunned. I’d been so focused on ripping my readers’ hearts out, I hadn’t stopped to consider what readers loved about Book 1. Why teens were reading the series in the first place.
After a few days mulling over how to completely rework the climax of the book, I highlighted the 5 chapters that needed to change, and hit delete. (Okay, okay, of course, I didn’t really hit delete, but I moved them into another document and never looked at them again). Spoiler alert: There is no longer a break up scene in that book, and it went on to be shortlisted as a finalist for the Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult Fiction in Canada.
I am so grateful for the teens who were brave enough to tell me what the least favorite part of their book was. And I’m grateful I asked.
Are you looking for Beta Readers for your book? Check out this terrific article.
Have more questions on how to use Beta Readers effectively? Drop a comment below!
Suzy Vadori is the award-winning author of The Fountain Series. She is a certified Book Coach with Author Accelerator and the Founder of Wicked Good Fiction Bootcamp. Suzy breaks down important writing concepts into practical steps to make it easy for writers coming from outside the industry to get up to speed in a snap, so that they can realize their big, wild writing dreams!
In addition to her weekly newsletter encouraging writers, and online courses, Suzy offers both developmental editing and 1:1 Book Coaching. Find out more about our RWC team here and discover how to connect with Suzy and all the resources she has to offer here.