The 5 Things I Most Need from Beta Readers

Writing a first novel is a huge learning process, and how to deal with beta readers was one of the biggest lessons. Before I get to my 5 Things, here’s a bonus 2 procedures that I’ll change:

1. I sent the 2nd draft of Power of the Mages out in 5-chapter increments. While I’m glad I did it that way because the comments I got back improved my writing, I’ll send out only complete drafts in the future. There was simply too much loss of continuity. I’d change character traits, story arcs, and names of things and places from one section to the next, so the beta readers never got a true sense of the book as a whole.
2. In addition to getting comments for the 2nd draft, I’m sending out the 3rd draft to beta readers, mainly because of the continuity issues mentioned above. For the sake of efficiency in the future, I’ll send manuscripts out only once.

Now, on with the actual post —

In any endeavor involving working with people, communication is key. Define the feedback you most want from the critique process and relate that desire to your beta readers. Here are the 5 Things I think are most important:

1. My biggest goal is to engage the reader, and, to that end, I need to know if there’s anything in my writing that draws you from the text. Did you have to read a sentence twice to figure out what I was trying to say? Did you get confused over who was speaking? Are there any formatting or punctuation issues that made you spend mental effort being annoyed rather than experiencing the story? Did you get irritated because I overexplained something?
2. Tension and pace are hugely important and are difficult for an author to judge correctly. If the pace is too fast or the story too tense, the reader can get worn out. I read a book one time with Energizer Bunny battles; they just kept going and going and… On the flip side, if the pace is too slow or the story not tense enough, the reader will get bored. I need to know if/where these problems occur in my text.
3. Emotion is both crucial and difficult to get right. My second draft was flat because I didn’t include enough. I fear I’ve swung the pendulum too far the other way and induced eye rolling in the 3rd draft by making the characters too melodramatic.
4. Where did I screw up? Did I have the group journeying north, turn right, and say they’re now heading west? Did I make a character do something that completely contradicts who I’ve established that person to be? Did I refer to the same town by different names?
5. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how insidious typos, homonyms, and grammar/punctuation mistakes are. They bury themselves in the text to actively try to hide from me. Each one of these that a beta reader points out is one that doesn’t make it into the final version.

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