Today Evelyn Lafont and I talk about beta readers for your books and e-books. Evelyn Lafont is a first-time fiction indie author, with her e-published novella Vampire Relationship Guide Volume One: Meeting and Mating scheduled for release on March 31st.
Having only published nonfiction so far myself, I've seen benefits in working with beta readers -- early readers who provide feedback before you release your finished version. For example they let me know if I've missed topics they expected to see. And they let me know if instructional aspects of a book or e-book are easy enough to understand or if I confuse the hell out of them. But I like the idea of using beta readers for works of fiction too. They can help you pick up on inconsistencies and provide feedback from a reader's perspective -- as things clear to you might be less so for your average reader.
Evelyn asked me to be a beta reader for her novella several weeks ago even though I'm not a typical PNR reader (brave soul that she is). It was my first time on that side of the beta reading process, and I got to see the trust issue from the other side. I know how difficult it can be to find beta readers for your work -- people you can trust to give you honest feedback without fear of offending you. And I wanted to talk to Evelyn about how the process worked out for her on the writer side. Here's what she had to say.
Jenn: Why did you decide to use beta readers? What kind of feedback were you looking for in contrast to feedback from an editor?
Evelyn: I think readers approach book reading differently than editors do. Editors go in looking to streamline and fix, whereas readers simply want to enjoy the experience. And while an editor can help me figure out how to better focus my story, a beta reader can say, "Well, I was really enjoying your world until you threw this doozy out there." Beta readers were able to tell me what parts of the book took them on a journey and which pulled them out of that journey and in most instances, it wasn't technical feedback--it was emotional.
Jenn: How many beta readers did you solicit feedback from? Was it a enough that you were able to determine trends from the feedback? Was it so much that it became unmanagable in any way? With your next book do you anticipate working with the same number of beta readers, more, or less?
Evelyn: Because the first chapter is so critical, I actually had a class full of people, an instructor, and 10 beta readers for the first chapter. I only had 4 betas read the entire manuscript. Some of the beta readers I chose for the first chapter were people who do not like to read fiction. Believe it or not, in this whole process, their feedback was the most helpful because unlike fiction lovers--they made no allowances for things they didn't like. People who love fiction will stick with a book they hate just to give it a chance to click. People who don't like to read fiction don't do that, so they immediately pointed out things they hated in my first chapter and that helped me create something that is interesting enough to intrigue even a non-recreational reader.
Having 4 readers for the bulk of the MS was easy to manage and did give me just enough readers to see trends in feedback. I had only two readers who were familiar with the genre, the other 2 were not so it was an interesting mix of feedback for the appeal of the book to both paranormal romance lovers and non-lovers.
With the next book, I'd actually like a couple more betas but I don't think it's really necessary to add more.
Jenn: Did you send your material to beta readers before or after having it run by an editor? Why did you choose this option, and would you change the sequence the next time around?
Evelyn: I sent the material to betas before the professional edit. I did this because I wanted to make sure there was something WORTH editing, from a reader's point of view. I figured that if I had something good enough to interest readers without employing a professional editor, then I'd have something phenomenal after employing one. It is important to note that this doesn't mean I sent an unedited manuscript to betas. I had one beta that read it as I wrote it. She is a non-writer who likes romance. She read fresh, steaming piles of crappy pages and loved the story but gave me critiques along the way. Then, I would edit based on her critiques and my own, 'fresh-eye' perspective. Then, I sent the pages to my critique partner and got her feedback. Again, more self-editing and then I sent it to two additional betas (one of which was you!). I finished the manuscript on October 7, 2010 but didn't finish tweaking and editing myself until three months later, at which time I sent it to BubbleCow for editing.
Once I incorporated BubbleCow's edits I sent it off to one last person, a proofreader who is also doing some additional 'lite' editing. So all-in-all, I think I'm getting a pretty well-rounded assortment of pre and post critiques.
For future books, I may change this order but to be honest, it's really hard to get beta readers who respond quickly with comments that are critical (yeah, I don't care nearly as much about supportive comments as I do critical comments). I like the group I picked for pre-editing beta reading, but I'd need some willing to read post edit quickly, and that's just not easy to come by.
Jenn: What is your top tip for other writers interested in using beta readers for feedback on their work?
Evelyn: Be patient, be choosy, and for the love of everything holy, don't be defensive. Seriously--don't ask if your ass looks big in those jeans unless you want to be told whether or not your ass looks big in those jeans. Choose your betas wisely because you need one who is willing to clear out their schedule for you, who knows how to give feedback and who is enthusiastic about helping you--not enthusiastic about reading your book, but about doing what a beta needs to do.
Jenn: What was the most interesting or unexpected feedback to come from your group of beta readers?
Evelyn: That's a really hard question because there was sooooo much about the feedback that was interesting. I have a few things:
- Your feedback held a couple of surprises for me because you don't read the paranormal romance genre. One of the things you mentioned was that you didn't understand why Josie (the heroine... of sorts) wasn't afraid of being bitten. That gave me a really interesting perspective on how I needed to approach the narrative in order to not alienate people unfamiliar with the genre.
- My best friend said it grated on her nerves every time I started a sentence with the word, "So." When I looked back at the first chapter with that in mind I realized that I did it about 50 times. Best. Critique. Ever.
- Hubby was a first chapter beta along with my best friend and neither reads fiction. Both of them read the first chapter and said, "I thought this was supposed to be a story?" I looked at them and said, "WTF?" Their response was basically, "You are saying things on this here sheet of paper, but you aren't drawing me into a story." I took a moment to push all of my defensive, "You don't read fiction assturds, you don't know how this works. I don't have to listen to you. You're not my real dad," thoughts and looked at the first chapter through their eyes. Then I realized that they were right. I was world building in chapter 1 by telling rather than showing. It was almost like I was setting a stage rather than creating a plot or story. Again, hugely important feedback that really got my book on track.
What about you? Do you use beta readers as an indie publisher? Do you prefer to get beta reader feedback before or after sending your manuscript off to a professional editor? Share your thoughts and experiences with beta readers, or tips on finding the right beta readers, in the comments below.
About Evelyn Lafont
Evelyn Lafont is an indie author and freelance writer. Her debut novella, The Vampire Relationship Guide, Volume 1: Meeting and Mating will be available on Amazon and Smashwords March 31st. You can read the first chapter here and see the book description on Goodreads.
Jenn has over 17 years experience writing for others, around 12 years experience in blogging, and about a decade of experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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