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Evelyn Lafont on Beta Readers: How Beta Readers Can Improve Your Book

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on March 28, 2011 in Indie Authors
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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 Lafont

Evelyn Lafont

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.

 


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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.

Vampire Relationship Guide Vol 1: Meeting and Mating

Vampire Relationship Guide Vol 1: Meeting and Mating

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.


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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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13 Comments

  1. Evelyn Lafont
    Evelyn Lafont March 28, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for having me Jenn!

  2. Rebecca March 29, 2011 Reply

    Great article – I can definitely see the value in beta readers. But one question: How do you find them? I have friends and family lined up, but I do think it’s important to have readers who aren’t personally invested in your happiness. How would you/did you go about choosing and asking beta readers to look at your work?

    • Evelyn Lafont
      Evelyn Lafont March 29, 2011 Reply

      Hi Rebecca–I agree, you need some people who aren’t invested.

      You can see my “who” answer below. As to how, I put out several calls on my blog and Twitter, but it’s really better to kinda choose people and ask directly. I also attempted to start a critique group initially, but that didn’t work out very well.

  3. Sadie Hart March 29, 2011 Reply

    Wonderful interview! I’m nearing the point where I need to be looking for beta readers and it’s a scary process. Where do you start looking, who do you ask… It can feel a little overwhelming. At the same time, there are huge benefits to it.

    So Evelyn, where did you find your four beta readers, and did you know them prior to asking them to read your manuscript?

    • Jennifer Mattern March 29, 2011 Reply

      I don’t know about Evelyn’s 4th reader, but she mentioned two were her husband and her best friend. I was also one, and we’ve known each other for years professionally.

      I think the “where” will vary a lot for each author. Whereas Evelyn’s husband might be the type who can be completely honest with her about book feedback, I don’t think every couple can say that. Some are too worried about “feelings” to be honest if they have something negative to say. The same goes with friends. You don’t want to ask people to be betas if you know they’ll try to be nice to make you feel good about your work. You need blunt and honest feedback if you want to get something constructive out of it.

      With my main nonfiction e-book I offered early review copies to several respected colleagues who would have no reason to fear giving constructive criticism where needed. And they did. And it improved the end product quite a bit. With fiction it can be a bit more subjective though. For example, I wasn’t a reader of Evelyn’s genre. And I think it’s good she branched beyond regulars — it lets you see what you might be vague about which might turn off new readers in the genre.

      My $.02 at least.

    • Evelyn Lafont
      Evelyn Lafont March 29, 2011 Reply

      Hubby and BFF read only the 1st chapter, they weren’t actually part of the Beta readers.

      One was a friend’s wife. I had met her once in passing, and when talking to him about the book he said his life loved the genre that I wrote in and asked if she could Beta. Another was a romance writer that I met on Twitter. We talked a little before she started reading, but I can’t say I actually knew her. Then there was my old boss, who has never had trouble telling me what I’m doing wrong, lol. And finally, Jenn, who is well-respected int he community for her honesty.

      • Evelyn Lafont
        Evelyn Lafont March 29, 2011 Reply

        His wife, not his “life’ sorry :)

      • Jennifer Mattern March 29, 2011 Reply

        OK. Pardon my wrongishness.

        And you’re much too kind to call it “honesty.” I go for “blunt bitchiness.” ;)

  4. Robyn Lee March 29, 2011 Reply

    There’s some great advice here! I have 2 friends that read each chapter as I finished them. One is an English major and that’s been helpful, but I like the idea of using professional editing as well. I also wonder if they may be too close to me to be objective. I’d love to know how you found your Betas.

    • Evelyn Lafont
      Evelyn Lafont March 29, 2011 Reply

      Hi Robyn, see my response to Sadie, that’ll help!

      • Robyn Lee March 29, 2011 Reply

        Thank you!

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