Why Beta-Readers and Critical Feedback Matters

You finally finished your first draft of that novel! It took you months, maybe years, but you did it! Congratulations, bucko. Treat yourself to a double-shot peppermint mocha with whip cream and chocolate sprinkles.

While your sipping on your eight dollar drink, you crack open your laptop, run your novel through a spellchecker, send it off to an editor, get it back, and then upload your work on Amazon.

You generated interest for your book through your newly minted mailing list, conducted a well-marketed launch party, sent out dozens of ARCs to reviewers, and overall felt a great sense of pride. You buy yourself another mocha.

Until the reviews start coming in…

“This plot made no sense. 1/5 stars.”

“I would give this 0 stars, but Amazon won’t let me. I even begged customer service.”

“Seriously? Reading should be considered an Olympic sport because I just broke world records after reading this crap.”

“I need bleach for my eyes.”

You had planned a whole series with at least six books. You don’t buy yourself a third mocha, but a bottle of whiskey this time and you don’t drink.

One of the activities I like to do when I hear about an “up-and-coming” hot author is read the well-written negative reviews first. Why? Because they point out all the serious problems the book had, but it offended the reader so much they had to give the work 1 or 2 stars. The comment, “I would give this 0 stars, but Amazon won’t let me” is so commonly written, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a meme somewhere.

So, let me ask you? Would you have like to have gotten those negative reviews in the form of feedback instead of actual reviews?

Enter the alpha and beta readers.

There are several types of critiques you’ll need to perform on your work before it’s ready for publication or submission.

The first is self-edit. If you hate the editing process, you need to either endure it or learn to love it. After you finish your work, set it aside. Dragon Soul Press has blogged in the past to set aside your work about two weeks for a full novel. This will give your brain a break from your work, purge your thought processes about your book and then when you go back to it, you have a fresh mindset. You will find a ton of errors. As you read your own work, you realize you may have missed certain elements and issues. Get those fixed.

Another option is to utilize an alpha-reader, but these people are completely optional. Some authors use them quite religiously. I don’t. An alpha-reader is there to critique your work as you write it. You finish Chapter 4, you run it through spell-check and then shoot it off to them. But your overall work is not finished. The alpha-reader helps you with grammar and then checks for things like pacing, characterization, tension, etc. Create a questionnaire for your alphas or allow them to comment directly on your WIP. Then you can go through and address the comments one-by-one to tighten up the story as it comes to light.

After the alpha-reader is the beta-reader. You should always have these people ready in the wings to review your work. After you’ve completed your first draft, ran it through the spellchecker and/or Grammarly, these readers will evaluate your overall story for plot, tension, pacing, POV, characterization, climax, hook, etc. The primary goal of both the alpha and beta-reader is to point out problems. It’s okay to get praise, but if someone reads a full-length novel from you and they found no problems, they didn’t do their job. You’re not that good. I’m not good. Stephen King is not that good! If you write a full-length novel, you should have at least six to a dozen betas reviewing.

As with alphas, you can create a questionnaire for your betas to fill out or allow them to comment directly on your WIP. After you have received all their comments, go through and evaluate them, fixing the errors they’ve pointed out.

Some authors will employ as many as fifty reviewers. That’s great if you can get that many, but expect a lot of work if all of them point out fifty separate things for you to work on. Some authors will also go through a second or third round of beta-readers too and I knew one guy who was working on his fifth round of beta-readers. If you’re a well-established author, a second round would be helpful, but anything else beyond that is likely to put you through analysis-paralysis–a common term among day traders who overthink a situation instead of making the trade.

You will not eliminate every 1-star or 2-star review, but you will mitigate many of them if you utilize proper methods for obtaining feedback.

Happy writing!