Monday, August 21, 2023

Beta Readers and the Role of Feedback: An Open Book blog hop post


 Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.
Do you use beta readers? Have they been useful in improving your writing?  

Beta readers can be really useful…and not so useful. The tricky bit, I think, is finding folks who are available on your timetable and can provide the right kind of feedback. 

For any folks reading this who don't know, beta readers are people who read an author's work after it is complete, but before it is published, when there's still room to take feedback and improve the work.
Sometimes, these can be other authors, but ideally, they are readers who enjoy the genre you're writing in and can be articulate about what they like and don't like, but who aren't necessarily going to respond the same way another writer would. 

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I have used beta readers, but I rely more heavily on my alpha readers--writing friends who serve as critique partners, reading work in its more raw state and through their feedback helping me refine the story while I'm still writing it. 

I've been in the same critique group for 15 years now (though the membership has shifted over the years, with folks leaving and coming in) and we discuss excerpts of our work-in-progress and will also serve as beta readers for one another when the book gets to that stage. 

It's a process that works well for me and helps me maintain momentum, but I know it wouldn't work for everyone. Knowing when in your process to seek feedback can be quite challenging and might even differ from project to project. 

I've also participated in beta-exchange groups, where authors read one another's complete books and give feedback. 

A few times, I've been able to get readers who are not also writers, but that's tricky since I've been working within a series for almost eight years now and I'd really need people who've already read the rest of the series before giving feedback on the latest volume. That's a lot to ask of people giving their time and energy for free (which most of them are). 

I've gotten great feedback in all these scenarios…and I've gotten vague, contradictory, and not-that-helpful feedback, too. As in most things, your mileage will vary. 

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It can take a lot of time to process all the feedback, too, looking for patterns and evaluating whether a critique necessitates changing your work (because most readers seem to agree that something is a problem) or if it's just one person's point of view (and other readers disagree). In the end, the story is still yours to tell, so you don't have to incorporate any of the feedback at all if it doesn't fit your vision.

But feedback is so useful! And the finished story is often tremendously improved by the process. 

Since I've been working with a traditional publisher, I've spent less time seeking formal beta readers, choosing instead to lean on critique partners and alpha readers, then rely on the editorial process to find anything that isn't working in my completed book. 

How and when do you seek out feedback in your creative endeavors? If you're a writer, what's your experience with beta readers? If you're a reader, do you want to be a beta reader for me? I'm hoping to have a draft of the final Menopausal Superhero novel ready for feedback by early November. Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. I don't let anyone see my work until it's complete. I wouldn't want to be dissuaded from a project on the basis of a read of a single chapter.

    1. I know several other writers who work that way. Every person's process is different.

  2. My work goes through so many revisions that different readers get different versions of my writing.

  3. When all or most of your beta readers agree on the same problems that need to be fixed, then that must be very helpful.