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As always, all stock images are from Pixabay.

Last weekend I received the feedback from my wonderful beta readers.  Before I do anything else, I’d like to thank them.  My deepest gratitude goes to:

Elizabeth Drake, Jenn Moss, C.L. Schneider, (The rest I’ll use first names only as they’re private citizens.) Ashley,  and Alora. You all are amazing people and very busy, and it means so much to me that you took time out of your schedules and lives to provide this humble indie author some insight into the book.  I didn’t imagine we’d have room for any sort of “acknowledgements” page, but eventually, I’ll be giving shoutouts to you and the alphas and editors.  But today is for you wonderful betas because it gave me the idea for this blog.

The story writing and editing process is as unique as the author creating the story. I thought it’d be interesting for me to share with you what I look for from and in a beta reader.

What I ask of them:
I’ll do another post at some point on what I look for in an alpha reader, but the short version is I’m more demanding of them because I need my alphas to make sure I don’t look like a moron. My betas are there for me to be test readers. So what I did is send them my character analysis sheets and ask a few questions.

mixing-1584267_960_720The character analysis sheet is just a term I made up to sound smart.  All I do is ask the readers to rank the character, description, dialogue, world building, and exposition for me on a scale of 1 to then.  I expand the “character” sliders to include sympathy, proactivity, competence, and power. This is how I review books; this is how I evaluate books, so this is how I like to receive feedback.

Then I ask what I feel the most important questions any author can ask the reader:
What do you think of the story as a whole?
What do you think about the main character (in this case Elele) at the beginning of the story?
What do you think of the main character at the end?
Would you want to read another story in which this character (and others) appear?

Then I invite the reader to add any thoughts they find relevant.

early-seferam
One of these days I’m going to have a more accurate rendering of Elele, but until then, you’ll keep seeing this very rough concept sketch. 

So I sent the book out to betas and gave them a few weeks (I try to let them have two days to read a single chapter or segment) to read the story. When I got the feedback, the first thing I did was thank them for their time.  This is critical authors. These folks are reading your work, the least you can do is let them know what it means to have them offer their time.

Then I opened up a document and typed whatever comments they gave me. For those who quite frankly went the extra mile and sent back the document with notes in the copy, I saved those files to a folder.

I’d be very interested to see what others do via the comments below, but here’s what I do:

Respect everything they say. You’re going to hear feedback. You won’t like all of it. Heck, you might not like any of it. I turn my ego in before I open a document.

While everything each beta says is valuable, what I look for is overlap.  What do they all love? What do they all hate? What do they all think? What trends do I see.  This is why I tend to want between 10 and 20 betas. The bigger the sample size, the more likely you’ll have enough opinions to really help you sort things out.

I’ll peel back the onion a bit here. The number one bit of feedback I got from every single beta is, “The story starts too slowly. There’s too much information to swallow.” Or something to that effect.  Here’s how feedback works in the photojournalism field. One person’s opinion is just one persons opinion, but if everybody who says anything says the same thing, that’s truth.  They all wanted to start closer to the action. (And when I review Conflict and Suspense, I’ll talk about that a lot more).

So when the majority of the betas say the same thing, I trust that majority. But what do you do when there isn’t one?

horizontal-2071304_960_720Well, I sort of take the liberty to trust my own feelings. If it’s a mixed bag, I understand that people are going to like some things and hate others.

I put the bigger weight on the betas who fall within my target audience. They’re the ones who I care most about because they’re the ones I want to buy this story. Some of the beta readers I have here provided critical information, but they’re more secondary alphas than actual betas. I trust their options more in matters of style and craft.

So an example might be if one of my style and craft beta readers thinks the dialogue isn’t working, I trust that, because they’re experts. I do this even if my “main audience” betas gave my dialogue 10s. This works because if I improve the writing of the dialogue, the “main audience” betas are only going to like it more.  I give those main audience more weight in terms of how they feel about the character and the plot.

An example might be YA themes. I’m not actually a fan of teen or YA books.  I can appreciate them and respect them, but I don’t like some of the storytelling elements in those genres. So if one of my friends asks me to read a YA book, I read it, but I’m not going to tell them I don’t like this character of that character if I can tell it’s a genre bias. But if I sent a YA book to a 19-year-old, and she hates the character, then I’m real scared.

So that’s it.  I look for overlap (what are they all saying or agreeing on). Then I give tie breakers depending on why I asked that person to beta read.

Armed with my feedback, I create a “revision plan” document in which I plan on going over each segment several times (one time per issue I annotate in my plan). Then I go over it again (another several times) for each document the betas sent me via the actual copy of the story.

Once I finish this draft, it’s off to my editor for a copy-edit, and then I send it out.  How do you use beta feedback?

I want to say one more time how grateful I am to those beta readers who helped me out. I may not apply all of your changes, but everything you said was heard and noted. You’ve made me a better writer, and I can’t thank you enough for that.

Thank you for reading,

Matt

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7 thoughts on “A Sojourn in Captivity Update: How I Use Beta Reader Feedback

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