You know, I’ve been around the block a few times, but I still occasionally make silly mistakes. And then I come and post about them here, hopefully to save you from making the same mistakes.
Last week (or was it the week before?) we talked about how to choose people to be beta-readers, and some of the pros and cons of different types of people. But I forgot something rather essential.
You need to tell your beta-readers what you want from them.
Pretty obvious, right? Sadly, it is often overlooked. You’re excited that so-and-so has agreed to read your story, so you send it to them and await their commentary anxiously, wondering if they’ll like it. And, finally, you get your story back with their notes and…it’s useless. It’s not at all what you wanted, what you needed.
(In my case, most of my betas are other writers, and they are lovely and give me all sorts of good notes without explicit directions, so I am spoiled, and then when I ask a non-writer to read a story, they tend to focus on correcting grammar for whatever reason–and I always beta first drafts, so the grammar is far from perfect, believe you me–so I get a manuscript back with a lot of “awkward phrase” marks and a couple sentences at the end about what they liked. Which is, sadly, not at all helpful.)
People beta differently. Left to my own devices, I tend to go through and leave a running commentary about my reactions to the story. So I’ll note where I’m confused, spots I thought were awesome, and then, at the ends of chapters, I try to articulate my overall thoughts on the story thus far and things I’ve noticed, good and bad. I know other people who read a whole story once before they leave any notes at all, or others that focus on characterization over plot.
No two people are ever going to beta alike. And, by working with different people, you can see who works for you. I have one friend whose beta style is so perfect I want her to read everything I write ever. And I have others who I will not ask again unless I have no other choice because they just don’t work for me. It’s very individual, much like everything in writing.
But you improve your chances on getting good comments from a beta by asking them to focus on certain things. If you want them to focus on flow, plot, characterization, or, hey, why not, grammar, let them know when you send them your story. They’ll still beta in their individual style, but they’ll try to focus on what you want instead of floundering in the wind.
Anything else I’ve missed, Squiders?