Disclaimer: There is no right or wrong way to use critique partners and betas, just like there is no right or wrong way to write a book. This post is just my opinion on the subject, based on what’s worked for me and what I think will. If you disagree, that’s ok. Be yourself.
If you search the internet for beta reader, you’ll get lots, and lots, of different opinions on the “right” or “best” way to use them. Really, the best way is whatever works for you. The method below is extremely close to Jenna Moreci’s version, but hers is a bit more detailed and had some extra steps I consolidated. Her videos are titled “The Ultimate Beta Reader Process”. Part 1 is linked here, and Part 2 is linked here. You should definitely check them out. She’s much funnier than I am and doesn’t hesitate to curse. I’m jealous.
When I first set out to use betas I had no idea what I was doing. I posted on my Facebook page and got 0 replies. That’s right, zero. Now, there’s a lot of possible reasons it turned out like that but after some research I came across Jenna’s vlogs and decided that I wanted to try a more systematic approach. Her structured plan with all its detail and planning just made sense to me. If you try something more loose and it works for you, great. Don’t change. I’m just letting you know it didn’t work for me. So, here’s my 4-step process:
Step 1, recruitment:
This is the easiest part. I have a small following, well, relatively small… actually it feels huge to me at 355 Twitter followers, but I digress.
If you have what you consider a small following, just post that you’re looking for betas, what your story is about, if it has triggers, and if they’re interested they should contact you with the following information:
Social media accounts
This all helps you decide if they fit your target audience.
I also like to have a page already set up on my website, with a brief explanation of what a beta is, what my novel is about, and what my target audience is. That way, if I get those kind of questions, I can shoot them a link and they can learn at their leisure. But it’s not necessary.
Step 2, introductions and agreement:
Once you’ve decided on a group of betas, you first need to thank those you didn’t choose, if there were any. Then send an email to all the betas you have. Include the following:
- Welcome and thank you message. Through the whole process you should be grateful to them because they are doing you a favor. You don’t have to kiss their…um… feet, but you should show them you appreciate them. They have busy lives too, so taking time out to read your book is a big deal.
- Explanation of the process. This includes the medium you’ll be transmitting your words in; Google docs, MS Word, PDF, whatever works for you.
- Size and Time. Let them know how much of your story you’ll send at a time, and how long they’ll have to read it. Since you don’t want this to drag on forever, it’s reasonable to give them a couple weeks to read a small section. I suggest only giving them a few chapters at a time, so they don’t get overwhelmed. That also helps keep it fresh in their mind when you get to…
- The Interviews. Yes, the best feedback is interview feedback. Why? Because you can ask follow-up questions, because it will feel less like homework if they’re not having to write down answers to questions, because it’s more fun, because you said so. There are lots of beta plans that have you sending written questions and the betas sending back their written answers. This is not one of them. Instead you have them message you as soon as they finish the section you’ve sent, so you can both get online and either through skype or txt chat go over what they just read.
- Either party can quit at any time. This should be fun, but if it’s not, or if the story isn’t enjoyable, they had something come up, whatever, all they have to do is let you know and they can go. It’s not a job, they’re doing you a favor, remember?
- Do not share this. Make sure you are clear that it is copywrited. This is your work so make sure they know that.
- The agreement. Lastly, ask them if they agree to all that, reply and then they’ll officially be betas.
Step 3, Chapters and interviews.
Once you get responses from those introduction emails you should be standing by ready to hop online and start interviewing. Here’s a basic set of questions to ask. As they answer, and you take notes, you can always expand on them. Try to ask the questions as neutrally as possible so you don’t influence their answers.
- What were your initial thoughts?
- What was your favorite part?
- Were there any parts you didn’t like?
- What do you think about the main character?
- Are there any other characters that stood out to you?
- What character did you relate to most?
- What did you think about X scene?
- Were any parts confusing?
- Do you have any predictions or theories?
If they don’t give you details, ask a lot of why’s. Some betas my be fountains of info that won’t shut up, others you may have to drag anything other than a one word answer out of them. Be patient and keep it casual.
After the interview send the next chapters and repeat until the end. In the last interview add the following questions:
- From 1-5, how many stars would you give the novel overall?
- If not 5, what could have made it better?
- What were your favorite parts?
- Would you consider the ending predictable, or were there predictable parts?
- What genre(s) do you feel this story fits?
- What books, movies, or TV shows would you compare it to?
- Who do you think the target audience is?
- Do you think the synopsis correctly represents the story?
- Would you recommend this to a friend?
Step 4, follow-up:
A couple days after the last interview you should send out an email, thanking them again for helping and asking a few questions. This could be done in the last interview, but I feel it could put them on the spot a bit, which is why I suggest by email. Up to you. They are:
- Was this your first time as a beta?
- Did you enjoy the beta process?
- What do you think I could change to make the process better for future betas?
- Would you be interested in being a beta reader for me again in the future?
Obviously only use that last question if they were helpful to you, on time, gave useful info, and so on. The point is that by making the process the best you can for them, you’ll be getting the best information back from them. Treat your betas right and they’ll do the same for you.
Using these techniques and final questions you’ll be able to refine your process over time to be more efficient and hopefully more enjoyable for everyone concerned, not to mention you’ll be growing a pool of people you can rely on to give you good feedback.
So what do you think? Do you have a beta process? Have you been a beta and loved the experience, or has it all gone horribly wrong? What do you think I should change about my plan? What do you like about it? Don’t be shy, comment below.
Happy reading/writing 🙂