B is for Beta Readers

Ah, betas. Where would we be without them? (Writing really bad plot progression, more than likely.) Betas, however, being human, have lives and obligations that they have to attend to that are higher on their list of priorities than your book. So how do you incentivize them? I actually don’t know the answer to that question, because let me tell you, if I had to buy a round of Starbucks drinks for every reader for every story when half of them hate coffee and only drink four dollar frappuccinos, I’d be so sin debt that getting behind on mortgage payments wouldn’t seem all that bad by comparison. Do I owe them one? Yes. Can afford to pay them all somehow for every story? No. I’m thinking my first paycheck needs to go to taking a bunch of them out to dinner, but I digress: Here’s what I do know:

People like to read things as a whole.

It’s harder to stay interested in individual scenes you might need read. Context gets better results, and finished works and large chunks seem to go over easier with my readers despite the length of the piece.

They’re probably going to be late.

If you have a strict deadline on Wednesday, then ask for their response on Sunday rather than say . . . Tuesday, so when they say they have to postpone (by which they mean they completely forgot about it and need to start now) you’re not sitting there with four hours left to consider their responses when they finally get around to it. Unless you have really reliable betas with unusually cooperative and/or predictable lives, in which case, lucky you, and lucky them.

One is an opinion, two is a problem.

This advice I picked up at the conference during a presentation by agent Ken Sherman: A lot of writing is subjective. One of my readers is obsessed with learning absolutely minute details of how my alien characters move, look, and act, while I have another who is bored easily by description and would rather just adjust their perception of the characters as they go rather than trying to fit much more than a very cursory overview into the first three or four chapters. In the end I took the sound advice of breaking up descriptions to avoid the GIANT WALL OF TEXT and withheld some details until much later in the story, but decided to keep the small nuances that some readers love. But my point is that you’re going to see betas contradict each other. If two or more of them point out the same thing, though, then you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if YOU think it’s genius, it’s a problem. They contradict each other all of the time, so when their comments do align, it probably means something.

At some point I do owe them a really nice dinner, or six. 

Yes, I’m coming back to this tangent, because it’s serious and I need to remind myself of that. Reading critically takes time and attention and people are busy and distracted. It’s a big deal. I don’t know that many of us CAN afford a treat for every reader or every story depending on how many you have of each (maybe you can) but pay it forward when you’re able.

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