Okay, you’ve written your book, and now you want to polish it up so you can take that big step toward publishing. There are a bunch of ways you can go about editing and revising your manuscript until it gleams.
Two versions of revising your manuscript are overview revision discussed in this post (big issues like confusing plot, plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc), and close revision discussed in this post (things like word choice, syntax, word count, etc).
Perhaps the most useful version of revision involves beta readers. What is a beta reader, you might ask?
Bay-ta Ree-dur (n): A beta reader is a person that an author trusts to read through a draft of a manuscript and provide criticism, feedback, and suggestions to assist in the revision or formation of the work.
Essentially, when you’ve finished your manuscript and you want to know how a potential audience would react to it, you sort through friends and family to find someone you know will give you their honest opinion.
What makes a good beta reader:
This is a list of qualities that a beta reader should fulfill if you really want to take your manuscript to the next level.
A beta reader must…
- First and foremost, you must trust the person/people you are giving your manuscript to. If you’re giving your book to someone else, you need to know that they won’t give it away, lend it to someone else, or (god forbid!) try to sell it as their own. Don’t let your fear stop you from reaching out to beta readers you trust. Having a beta reader is important to getting feedback on your work before you try to convince an agent to represent you.
Be Ready and willing to read.
- If you have to barter or force someone to read your manuscript, then they’re clearly not someone who is excited to help you improve it. They need to be excited to read it, and therefore excited to help.
Be Attentive while reading.
- This means that they need to have a good eye for detail. Will they notice that you used the wrong “there”? Will they notice that your main character’s best friend has short blond hair in the first chapter, but somehow has long auburn hair by the end? Will they recognize that your attempt at making a joke wasn’t really a scathing insult?
Offer productive criticism.
- When your beta reader notices an inconsistency or gets confused in chapter 5, does he/she leave a note that says “confused–not sure what’s happening here. Maybe slow down”, or do they say something like, “this section sucks. fix it.”
Give you the feedback you want/need.
- You only really figure this out through trial and error. Some beta readers will read it and give you a pat on the back and say good job, and some people will return your ms, and it’s bathed in red ink. Either of those might be discouraging, depending on what kind of response you were hoping for.
When searching for a beta reader…
- You want someone whose response will be: “I would love to!” “I would be honored.” “That sounds really fun/interesting.” “I have time, and I’d love to help out!” “I get the chance to read a ms in its first stages? Cool!”
- Watch out for these phrases: “I don’t really have time”, “I’ve got a lot to do at work”, “I’ll take a look if you want”, and “Sure. I don’t know when I’ll get the chance/when I’ll finish it.” The above phrases are red flags. They indicate that the person you’re talking to isn’t really excited or interested.
Picking the right beta reader(s) is tough. Sometimes you’ll have different people who you task with different things. For instance, my beta readers (family and best friends), have different strengths.
For an example of how beta readers work, check out this post about how I work with my beta readers.