As many of you know, I’ve just finished the draft of my latest novel (insert shameless plug for new novel here). Now that the manuscript is off to the editor, it should be time to send the ARC to beta readers. Notice me rushing off to do that? No? That’s because I no longer use beta readers. Oh, the shame! Who the hell do I think I am not using beta readers?!?
I could go into a long background story of all the mistakes I’ve made with beta readers and even the heartbreaking story of losing a good friend over it all, but I’m just going to get to the heart of the matter.
Reasons I don’t use Beta Readers:
Timing. In order to plan my book marketing properly, there is a two-month gap between the time I finish the novel and it goes to the editor and the release date. If I use beta readers, I have to either increase that gap time or pressure my beta readers into reading the novel in a week or something ridiculously similar. I hear you saying: “But you can send the manuscript to the beta readers while it’s at the editor!” No, I really can’t. I KNOW there a ton of typos and grammatical mistakes in the current manuscript. And, yeah, if I’m being entirely honest, there are probably some plot inconsistencies as well. There’s no sense sending that document to beta readers. They’ll just make comments on issues that won’t exist after the editing phase anyway.
Lack of valuable feedback. When I first started using beta readers, the feedback would be something like It was fun. I liked it! That’s super sweet but not very helpful. So, I decided to make a standard questionnaire for my beta readers. Less than half of them filled it out. The others, who did fill it out and were quite useful, said they’d never beta read for me again as it was too much work, and they didn’t have the time for it. There were also some who – realizing that I was taking this writing and beta reading thing seriously – didn’t want to beta read as they were afraid any negative commentary they made would damage our relationship.
Conflicting feedback. The first chick lit novel I wrote was not very popular with my initial beta readers. I completely flipped out and sent the manuscript to a bunch of new beta readers. Then, when I had all the feedback, I realized it wasn’t helpful as it was all conflicting. Some readers hated the heroine, while others absolutely loved her. Some thought it was funny, while others thought it was trite. You get my meaning. So, after an extended beta review timeline, I ended up with zilch advice I could use. This was in fact the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was done with beta readers at this point.
I’m not a complete know-it-all. I do realize I need feedback on my novels. How do I do this? First, I encourage my editor to give me commentary (above and beyond the grammatical stuff), and I listen to it! Next, I do have my husband read the novel prior to publishing. English is not his first language, so he’s not concerned with grammar or typos. He concentrates on the story and inconsistencies. Also, I read my book reviews, and I pay attention to their criticisms – after I get angry and scream and shout at my computer. For future novels, I’m considering adding a second editor to my editing process.
What about everyone else? Do you use beta readers? How has the experience worked out for you?