Reader response can be one of your most important resources in the revision process–or it can derail everything and leave you confused and insecure in a corner, wondering why you even bother writing. Here are several steps to making your reader recruitment process smooth, easy, and effective.
Notice I didn’t say painless. You’re asking for reader response, after all. You want to know what’s working and what isn’t now so you can process and fix it before you go onto the editor step. So a little(ish) pain is part of the deal. 😉
Before you go into the reader feedback stage, go back and make sure you’ve evaluated your reasons for revision. Get solid on your vision so that you know what questions to ask your readers, and you can evaluate their input effectively.
Readers can come a couple of flavors:
- Cheerleaders – These are readers who read along as you’re drafting your manuscript. Their main job is to keep you accountable to goals and encourage you to keep going. Some writers don’t use cheerleaders, preferring to create free and solo, away from anyone else’s critique. Others (like me) swear by them. While I’ll do short works without cheerleaders, for me writing is an inherently social endeavor, so I need the constant feedback of my circle of readers to keep going.
- Alpha Readers – Also called first readers. One or two people who read your manuscript just for the joy of it. Alpha readers only comment when they’re really jarred of the narrative or confused by something. I don’t necessarily use these because my cheerleaders tend to give me quick readers summaries after I finish a manuscript.
- Beta Readers – After the alpha reader(s), the beta readers are your major source of reader feedback. Whereas alpha readers give unprompted reader-response, beta readers often get a list of questions or concepts to skim for and check. They’ll give your manuscript a more detailed look-over according to your specifications, often in exchange for an advance look at your epic story or as part of a beta read swap.
- Gamma Readers – Readers who go over the manuscript in later stages and offer specific feedback. Can also be brought in at the end for endorsement purposes and final feedback about genre/audience for your work.
- Specialty Readers – these can come along anywhere in the process, but they’re singled out for specific purposes. They might include sensitivity readers if you’re dealing with a particular area that you aren’t familiar with in terms of life experience, race, sexuality, disability, culture, religion, etc. They might also include readers with specific technical knowledge or expertise who can give feedback on whether or not your content sounds plausible.
Guidelines for Using Reader Feedback
- Evaluate your reasons for revision. Again. Evaluate your reasons for revision. Clarity of purpose is one of the most valuable tools you have as a writer.
- Decide what kind of readers you want to use. You don’t have to use all of the ones listed, and you may have some super-specific extra-special top-secret psi readers that you use for the ultimate in feedback.
- Choose readers who actually enjoy your genre. They will inherently understand the tropes and expectations. Plus, if they like the story, they might sign up for ARCs and be able to give endorsements or reviews!
- Use multiple readers. I would recommend three beta readers at minimum to give yourself a good variety of feedback. Using more than three is fine, but it can be overwhelming to process. Using less means you won’t have the varied perspectives. Also, if you can, try to have readers from different backgrounds or skill sets.
- Compose a list of questions. Give them to beta readers so they have specific areas to look for. This can ensure higher quality feedback and be really helpful for your readers.
- Compare feedback to your purposes. Make sure you hold strong in your vision, but also be open to getting new perspectives on your writing. That is the purpose of feedback, after all!
- Be gracious to your readers. These are individuals who have given their time and energy to read your work and help you out. Gratitude is a great and classy response. Some authors list significant readers in their acknowledgements, while others offer free ARCs or do beta read swaps.
Note: at this point I’d love to make a huge shout-out to my awesome cheerleader readers and beta readers, who are incredibly supportive and picky at the same time. Y’all are amazing!