Revise It! Recruiting and Using Reader Feedback

Beta Readers

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!

Greetings Authors! What kinds of readers do you use? Got any other tips for using reader feedback? Wanna acknowledge some awesome readers in your life? Give a shout-out in the comments!

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Steps to Unpacking Your First Draft

First draft story revisions are just like unpacking after moving homes–especially if you move the way I do.

There is a world where items are meticulously packed into just the right boxes and loaded with absolute precision into just the right location in the moving truck.

I’ve moved over ten times in my life, and I do not live in this world.

In my world, no matter how carefully I pack, for some reason there are all these little random bits and pieces everywhere that still have to go in boxes or something portable while people are loading the truck.

IMG_20170623_124106594
Actual boxes of random.

This is basically how I finish drafting a story too. I’m a plotter/pantser hybrid. Once I’ve outlined enough and have a list of scenes, drafting is mostly a straight-forward process.

Until the end, which is usually late at night because I’ve determined that I WILL FINISHED THE THING NOW. I cling desperately to the threads of the plot and shove all possible bits of climax and falling action and resolution in their spots, and then collapse with what is hopefully some kind of profound ending. Ish.

Then come the self-edits and revisions. Figure out where all those pieces are packed and hope that all of my best-laid goals and plans came through in one piece.

Rather like the toaster oven I’m still trying to find.

First draft book edits and revisions

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Factors to Unpacking Your First Draft tackles six key areas in content revisions to get your first draft into great condition! And while there are a lot of different ways to revise, there are some fundamental sweeps that pretty much every manuscript needs to express your vision, please your readers, and, if your content editor is like me, get that lower rate due to being a fantastically-solid piece of self-edited work.

Maybe you’re a plotter that writes super-clean drafts. If so, then another checklist to make sure your revision goes super-quick can’t hurt so you can excel even more.

Maybe you’re a pantser who trusts that somewhere in that mass of words is a great story. I believe in you! But a great revision makes sure the world sees your brilliance.

And if you’re somewhere in between like me, welcome to the club! We have cookies. Once I find the cookie sheets and cookie mix to bake them. And probably a mixing bowl.

Cookie Quote

Ahem.

Revise It! The Mini-Series includes the following:

  • Get multiple flavors of readers (alphas, betas, etc) and learn how to process their input effectively.
  • Clean up your characterization and create three-dimensional characters who are irresistible to readers.
  • Sort out your plot with quick and easy organizer checks that clarify your original, beautiful vision.
  • Figure out how to identify and ditch boring parts (always keeping your genre and target audience in mind).
  • Learn to manage pacing, not just to speed up your story, but also to hold the pause button on significant moments of high emotion and drama.

Note: I’m not numbering these factors because everyone’s brains work differently, and if your process is working efficiently with your brand of creativity, then awesome! If your process isn’t working for you, then all I have to say is: 30 minute author coaching. Contact me and be there for the fun! 🙂

Greetings Authors! What are you working on lately? What is one area where you are strong in revising and self-editing? What’s one area where you could improve?

Free Content Outline/Revision Worksheet!

Free ContentRevisionWorksheetThere are a lot of revision checklists and guides out there. Just typing the words into a search engine will yield plenty of people with opinions about what you should and shouldn’t cut–and there are a ton of variables. Genre conventions, audience expectations, and use of voice are just a few items that can alter how you revise a story. Therefore, I don’t generally adhere to a certain revision checklist.

What I do adhere to is a content check. Out of everything you do for a manuscript, getting content locked down is the one area where your unique ability to tell a story shines through. A good proofreader can catch your typos. A good line editor can shred your grammar and sentence structure. A good content editor can pinpoint story issues.

But ultimately, you are the one who can best tell your own story. Your mind, your ideas, and your vision all matter and being able to sort out and fix content issues yourself (with the input of a crit group or beta readers) is a great way to ensure that your own voice comes through in the revision process.

Now, if you’re a plotter, you might have an intricate plotting chart that tells you exactly where you need to go. After you write, you’ll need to go back and see if that plotting actually did the job.

If you’re a pantser and have just free-formed a story, then doing a content check to make sure you have all the parts in working order is a smart move. What those parts constitute is again a bit fluid (since there are different story structure methods), but as part of the process, you need to find something that works for you and stick to it.

Naturally, as a writer, editor, and author coach, I do have my own methods of organization that I modify to suit the needs of a client or a story. And since I enjoy sharing and giving away freebies, I’ve attached one of my basic outlining worksheets at the bottom of this blog post and added it to my resources page. It’s in Word form, so feel free to use it, change it up, copy and paste it, or otherwise alter it to suit your needs. I certainly do!

And if you’re looking for someone to provide feedback, thoughts, or a solid sounding board on your work, whether it be motivation, drafting, world-building, or marketing, feel free to sign up for one of my author coaching consultations! They come with notes, customized content, lots of enthusiasm, and the first one is free with absolutely no strings attached.

Content Structure and Purpose Worksheet