Tips for Working with Beta Readers

In the spring the very kind local school librarian agreed to organize a group of beta readers for my current work-in-progress. (First tip: volunteer at your local public library or school library to build relationships with librarians and keep your finger on the pulse of your reader.) My story is a middle grade novel-in-verse that features a largely female cast with some typical coming-of-age issues. For that reason I requested to have girls only for my beta readers. Two girls from each grade 4-6 were asked to read my story and meet with me and the librarian to discuss it.  (Bonus: the librarian was going to read it too!)

reader clip art

The set up:

  • I copied and bound the story for them, two pages per side. It was pretty costly, but a good investment.
  • I wrote a letter to my readers briefly explaining what a novel-in-verse is and what a beta readers does. (A member of the target audience who provides feedback and critique.)
  • I provided a key of symbols to use while reading to make it easy on them to give feedback. They have been taught to be active readers, so I didn’t need to go into details about that.
    • ZZZZZ: boring
    • ?????: confusing
    • 🙂 I like that part
    • LOL: made me laugh
    • 😦 made me feel angry or sad.
    • OK: This part was just OK.
    • XXXX: delete this, I don’t think it adds to the story
  • At the end of the story, I provided 14 reflection questions and asked them to pick 5 to answer:
    • Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
    • Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
    • Could you relate to (MC)? Did you feel her pain or excitement?
    • Did the relationship between (MC) and (sidekick) seem like things a real friendship might go through? What would you change? What feels genuine?
    • Was there a point at which you felt the story started to lag or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? If so, where?
    • Were there any parts that confused you? frustrated or annoyed you? Which part and why?
    • Did you notice any inconsistencies in time sequence, place, character details, or other details?
    • Were the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likeable? Any characters who need to be more unlikeable?
    • Were there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
    • Did the dialogue sound natural? What dialogue sounded forced?
    • Were any of the parts too long? Or any poem that didn’t seem to have a purpose? Which ones?
    • Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep you interest?
    • Was the ending satisfying? Believable?
    • Was anything missing?

How it worked:

These girls are real girls with real lives which include school work, sports, family, and here I am asking them to read something else on top of it all. It took time. We met three times during their lunch periods and discussed the story as far as they had read.

This was absolutely wonderful to sit and talk with readers about a story I wrote! And they didn’t hold back. There was no feelings of intimidation on their part to talk to the author. I loved that.

If they didn’t understand something, they were forthcoming. If they didn’t like a character, an energized conversation ensued. It was interesting that a character that I thought was lovable in his own way, the beta readers were angry with.  Not all characters need to be likeable. It’s actually good if characters have both likeable qualities and pitfall in their personalities.

I quickly found out which parts didn’t work and the parts that made them keep turning the pages. Settings that were unclear. Phrases that were confusing.  The insight I received was beyond worth. It was incredibly rewarding when they “got it.” The things I hoped the reader would pick up on, the set-ups, subtext, duplicity, the pay-outs.

I love my critique group and wouldn’t change them, but there’s something special about having beta readers. No better litmus test than honest readers who hold no stake in the story. Can’t wait ’til I have another story to do this again!

It would be interesting to have beta readers from the schools I once upon a time taught at read this. How would kids with different world views and experiences take to this story? I guess I will find out when this WIP gets published!

Final tip:

Thank the readers and especially the librarian in a generous way. They gave up their time and provided feedback that clarified, sharpened, and deepened the story.

Bonus: I loved listening to the banter between the girls. Perhaps they are inspiring some future characters!

 

 

2 Comments on “Tips for Working with Beta Readers

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