As we come to the end of November, writers from all around the world will be finishing their 50,000 word novels for NaNoWriMo. Yes, living among us, are gifted folk who can pull together a book in four weeks. Others can do it ten weeks (yes, I’m looking at you Sulari Gentill) and many (like me) take years to finish our first draft.
However long it takes you, if publication is your goal, there comes a time when you feel your manuscript is ready to be, well … read.
You know that dream where you turn up to school naked? That’s pretty much how I felt when I handed over my 80,000 word manuscript to my first beta reader last week.
What, or who, is a beta reader?
Essentially, Beta readers are people you can trust to read your work and give you honest and constructive feedback. They play an essential role in the editing process, acting as a test audience to help you to gauge whether you have achieved your aims as a storyteller. It’s a big responsibility and requires a great deal of trust on both sides.
Asking someone to review your work is no small thing. Not everyone is comfortable with providing honest feedback, so choose your beta readers wisely.
It might help if you outline what you are looking for. Is there something particular you are concerned about? Does your novel fit with the genre you’re aiming for? What did they like best? Did anything push them out of the narrative? Is the language/content appropriate for the intended age group? Did you make any unintended cultural faux pas?
Although not necessarily subject matter experts you may find (as I have), that beta readers can add a great deal of value with their own experience. For instance, I have a scene where three characters enter a nightclub in London. Did you know that pubs in London now routinely use facial recognition and finger print software? I didn’t. Lucky for me motherhood hasn’t stopped Kara, my London-based beta reader extraordinaire, from the occasional night out in town!
Feedback, good or bad, can only help to improve the next draft. Personally, if there is a hole in the plot large enough to drive a truck through, or a spelling mistake in the first line, I’d rather know before sending it out to a potential publisher or agent.
Happy reading and a big thank you to my own crack team of brilliant beta readers !!