The Writing Process: The Beta Draft

It’s amazing how much lighter I feel now that I’ve got my beta draft finished and out to beta readers. I can focus on plotting and writing, which are much more fun than editing.
In addition to feeling happy and relieved, I also feel anxious. What if I screwed this book up big time? What if they hate it? I actually had a dream last night that a beta reader emailed me back and said that they’d only read a few chapters, but it needed a lot of work. Did I say dream? I meant nightmare.
To finish up the pre-beta phase of my editing process, there wasn’t much method to it. I just had to sit down and power through, making my improvements. After creating my reverse outline, I fixed my timeline issues. There were quite a few, but I think I got them all. I ended up adding another short scene and fixing any remaining big issues. After that, I tackled all of my highlights. There were many. So many. As I cleared the highlights from each chapter, I labeled it green in Scrivener. It was so satisfying to watch that column of yellow, orange, and red slowly shift to green, chapter by chapter.
As I prepared my beta draft, I thought about what I as an author owe my beta readers, and I came up with this list.

What do you owe your beta readers?

1. Gratitude

They are taking time to read your book and give you feedback. Thank them. Even if you get feedback from them later that you find useless, thank them. Even if they only gave you comments for half the book, thank them. Even if their feedback seems mostly negative, thank them. There is always something to learn from a beta reader who’s taken the time to send you some notes.

2. A Coherent Draft

Make sure that you’ve fixed all of the things that you can before sending it off. You’ll benefit the most if you send them your best work. Instead of pointing out issues you’re already aware of, they can focus on the areas you might have missed. Beta readers don’t expect a perfectly proofread and formatted draft, but it should be easy to read and not too full of typos.

3. Time and Notice

Don’t give your readers a week, unless you know that’s the type of beta reader you have. Two to four weeks is standard in my circle, though prolific writers might want a faster turnaround. Time can be variable, but if you’re asking for feedback with short turnaround, try to give your readers notice so they’re aware of that expectation.
There’s nothing wrong with sending a friendly reminder as the feedback deadline approaches. I always appreciate receiving them. Sometimes, a reader will ask for an extra day or two, and if your schedule allows, I’d recommend giving it to them, especially if you won’t finish your next round of editing by then.

4. A Variety of Formats

I used to ask what format readers preferred, but this time around, I’m just sending all three formats to everyone, a .doc, .pdf, and .mobi. This covers all the bases. Some people use BookFunnel or another similar service to send ARCs or beta drafts, but I just email them. Maybe one day I’ll hit that level, but I’m not there yet. You may be there already, so it’s worth checking it out. (Note: Out of curiosity, I just did, and their lowest level plan is only $20/year, which seems pretty reasonable.)

5. Direction on Feedback

If there are specific questions you want answered, make sure your beta readers know about them. Some people like to give readers the questions in advance, others ask that you wait until you finish the read before you look at and answer the questions. For my first book in the series, I asked a few specific questions, but now I just ask for general feedback. It really depends on what you’re looking for from your beta readers. Every author might have slightly different goals or focal points when it comes to beta feedback, so it’s helpful to give your beta readers some guidance about what exactly you want from them.

 

I’m extremely grateful for my beta readers, and even when they come back with some tough truths about my writing, I’m glad to have the chance to learn and improve.

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