Letting Go: When Your Novel Goes to Beta Readers

I choose to begin this post on a positive note. Yes, it can happen.

I have got the novel into some kind of vaguely coherent form to send it out to beta readers. I did it!

This also means – less positive note coming up – I’m on the verge of a breakdown. Fellow writers, I’m sure some of you can relate.

This is my process. Be aware I probably don’t give sage advice, just honesty.

Finding Beta Readers

There’s so much advice out there on the t’interwebs about how to find beta readers. As usual it’s all conflicting:

  • Only have a couple of beta readers so you don’t get too many viewpoints
  • Have lots of beta readers so you get many viewpoints
  • Don’t ask family or close friends as they will be too nice
  • Ask family and close friends because having some nice feedback will be useful among the more critical ones
  • Don’t accept people you’ve never met as you can’t trust them
  • Accept people you don’t know as it’s often those you know who let you down
    Don’t ask fellow writers as they’ll steal your book
  • Ask fellow writers as they’ll know what they’re talking about

It got so bad taking on all this ‘advice’ that I seriously considered asking the cat. At least she wouldn’t do any of the above although there may have been language barriers.

In the end, I managed to get together a merry band of freaking marvellous people who now have my book in their hands. I will once more reiterate how wonderful they are in the hope of receiving high praise.

Preparing for Beta Readers

When Your Novel Goes to Beta Readers - Perfectionist scaleI contemplated sending out an extra book on how to read my book which was actually longer than the novel. Yes, I am a perfectionist.

The school teacher in me refuses to give people instructions without creating guides and step-by-step instructions. This is useful in some aspects of life but not so much when you’re telling your husband how to hang washing or the woman at the checkout how to handle your shopping. Then you become a patronising git.

Despite my best efforts to be chilled, my beta readers have received a guide on how to beta read, a set of questions for feedback, and a map of the estate, with the residents’ houses to enhance their reading.

I will find out if it’s overkill or helpful when they send their replies in. In the meantime I will be busy writing a guide for the cat on how to answer the door so I don’t have to. It’s about time she earned her keep.

Hitting the ‘Send’ Button

Everything prepared, you’d think I was more than ready to send those copies of my novel out. Don’t be silly.

My finger became detached from my body. This strange digit hovered and then retreated at the threat of pressing ‘send’.

Then a jolt from the blue came, and before I knew it, those pesky files were out there. The alien digit betrayed my perfectionism.

The rest is history. Hopefully my beta readers won’t see my writing as history too.

The Waiting Game

When Your Novel Goes to Beta Readers - I want it nowCue weeks of waiting.

I am the most impatient person in the world. Ask my poor husband.

I will try not to think about the novel, being read by other people. Who am I kidding?

I will not contact my beta readers every few days to find out which point they’ve got to and if they think it’s any good.

I will not regret ever writing a novel and letting others read it.

I will not do any of the above. Perhaps.

A Necessary Evil and Good

The beta reading stage is horrible and brilliant.

Letting go of something you’ve been working on isolation for months or years is hard. It’s tantamount to handing over your child and trusting the new childminder.

When Your Novel Goes to Beta Readers - devil and angelYour creativity and imagination has been poured into this manuscript. It makes you feel vulnerable, letting others into the secret place within you.

Beta reading brings out the best in people too.

I’ve been amazed by how many people offered to do it for my novel. They either believe in me or want a good laugh. I’m thinking it’s the first but the novel has some allegedly comic parts in it so they may get that too.

If I cannot let people read the novel now, how on earth am I going to let a wider audience do so?

My beta readers are brilliant people. They are giving up their time for me. They are doing me a huge favour and I’m so grateful for it.

I will remind myself of this when they give feedback and I want to hire a hitman because they said I repeated a line several times.

Over to You

What’s your experience of beta readers?

Do you beta read and why?

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

6 comments on “Letting Go: When Your Novel Goes to Beta Readers

  1. Letting go was great – it meant the beta reader would offer an honest opinion (good and/or corrective). And yes – beta reading can be interesting, challenging and an opportunity to encourage the author without hurting them. It can be a tough go when it is outside your genre. I like to think of it as a public service. 🙂

    1. I feel privileged that people want to help me and read my book. Beta readers are definitely a valuable asset for a writer.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Janice.

  2. Oh, I do identify with this! All I can say is that it does get easier. I’m far less precious about my book than I was six months ago when I first started with beta readers. Having said that, there’s been many moments in between when I’ve been absolutely floored by critical feedback and had to struggle to regain some sense of proportion – and humour. Luckily, the positive feedback more than makes up for those moments; you just can’t beat the feeling of somebody actually enjoying your story 😊

    Have you considered BetaBooks? Ace software that takes care of all the logistics of sending to readers and getting feedback. There’s a couple of posts on my blog about this.

    Good luck! x

    1. I’ve heard of BetaBooks. It’s something I might consider using next time. Thanks for the tip.

      I am trying to focus on how this is a positive process. As you state, I will learn to let go more. It’s essential if I’m going to have a readership!

      Thanks for your helpful comment, Hannah.

  3. This is amazing! I’m sad that I am not reading your book right now, but happy that it is a step closer to being in my hands. Hip hip Hooray!

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