J.A. Stinger

Words Can Inspire The World

BLANK PAGE TO FINAL DRAFT: Week 8: Beta Break!

Written by: Bryn Donovan
Reblogged from: http://www.bryndonovan.com/2016/02/21/blank-page-to-final-draft-week-8-beta-break/

Hi friends! If you are following the schedule for Blank Page to Final Draft, this is the week that you give your five chapters (or whatever you’ve done so far) to three beta readers for feedback. If you’re not doing BPFD at all, this still might give you ideas about how to get better initial feedback from your beta readers!

First off, BPFD-ers: tell them you need their feedback by this Sunday. Tell them this is very important. You don’t have to feel bad about this short turnaround, because almost everyone procrastinates and they would probably just do it at the last minute, anyway. 

I believe in telling a beta reader exactly what you want from them, and when I’m a beta reader, I always try to get specific directions as well. There may be times when a person really wants detailed copy edits from me. Other times, a person might want me to read it and tell her she doesn’t suck and should keep going, which is totally valid. I’m happy to do whatever.

For this round, you can tell your beta readers you don’t need them to note every grammatical error or poor word choice. You just want them to answer these things:

Did the first five pages suck them into the story?

This will let you know if you’ve started the story in the right place, and if they can tell what’s actually going on in the beginning. Remember, if the answer turns out to be “no,” no big deal. You can fix it!

Did any parts make them go, “Huh?” 

This is a great all-purpose question for a beta reader, because they might tell you where you need more description or explanation, or where a character’s actions are confusing.

What did they think of the characters?

Here’s where you can find out if your heroine is as sympathetic as you want her to be, or if your characters seem like real people.

What do they like about the story so far?

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: most of us are at least as oblivious to our strengths as writers as we are to our weaknesses, and becoming a better writer isn’t just about eliminating our weaknesses. It’s also about building on our strengths. In any part of life, if you focus on your strengths instead of using all your energy to eliminate your weaknesses, you’re going to have way more success.

Don’t Apologize For Your Work

When you hand your beta reader your pages or send them in an email, try not saying a bunch of terrible stuff about your own writing! You can acknowledge that it’s rough, of course, but don’t go into a spiral of fear and excuses (“I hope you don’t hate this, I know it kind of sucks right now, this story is kind of weird…”)

As a writer you don’t have to apologize for writing a rough draft. You’re supposed to write a rough draft!

When you hire someone to patch your roof, do you spend a bunch of time apologizing to them that the roof needs fixing? No, because that’s the exact job they showed up to do. True, you’re probably not paying your betas, but the same principle applies.

Chances are excellent that your beta readers are not laboring under the illusion that you churn out perfect first drafts, because if you did, why would you be asking for help? So if it’s rough, they aren’t going to be surprised.

Catching Up

If you’re handing off five chapters, you can take a little break this week. Read, play around with another project, clean your house, binge-watch TV… whatever you like.

If you’re handing off less than five chapters, now is your chance to catch up! See if you can get to the five-chapter mark by next Sunday.

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Whether you’re doing BPFD or now, how are you feeling about your writing project(s)? I’d love to hear! Happy writing!