Honest Alpha and Beta Readers

Honest Alpha and Beta Readers

This is part of a four part series on Alpha and Beta Readers. This is also my favorite of the four parts.

Part One: Editing with Alpha Readers
Part Two: Editing with Beta Readers
Part Three: The Questions I Ask My Alpha and Beta Readers
Part Four: Honest Alpha and Beta Readers

It is crucial in your writing to find Honest Alpha and Beta Readers!
Let that sink in. You need them. Desperately! Honest ones! So find them!

Here’s how I define Alpha and Beta Readers:

Alpha Readers: Those who read your really, really rough manuscript and give you feedback. They have to be built of sturdy stuff if they are to read something so rough.

Beta Readers: Those who read your touched up manuscript to give you feedback (after you have fixed the mistakes the Alpha Readers pointed out).

 

But here’s the problem: It is easy to surround yourself with people who will tell you your writing is wonderful. What can be difficult is to ask for feedback from people who will be honest. The reason it’s hard is because they will point out areas that need attention. This is hard to hear.

Keep this in mind: The people who tell you what you want to hear make you feel good. Honest readers make you successful.

I have been blessed with a group of people who have been very honest with me. You need that as well. Here’s why:

Have you ever watched America’s Got Talent or the X-Factor? Or maybe American Idol?
Scores of talented, quality singers step up to the mic and blow us away with their talent and ability. Some may even bring a tear to your eye.
There are others, however, who also bring a tear to our eyes, but it’s because they are tone deaf. These poor singers cannot sing to save their life. It’s really difficult to watch. The hardest part about it is, however, they think they sing like angels. When someone on the show tells them they can’t sing, they are completely shocked and sometimes they disagree vehemently.

I think the important question to ask is this: How did this happen?

How did they get so far in life that they could end up standing in front of perhaps thousands of people and be on TV in front of millions of viewers and have no idea that they can’t sing? They have no idea at all!

Did no one ever tell them they were off key? Did everyone always just tell them they were the best singers in the world?

It is a sad truth that in our attempts to be kind and encouraging, we convince people who CANNOT sing that they CAN sing. Would it not be more kind to pull them aside and lovingly say, “Hey, I know it sounds good to you, but you might be a little off… maybe lessons might help.” I do not mean we should say that in a rough, cruel way, but in kindness. To hear this kind of thing is hard, but I would personally prefer to hear that from a friend than step up on the stage on America’s Got Talent and humiliate myself in front of millions of people.

What about you? Do you have people around you who will (in kindness) tell you what you need to hear about your book? What if your writing stinks? Do you want to publish your book without getting it fixed up first? Your readers will not be as positive and affirming as your mom when she reads your book.

Or what if part of your book stinks and you could fix it? What if no one ever told you that one simple change could fix your writing and you ended up published without ever having fixed it? What if your book could be a hundred times better if you changed or dropped one single chapter or touched up one character, but no one said a word?

Would it not be cruel for everyone around you to tell you your book is perfect without pointing out your weak areas?

 

Find honest readers. Find people who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. Your future (post publishing) will be a much happier experience. Perhaps you just need to adjust your writing. Maybe you’re too angry of a writer or too sappy or too silly (my problem) or too… I’m running out of possibilities. Don’t you want to know these things before you publish?

I think part of how to do this well is to bring into your circle honest Alpha and Beta Readers.

On this note, check out my blog on Five Ways to Tell You Do Not Want Feedback and Six Ways to Receive Feedback Well. But in the meantime, here’s some advice on how to narrow down the best Beta Readers.

 

Two kinds of people NOT to ask to read your book

Rude People
There are people around who are too blunt. Not because they are honest (regardless of what they tell you), but because they are rude. Don’t ask anyone like that to read your book. If you know someone who always offends other people or someone who walks around saying things like, “I just tell it like it is” or “I’m just a truth teller”… don’t get that person to read your book. They are not truthful. They are rude. They will just discourage you and that’s the end of it.

Inexpert People
(I know what you’re wondering… “Is that even a word?” Yep, “people” is in fact a word. It refers to human beings so, “Inexpert Human Beings”.)

There are people around who are simply not cut out to evaluate your type of book. Be careful here, though… just because someone tells you something you don’t want to hear, don’t throw them into this category.

Here’s what I mean:
If you write a book on carpentry, be cautious about seeking readers who have never even touched a hammer. They may not be the person to read your book because they will not get it or find it interesting (although they may have skills in the area of grammar and book layout which is VERY helpful!). Gather some readers who are handy in various areas of life. Someone who is a solid mechanic might be a good person because they are good with their hands. They also understand the need and benefit of proper tools, proper experience, proper skill and proper training. A person who does a bit of wood-working on the side as a hobby would be an excellent choice.

Here are another couple examples….
If you write a humorous book, don’t find readers who have not proven themselves capable of laughing. There are people on this planet, and I write this with the greatest sadness and deepest grief in my heart, who were born without a sense of humor. You know it’s true. They say things like, “I have a sense of humor, that just wasn’t funny.” Sadly, they say that about everything. They may laugh now and then about things, but you get the sneaky suspicion that they aren’t actually finding any of it funny. It’s not an emotion for them. It’s an intellectual choice to make a laughing sound. Don’t get someone like that to read your book if your book is supposed to be a funny book. Get someone who loves to laugh!
If you’re writing a horror novel, don’t find someone who doesn’t like scary stuff. I would personally be the wrong person to read it. I don’t mind some scary stories, but horror is just not my thing. At all. I don’t like ghosts and demons and so forth. I would be the wrong person to read your book because I would hate being terrified every time I read your book. Hence, I would hate your book.

The list could go on… don’t get someone who only likes poetry to read your mystery novel; don’t get someone who only likes comic books to read your poetry.

Choose your readers well and make sure they are honest with you!

 

Here are four kinds of people you should look for:

People who love to read
Find people who read a lot! They develop the ability to detect good writing and have learned to abhor bad writing. They will be able to speak into your writing in a very clear way!

Authors
Find people who have written books, blogs or articles. Authors will approach writing in a different way than a reader.
The challenge here is that sometimes authors start to think more highly of themselves than they should and as such they may criticize your writing simply because they don’t like your style or simply because they didn’t write it. That can be hard, but deal with it. Pull out the good stuff they share with you and run with that!
An author will give you feedback that is different than a reader because they (sometimes) understand the craft.
Just one caution… make sure they can actually write well. There are many (such as myself), who fancy themselves to be authors, but do not have the skill to back it up. It’s all in their head. This is why you should not ask me to edit your book.

Honest people
I’ll say it again… find people who will be honest with you!

People within your target group
This should be obvious, but it must be said. Find people to be Alpha and Beta Readers who are “like” the kind of people you are writing for. If you don’t, how will you know how your readers will react to your book.
For me, I’m writing to a younger audience so I’ve sought out a number of younger readers.

On that note, I would not limit your readers to people in your target group, not at all!  But you will need a number in that group to get their feedback.

 

One more caution:

When you get an Alpha or Beta Reader who just hates your book, it might be because your writing stinks. You need to consider this to be a very real possibility. If this is the case, you need to be willing to put the hard work into fixing the problem. It could be your language. It could be your attitude. It could be your grammar. It could be… well, just about anything.

It might also be because they simply do not like your style. Perhaps it’s not your book, it’s their personal preference. If this is the case, accept it and move on. You don’t need everyone to like what you write… do you? Just be careful that you are not ignoring the people who are telling you what you need to hear.
If you get ten people to read your book, one loves it and nine really struggle with it… listen to the nine. If you get ten people to read your book and nine of them love it (and they’re honest with you), don’t get too worked up about number ten who hates it. Some people won’t like your book.

 

I think often of those poor people on American Idol. They really, genuinely seem to have no idea they can’t sing. It is as if they had been told their entire lives they sing like a nightingale when in fact they sing a little more like a crow.
Seek out people who will point out your crow-like qualities (out of genuine love for you). They are the people you need to hear from.

Don’t forget to check out the other blogs in this series:

Part One: Editing with Alpha Readers
Part Two: Editing with Beta Readers
Part Three: The Questions I Ask My Alpha and Beta Readers
Part Four: Honest Alpha and Beta Readers

Comment below with your helpful (and unhelpful) experiences with honest critique.

Shawn

9 thoughts on “Honest Alpha and Beta Readers

  1. I personally believe the hardest thing about writing is getting honest and heart-felt feedback – at any stage. Not the words people say, just getting them to say anything, let alone something to assist the learning process (I don’t think we ever stop learning). I ask, I beg, I cajole – maybe I try too hard? But I know it could be better with the response from each reader, and I want to make it better in each story – and I always promise not to bite – but people seem to want to be nice, or they think I don’t really, really, really want to hear what they felt. Or, maybe this is closer, they don’t want to put the effort into thinking that hard about it.
    Maybe that’s the problem. Getting people to analyse their relaxation and entertainment. Maybe I could find a way to make the response an interactive part of the story. Hmmmm, worth a thought. Now, any ideas on how to incorporate simple, fun and easily answered questions into the back of the book?

    1. Wow! Feedback into the back of the book, that’s a cool idea! I like that a lot! If it’s a novel, you could have them send feedback to your facebook author page and offer to put them in a draw for a signed copy of the next book in the series! That could be a lot of fun! You could even ask, “Where would you like to see the story go next?” or something along those lines. 🙂
      It certainly is difficult to get honest feedback, but I have been very fortunate to have a number of honest people. I think, however, one of the keys is to have multiple readers. Where one person is hesitant to be too open about some feedback, the next person will not hold back. 🙂

  2. I think the same sort of advice is appropriate with A & B editors as I would give regarding professional editors. — expect to receive some negative criticism and be deeply suspicious if you don’t. Then allow some time for this to sink in before settling on one of the following reactions:
    ‘Not true! My writing is perfect!’
    ‘Well, maybe there is a point, here …’

    One of my own first editors pointed out that I was inordinately fond of using ‘very’. It took me some time to overcome my blindness to that word in my own writing. It was very difficult for me to see how very many times ‘very’ was very much overused by me!

  3. One of my beta readers gushed, gushed, and gushed some more about my work. I was like, “That’s great, but….”

    Moments like that make you feel as if the Pulitzer Prize is well within reach, but ultimately, you’re not going to improve your writing if you listen to exaggerated praise.

    1. The gushing is nice, for sure! Sometimes, however, it is people just trying to see the positive and not tell you the negative. 🙂
      I agree… the exaggerated praise feels good, but it doesn’t help you approve your writing. Where it does help, however, is when you get some REALLY specific exaggerated praise. If someone can point out specific areas where they were thrilled with what you wrote, you can ask more questions and find out why that specific area connected well with them. If you have that information, you can learn a lot about improving your writing. I’m always surprised at how the stuff I thought was great is not what connects most with my readers. 🙂
      Keep writing!

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