Questions to ask your Beta/First Readers
When I sat down and finally pushed the publish now button on our labor of love, Champ and Nessie, I felt a mix emotions: I was overjoyed, relieved, excited. In the next breath I was filled with fear and anxiety, and then the dreaded “I hope someone will like my book!” popped into my head. Throughout the whole process I was so focused on researching all the things, writing, formatting, editing, illustrating, building my author platform and so on…I never thought “What if no one buys this? What if no one likes our story?” And the truth is, in those moments, I didn’t care. I was doing this for me. After laboring for weeks, months, and to be honest years on our book, I finally asked myself the question, “Now what? How do I know if this story is even any good?”
I discovered that many people rely on Beta Readers, or First Readers. People that give honest feedback, critique, and/or clarification on your latest “book baby”. After much research on the subject, I learned that before you eagerly drop your literary work of art on an unsuspecting Beta, there are a couple ground rules that can really help enhance your experience, and get the most our of your BETA Readers.
#1: Beta readers should not be writers (if possible).
This one is simple. A writer will critique your work with a writer’s eye, not a reader’s eye.
#2: Only choose 1–3 Beta/First Readers.
Ever heard the saying: too many cooks in the kitchen? Yeah, that’s a thing. If you get too many people critiquing your work it will work against you. Too many opinions, and too time consuming. Too confusing. Find 1–3 readers you trust. People who can give honest feedback.
I didn’t have to look too far for my BETA Readers, I asked a few colleagues I trust and my very dear friend to have a look at C&N several times throughout the revision process. Don’t send them into the story blind, send a list of specific feedback you are looking for. Give your BETA a clear outline of what your book is about. Send the synopsis, the category you are classifying your book under, the age group and genre of your book. All this will help them, help you better.
Ask them specific things like:
#1 Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
#2 Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning? Where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
#3 Could you relate to the main character?
#4 Did the setting interest you and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
#5 Was there a point at which you felt the story lagged or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?
#6 Were there any parts that confused you?
#7 Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
#8 Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likable?
#9 Was the ending satisfying?
#10 Do you think the writing style suits the genre and age group?
Remember, your BETA reader is not an editor. They will be critiquing you only on the big picture, the storyline, and the characters.
#3: Print out a PDF of these questions for your BETA below!
Final thoughts….Let’s face it, at the end of the day, we write for ourselves. Not everyone is going to think your book is amazing. But facing that fear is a reality of writing and putting yourself out there. “To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself,” as Anne Rice said. Having BETA readers truly helped my creative process. Understanding the mind of a child is one thing, but writing a book that parents can stand behind and encourage their child to read is an entirely different animal. It helps to have a few different perspectives, focused on the questions asked above.
When I read the edited final draft of the story back to myself, it felt so happy and proud of how far I had come. I honestly thought it was a home-run. Who wouldn’t want to go on a grand adventure across the Ocean? I mean, have you seen how adorable my Champ and Nessie are? Looking back, I want to yell at myself for taking so long to bring this story to life. I let my own insecurity stop me more times than I can count, instead of asking questions and getting feedback. I realized that putting my anxieties and self-doubt aside was the only way to move forward. I needed to put myself out there in front of the world, and only then could I truly consider myself a writer. And to be honest, it wasn’t until someone introduced me as a new author that it sank in. I thought, “Wow, I’m really an author.” I wish I could describe to you how great that felt, but there are no words. I can only hope that one day you will feel it firsthand for yourself. Happy writing.
Looking for more writing inspiration…check out our post on Storybook vs. Picture Book.