Waiting for feedback from my beta readers was one of the most nerve-racking experiences I’ve ever had. It was like I had a precious little kitten I’d nurtured from birth. Perhaps the little kitten had star potential, or maybe I was completely delusional (like many cat-parents are) about how entraining my kitten really is. It was like taking that vulnerable creature and handing it to a pack of wolves who would either be enamoured by it and nurture it, or tire of it and tear it to bloody shreds.
Many writing blogs/books recommend that you select only a few beta readers, and that you only select people who write. I pretty much ignored both pieces of advice. I’ve been unlucky with strangers reading my work in exchange for me reading theirs. Often my feedback would be more detailed, thoughtful and constructive than what I receive back. I’ve actually received feedback of ‘very good, really enjoyed it’ on short stories that I’ve written. This would be after spending forty-five minutes reading and typing up a critique on the work of the other person. I’ve just been unlucky, I know, but still, it made me think that taking a different path would suit me better.
I asked ten people I knew to beta read for me. In terms of their knowledge of writing and novels. I managed rope people in with a massive variety of perspectives to offer. Proofreaders, fans of the thriller genre, people with English degrees, people who write as a hobby, people who write for a living, to a psychologist, who offered a unique perspective on my characterisation. I agreed with many of their observations, and I’m making a number of changes to my final draft as a result.
My precious kitten came back a bit roughed-up, but mainly in one piece.
I knew that the risk of asking friends and family read it was that they wouldn’t be honest. They are more likely to ‘blow smoke up your hole’ as my uncle Finbar might say.
As I gathered the feedback from each individual reader, it became clear that the risk had paid off. The criticism I received was constructive, though occasionally brutal. Ironically, it was the harshest criticism that made me feel the greatest sense of confidence in my writing. It meant that I could trust my readers when they told me that they enjoyed the novel. I could believe them when they told me they couldn’t put it down. I don’t regret selecting people I know to beta read. It was clear to me that my readers took their job very seriously, and that they were invested in my success. I am grateful to each and every one of them.
I have a lot of work to do before the novel will be right, and I’m pretty nervous about launching into the final draft.