Who Will Read Your First Draft And How Do You Help Them?

When I finished the first draft of my first novel, Descent, I was exhilarated and terrified. Exhilarated because I’d accomplished my dream of writing a novel, and terrified because I now had to share it with someone.

But who?

My lucky husband got to be my first beta reader. He understood how important my story was to me. He’d be kind yet helpful. So I took a deep breath and hit the print button.

I couldn’t be in the same room with him as he read. That was just too stressful.

Once he finished, he gave me one of the most useful pieces of advice that I still use today. It came in the form of a question.

“Do you know you start every scene in a doorway?”

I hadn’t noticed that. His question made me do a full rewrite of every scene, looking at the opening. This is when I discovered the term in medias res — start in the middle of the action.

Now, before I share my story with anyone, I check the beginning of each scene and choose the opening carefully. I try to open with a hook for each scene.

As the years have gone by, I’ve had many beta readers and received a lot of valuable advice, comments, and questions. I couldn’t write the way I do without these precious people.


What’s a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is a person who reads your manuscript before it’s published and provides you with feedback on your story. The feedback is usually on characters, plot, and settings. (Although you may get comments on copyediting and proofreading, too.)

A helpful beta reader gives you honest feedback, positive or negative, that you use to improve your story.

An ineffective beta reader says, “That’s a nice story. I liked it.” While that feels good, it doesn’t help you write a better story.


Tips for Getting Useful Feedback

Convincing friends to give you honest feedback is difficult. People who care about you usually don’t want to hurt your feelings and may be worried about beta reading.

Questions like “What if I don’t like the story?” or “How will I tell you if I find something I don’t like?” may swirl around their heads while they’re thinking of a way to say no.

Make sure your readers understand you won’t be hurt or offended by negative feedback. Feedback on what’s not working is the only way for you to tell a better story.

To make it easy for your beta readers to know what you want, provide a list of specific questions or instructions. This will help your reader know what you want from them.

I ask beta readers to do or answer the following:

  1. Mark anywhere you skim. This is an easy way to know that the writing is boring.
  2. Did you get confused on who a character was? Maybe you need more clues or dialogue tags.
  3. Did you lose track of who was speaking? I like to write with minimal dialogue tags, so this is critical.
  4. Note anytime you suspect a character of being the villain or know the ending. This helps to determine if you’ve done enough to too much foreshadowing.
  5. Mark each passage where you stopped reading. Get your beta readers to mark this each time, even it was to have dinner, go to work, etc. If all your beta readers put the book down at the same passage, there may be a problem with the story.
  6. Did you notice any story inconsistencies? To help your beta reader, give them an example of what you mean. I read a story where a dog was left at home in one scene, and in the next scene, the dog was still with the owner. The author had forgotten where the dog was.
  7. Avoid asking for copy editing or proofreading from beta readers. It’s ok if your readers notice errors and point them out, but what you want at this stage is input on your story, not on the grammar or typos.

Make Your Beta Reader Feel Special

Image Source: Pixabay

Once you’ve put a lot of time into finding helpful beta readers, you want to keep them for your next book.

The first time a beta reader gives you negative feedback, thank them. If you make the suggested change, let them know. A beta reader will put a lot of effort into reading your story and seeing that their comments resulted in changes can be very satisfying.

When you ask someone to beta read, make it easy for the author by asking what format he/she would like to receive the manuscript in. I offer a PDF file first, but some prefer a printed copy and others mobi. Some like to receive manuscripts in .docx format as it’s easy to convert and read on a Kindle. I try to send the manuscript in the format the beta reader prefers. I believe it’s a sign of respect for the person.

In the acknowledgment section of your published book, thank your beta readers. Mine all love to see their names in the book.

Make your beta reader feel really special and send them a signed copy of your book once it’s published.

Let us know if you have any suggestions for working with beta readers. We’d love to hear from you!


Perform a Story Edit Before Sharing with Beta Readers

Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Fictionary will help you evaluate your story on a scene-by-scene basis. You’ll be able to focus on problem areas in your manuscript and improve it quickly. Then your beta readers will be impressed!

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories? We don’t ask for a credit card until you’re ready to pay, so there’s no risk.

Thanks for reading!

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34 thoughts on “Who Will Read Your First Draft And How Do You Help Them?

  1. Is this post an ad for Fictionary? It is best that a writer figure out editing on her own. And Beta readers? If I were testing a new program for Apple, I would be part of a Beta tester. But literature is not something that comes from a word program, although George Orwell did suggest in 1946 it was going that way.
    To get to the first question, Who Will Read Your First Draft? I would initially get out of the word of computerese and enter the world of words. You’ll get a better result and better feedback.

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    1. Hi Micheal, Thanks for stopping by. I don’t think we’ve chatted before. I’m an author and also the CEO of Fictionary. I believe in a writer using every tool – whether it’s a computer or otherwise – to create the best story they can. I’ve found the better my story the better the feedback I get. I spent a couple of years working with beta readers to learn how to work together. Cheers, Kristina

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      1. Hi Katrina I understand beta readers not to be mechanical readers but as you point out, they can use the technology for their thoughts. Thank you for your suggestions. They are about asking others to give feedback about what they think about one’s story and I for one would like to use Fictionary for editing. I’m using Scrivener at the moment for my novel, and I am glad that we have software to use to help us organise our thoughts and our material. Some of us like to use software but that doesn’t mean that we are dependent upon it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Michael, I like the little dog photo that shows up. Very cute. I’ve used Scrivener too and think it’s a great tool. If you try Fictionary, I’d love to know what you think.

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      2. I don’t know about beta readers. I have read and now reviewed ALL BUT MY LIFE, an incredible memoir about Holocaust survival. I next went to another $.25 book from a library sale, subhead, Mid-Twenties and I haven’t had a date. It in a conversational style, to lengthened it, but in the end poorly written. I left it at a doctor’s office. I was hoping the author would present an analysis of a woman and the dating scene.
        I could only think (my own theory), Every story needs its own style. I could only think, its no wonder why this woman hasn’t had a date. If she’s going to talk so much, an extra 20 words per sentence, I don’t think that makes it today.
        I will make one extra point. Computers and relying on them conform all writing. e.g. have you noticed how poor the Apple dictionary is?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good advice. I agree with using beta readers, and when you find good ones, keep them. Some can become so focused on the same elements that their feedback becomes objective, when what readers like is truly subjective. Knowing a genre and what readers of that genre like is a beta reader’s value. I also use writing tools, but discard most of what is produced, looking to incorporate the real errors: punctuation, grammar, overused words, run-on sentences, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so true. The person who reads your work doesn’t have to be an agent or editor. Just another pair of eyes can give you valuable and useful feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

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