Step 4 – Beta reader feedback

Self-edit, round two

When you have your notes from those generous beta readers; it’s time to go back to editing.

This round of editing is different to the self-edit you did before. Now you have to apply changes by using feedback and observations from someone else’s mind. This can be tricky.

Your questionnaire

When your beta readers are finished reading your book, they should send you their thoughts on the questionnaire you prepared for them. You should also have the notes from the interviews.

There are a number of ways to sort these, but it’s up to you how you use this information. Personally, I rank them into gender and age groups. Then, I rank them in order of the score they gave for the overall novel on a scale of 0-10.

By using this grouping technique, I can see what works for different genders and age groups, and then I can identify common themes like good, bad, confusing etc.

You can’t please everyone

This is something that you have to understand before you begin the second round of self-editing. Think back to the last movie you saw and enjoyed. I bet you know someone who dislikes it and others who are indifferent about it. But to you, the movie is great. This difference of opinion is magnified a hundred-fold with books.

Armed with all your feedback, it’s time to see if you hit your target audience. If you missed, but hit a different target; you need to choose whether to re-write, or continue with a new target in mind.

If the younger audience give negative feedback to your YA Thriller, but the older group loved it, maybe your writing is more suited to that audience. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Don’t fight it. Work with it. Look for the trends. Did the older group like your story, or was it your voice that captivated them? Or, was it that the message was lost on the younger group but resonated with those over thirty-five, for example? This is the time to analyse the feedback and really think about your style and target audience.

Self-edit

Your voice, your style

Trying to force a change of writing style is not what is needed here. If you intended to write for one particular age group or gender, and now find you missed that target but found another; that’s a sign that your writing style or voice is more related to someone else. I encourage you to embrace that. Trying to force a change in the way you write is like forcing a left-handed writer to use their right hand. It complicates things.

However, if you have your heart set on that target audience, go and read more in that genre and try to identify the differences between your style and theirs. There is no harm in pausing at this point and going back to the drawing board. But if you’ve come this far, why not continue? You could have the book that your new audience are looking for!

How to use the feedback

Like I said earlier, you can’t please everyone. But you should try to please a majority.

If there is a common issue that creeps up in the majority of your beta’s answers, you probably have an area to work on. If it’s a plot hole, you must fix it. And if it’s a character who is supposed to be loved, but instead, the betas hated him/her, then think about what you did to invoke the wrong emotions.

This takes a lost of reflection and can be difficult to see things from the point of view of your betas. But remember this- your characters are strangers to a new reader. If you use the wrong words or complicate a scene, the reader can easily get the wrong impression. It’s your job to clear things up and use language that conveys the character as they are meant to be received.

Finally

Beta reader feedback can be a gruelling phase of the writing process. Some parts can be amazing because you realise the reader understood and enjoyed your work. Other times, they miss the point and it can hurt. They are not trying to be difficult. It simply means you have some work to do. I know it can be painful and sometimes annoying as hell. But all you have to do is listen to them and think about why they didn’t grasp the point.

But it’s ok. This is where the magic happens. No great author writes the perfect narrative at first. They do the leg work like you are doing now. They reflect and revise the words on the page. And eventually, they move on to the next phase. And so will you.

Don’t kick yourself if you don’t strike gold on your first round. If you do, you either have the perfect book, or your betas are not telling you the hard truths.

Be patient, be professional, and be ready to act on the feedback.

Good luck.

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