Beta reader feedback deserves a dedicated article because this is possibly your first time facing, dare I say it, criticism.
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 in Step 2. This is because you will be making changes based on feedback and observations from someone else’s mind.
And this can be tricky.
When your beta readers are finished reading your book, they should give 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.
This also helps me identify a target audience.
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 really 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 make a choice. Do you re-write, or continue with a new target in mind?
If the younger audience provided you with 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 while looking for other 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.
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, it’s a sign that your writing style or voice is more relatable 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 a particular 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 your project at this point and going back to the drawing board. After all, you have to be happy with the book you are writing.
But if you’ve come this far, why not continue? You could have the book that your new audience has been waiting 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 feedback, 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 beta readers hated him/her, then think about what you did to invoke the wrong emotions.
This takes a lot of reflection and it can be difficult to see things from the point of view of your others.
Remember, 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.
Don’t argue with your beta readers.
Their view on your book is what you have asked for.
Don’t burn bridges because they misunderstood or missed certain points.
Simply thank them for their feedback, and address the issue.
Beta reader feedback can be a gruelling part of the writing process.
Some of their feedback will make you feel amazing. This is because you realise the reader understood and enjoyed your work. However, other times, the feedback will hurt a little.
Just remember, 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.
This is a normal thing to experience in the beta reading phase of every book. But 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.