Friends and family – good beta readers?
So you’ve written and edited your first draft. What next? Before you self-publish or start sending queries to literary agents, it’s crucial to get feedback from beta readers.
When you think about receiving feedback the first people that come to mind are probably friends and family. Common advice on this topic in books and blogs will discourage you from giving your work to relatives and friends, stating that they’ll just tell you how great of a job you did. Moreover, this advice believes that even if they are able to point out weaknesses, they won’t be able to articulate the issue.
But what if your friends and family have requested to see your work? Would it really hurt to ask them for their opinion? Could they be the exception?
My answer is yes, you can show them your work. The more feedback you get the better. However, there are a view points you need to take into account before handing over your masterpiece. Firstly, don’t rely just on family and friends. Have critique partners look at your work. Secondly, be aware that the advice received from non-writers will be more general, focusing on overall story and pacing and not on particular scenes or line-by-line. Therefore, treat non-writers beta readers, not critique partners. Finally, you need to screen your readers ahead of time. Take into account their ‘profile’ when assessing feedback. The remainder of this post focuses on this point.
The big plus to getting ‘regular’ people instead of writers to read your book is that they are closer to your target audience. In addition, they’ll finish the book quicker than most critique partners. Instead of focusing on line-by-line and losing track of the bigger picture, readers will be able to tell you if the story was enjoyable overall, and whether the character and plot development made sense.
To evaluate which of your friends and family might make good beta readers, ask yourself the following question:
Is this person good at expressing himself?
A person, who is not good at expressing himself, will have difficulty explaining why he liked one aspect but disliked another. The person will also have difficulty highlighting why a particular aspect needs elaboration, while another scene needs to be shortened.
Will this person give me their honest but constructive opinion?
Beware of the people pleaser. He is good for your ego but nothing else. How will you ever get better, when your grandmother tells you, you’re already perfect?
But do also beware of people, who will rip your work apart. If you feel that the person in question is hostile or resentful, hold off from showing your work. After all, no matter how professional you are, writing is personal. Too harsh a review might put you off for several days (or longer). Those are days that you could spend writing and editing.
Is this person my target audience?
It might be tempting to give your work to a passionate thriller and mystery reader, hoping he will solve pacing issues and spice up your plot. And he might. But he is just as likely to turn your fantasy novel into a detective novel.
If your story has lots of romance, don’t be surprised when someone used to literary books, calls it shallow, or a horror genre lover tells you he fell asleep.
While not all of your beta readers can be your target audience, do strive to find some that are. If you know your reader is not a fan of your genre, be critical when taking his opinion into account. Ask yourself whether his opinion is really based on your book or the genre you write in.
Does this person have time to read?
If he doesn’t, chances are he’ll never get past chapter 1 or 2, without it having anything to do with your novel. Or he might skim through your novel, missing important issues that a more dedicated beta reader could’ve uncovered.
Overall, family and friends can make great readers as long as they have time and are willing to give honest and constructive feedback. But they shouldn’t be the only source of feedback you rely upon.
My next post will cover the benefits and drawbacks of joining an in-person critique group.