As a professional freelance editor, I encourage every writer I work with to use beta readers. Most fiction writers know this is an important step, but did you know it is equally important when you write nonfiction? You’ll do yourself a huge favor by gathering your posse early in the process to learn what works and what doesn’t in your manuscript.
Author Chandi Wyant, who is working on a travel memoir about her solo forty-day pilgrimage in Italy, offers another important reason to seek that valuable input.
A beta reader is a not a professional editor, but rather, a volunteer who reads your manuscript to provide feedback before you publish it, or before you submit it to agents or publishers.
I recommend seeking beta readers who are familiar with your genre and who are not close friends or family members.
Why a Memoirist Needs Beta Readers
Utilizing beta readers is an excellent idea for all genres. I’m going to focus here on why they’re essential for memoir.
Many authors in this genre write about traumatic things in their lives, and this is very challenging to do without sounding whiny.
This is where a beta reader can step in and save you from embarrassment. All authors are too close to their manuscripts and need an outsider’s perspective—and a memoirist is particularly entwined with her manuscript because it’s a piece of her life.Click To Tweet
I have seen twice, with my own manuscript and with a friend’s, that beta readers saved us from the embarrassment of putting our book out into the world when it wasn’t ready.
My friend (who writes nonfiction like I do) was sure her book was ready for publication, but a beta reader told her,
“Your book is too whiny, I couldn’t keep reading it.”
My friend was quite taken aback at first. She checked it out with her other beta reader, who had not provided this same feedback. The other beta reader then admitted, yes, she too found it whiny—she had just tried to focus on the positives.
In my case, I had three beta readers. This is a good number because it avoids a tie. The comments from one reader were almost all positive. Full of “Great line,” and “Love this.” But the other two readers did not hesitate to insert strong critiques in certain parts of the manuscript. And yes, they found the dreaded whiny places.
Their comments were essential.
Positive Feedback Is Nice, but It’s the Strong Critiques You Need.
Set your ego aside and listen.
When I re-read my manuscript with an objective eye, I found that what my beta readers pointed out is what I secretly knew in my heart. But I needed someone to tell me, to force myself to admit it, and to force myself to do the re-working.
Make Sure Your Beta Reader Doesn’t Hold Back
In my case, and my friend’s, if we’d had only the one beta reader with the positive feedback, we likely would have been lulled into a false sense of security that our manuscripts were ready.
Try to have at least three readers and emphasize to them not to hold back.
Remember, their feedback is not a reflection of you as a person. It’s reflection of the weak areas in your book.
Make sure you’re open to strong critiques so that you can sincerely tell your beta readers that you want critical feedback.
The Art of Listening
Your process with your beta readers is great practice in the art of listening.
The art of listening includes Paying Attention, Withholding Judgment, Clarifying, and Summarizing.
Read all the critiques with an open mind. Don’t make snap judgments in the moment. Let it rest for a few days. Then revisit the critiques. Ask clarifying questions of your beta readers. Then summarize what you’ve learned by taking notes.
If a critique really doesn’t ring true, go with your gut. Find the balance between embracing feedback and trusting yourself.
Then gather your notes, roll up your sleeves and start editing.
Don’t forget to thank your beta readers. They’ve saved you from embarrassment.
Chandi Wyant is a world traveler and a college history instructor. She is currently working on a travel memoir about her 40-day solo pilgrimage in Italy. She also offers travel planning services to Italy and retreats in Italy. On her website she posts articles about traveling and expat life. If you write about these topics, she would be happy to hear from you about a guest post.
Thanks for sharing your experience and advice, Chandi. If you’d like to learn more about beta readers, check out these links:
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and learn more here.