My paid beta reader experience

In January, I sent the first draft of my suspense romance novel to a paid beta reader for feedback.

I’m new to the world of fictional writing, and most of the beta readers I had were not fans of romance, so I wanted to give this a try.

I found the service on the Romance Refined website.

I sent my manuscript in on Jan 23 and received the feedback on Feb 9. It was supposed to be a two-week turn-around but it took a while for the payment to weave its way through the net. I paid $62.50 for the service and my manuscript is 50,000 words (the fee is based on number of words). You can receive feedback in 1 week if you’re willing to pay more.

The feedback came to me as a 22-page Word Doc with the reader providing answers to 84 questions that the editor/business owner had drafted. It’s basically an enormous form.

The reader filled out a few questions after reading Chapter 1 (so I had an idea of what she thought when she started the story), and then answered the rest after reading the entire book.

What I learned from this paid beta reader:

  • Her feedback aligned with what my non-paid readers had said.
  • My antagonists needed more work (my other readers also flagged this).
  • My prologue needed to go — it didn’t fit and it was the wrong POV (this was confirmed by 4 other people as well).
  • She found a huge racial error I’d made, which I have now fixed (I’m so glad she commented on it — no one else caught this).
  • This reader feedback was kind and gentle and good for my fragile wanna-be-an-author ego.
  • This reader provided little critical feedback for me to work off of (she flagged 3 items to resolve — prologue, antagonists, and racial error — 2 of which I knew of when I sent her the doc).
  • Beta readers are not editors — and I need both.
  • My work is good for a novella — it needs to be longer (about 20,000 words more)  if I want to pitch it as a full novel.

Here are my most fav responses to the editor’s questions. The beta reader was asked ..

  1. What the characters’ goals were and if they achieved them. 
    Her responses were lovely and I’ll weave them into my synopsis. 
  2. About her fav scene.
    They happened to also be the ones I had the most fun writing. 
  3. Would she read the next book in the series? 
    She said yes, she wants to know when this book is published so she can get it, and she identified the character she wanted it to be — and that is the character that I’m writing about next.
  4. Was it easy to set the book aside at the end of chapters? 
    She said she couldn’t put it down once she’d started. 
  5. How would she rate this story if it were published exactly as is?
    She said “4.5 out of 5 but only because of proofreading errors.” (That was hands-down my fav bit of feedback.)

I paraphrased the questions above because I signed an agreement saying I wouldn’t share the actual questions that the editor had used with others, but I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have about my experience with the service.

Some friends have asked if I would use the service again.

I will if my amazing pack of beta readers are not available when I’m done the manuscript for Book 2.

I loved the answers to the 84 questions. They were great. This was an affirming and positive experience, and it helped me accept that I was done with beta-reading phase and ready to move on to the final round of editing.

Words that distance readers

In early April, I sent my manuscript to a fictional editor to help me polish the work prior to querying. I received her edited copy today.

Her advice is that I write in “Deep POV,” which I had first heard about two months ago (from her).

I’m learning about becoming a novelist as I go. I’ve done this deliberately, because this is how I learn best.

I’ll share everything I learn. I think I’ll have a lot to post this week as I work through my editor’s comments and changes.

I did know one thing going in — passive voice distances the reader. So luckily that one is checked off. I’m not going to delve into that much, because I had that down, but if you want to know more about it leave me a comment and add a post on passive construction.

The editor also commented on speech tags and beats. Speech tags on their own distance the reader. Action tags and internal tags pull the reader in. I’ll do posts on those later in the week when I have a better handle on them.

This post is about words that distance the reader. Here’s my understanding of this. Please feel free to correct me in comments if you think I haven’t quite gotten it.

There are words that pull the reader just a little bit out of the story, shifting their focus ever so slightly from the character to the narrator.

In Deep POV, the author fully embodies the character. The author shares only what the character senses, thinks, feels. Applying this approach, using certain terms shifts the reader out of the perspective. Examples of those are felt, looked, saw, heard, glanced, thought, wondered, knew, and made

Again, please jump in here if you think I’ve got this wrong.

The idea here is that when you go about your day, you don’t say in your head. “I wonder if I’ll get that job.”

You think, will I get the job? What happens if I don’t? God, I really need this.

Apparently, first person narration is also less deep than third person, so in my novel, I need to translate this over to third person, like this: She peered into her mug, her eyes on the swirling black liquid. She needed this job. Now more than ever.

If you don’t use a word in your internal dialogue, then, I’m learning, you shouldn’t use it as the narrator either (assuming you’re aiming for this deep POV approach).

I’ll be delving deep into my manuscript over the next week or two. I’ll share all the lessons I pick up along the way.

Sometime this week I’ll add a “Resources” page to this site with a list of websites I’ve found useful while on this journey that I’m compelled to traverse.

14 Beta Readers (and 1 Husband)

Over the past 6 months, I’ve learned that academic and fictional writing are dramatically different. The skills I have as an academic editor do not carry over well to the fictional world and in some case outright hinder me.

Luckily, I learned this lesson early on, so I cast a wide net for feedback. To date, I’ve had 15 people review my manuscript. All of those readers advanced the work in some way. I am deeply grateful to all of them for taking the time to read my work.

On one of the authors’ forums I hang out on, someone asked me how I got so many people to read through my work. Here’s what I did:

  • I asked my husband to read it
  • I asked 1 friend to read it
  • I posted on Reddit asking for a beta read trade — this post was downvoted, yet I got 3 readers from this. I learned to make this a 30-minute trade to start (I read their work for 30 minutes and they read mine for 30 minutes)
  • I posted fanfic to A03 and then replied to all comments asking commenters if they could take a look at my novel — I got 1 full read and 3 partial reads through this — these people consistently provided the most constructive feedback
  • I found a critique partner through an authors’ forum — this author’s input was fantastic (incredibly helpful)
  • I found another beta read trade through emailing an authors’ group about attending a meeting, and then incidentally just doing a beta read trade with the person I was corresponding with — this author’s input was also fabulous
  • I hired a paid beta reader to get feedback within the genre, as all of the readers I had up to that point were not actually romance readers (I’ll do a full post about that paid beta read another time).
  • I found one other beta read trade through an author support website that I ended up not staying with

In addition to this, I’ve hired a fictional editor to help me polish the manuscript, and I’m getting unbelievable feedback from her. I also submitted my story to an RWA competition, and I received feedback from 2 judges from the first round, and I will receive 2 more from the second round in a month’s time.

So, all in all, that’s feedback from 20 people.

A friend recently told me she feels bad if she asks for feedback from more than one person, like she is devaluing (or cheating on) her beta reader.

I don’t feel that way at all. Every single person who looked at my story helped me advance the work, some drastically and some subtly. I value them all.

I love my beta readers! I am grateful to all of them.

It has begun

Over the winter break, I began writing my first novel. I decided to write a Romantic Suspense story because that’s a fairly big market segment, and I thought, when the time came, it was something I could pitch more easily than other genres.

The first draft came together quickly, in about 60 hours in a three-week period. Revising and editing has been ongoing since.

I submitted an incarnation of that first draft to an RWA writing competition at the end of Jan. Over the March break I heard back — I was shortlisted!

I still can’t believe it.

The second incarnation, heavily revised and edited, now sits with the judges, a publisher and an agent, who may request a partial or full manuscript. I’ll hear back on my birthday, in mid-May, which has turned me into a child, counting the days until my next birthday….

I’m waiting for my manuscript back from my editor (someone I hired directly to help me polish my work), and I’m also awaiting feedback from the writing competition judges. In the meantime, I write short stories to bide my time. I’ll post some to this website soon.

Photo by Milan Popovic on Unsplash