Updated: May 6, 2020
As we discussed last week, you want to give the cleanest possible copy of your book manuscript to an editor. That way, you retain more of your money and time.
That might seem obvious, but it’s something writers get all wrong much more often than not.
To get it right, never give an editor something you haven’t looked at yourself at least four times. And, if at all possible, never give an editor something that someone else – someone you didn’t have to pay – hasn’t looked over as well.
After you’ve looked it over at least four times yourself.
By “someone else,” I mean a beta reader: an individual who will read over your story for free. These people are rarely professional-grade editors, more just readers who really, really like to read. Or they're really good friends or family members who love you enough to say they’ll read what you give them.
Regardless, their job is to tell you if your manuscript does the trick. Which can make them really useful to your story-telling process.
When you know how to properly manage them, that is.
Beta readers’ (unpaid) job description is pretty straightforward. What isn’t so straightforward is how to keep them on task.
Since they’re usually not professionals, you’ll want to provide them with some information about what you’re looking for. That way, they’re in a better place to provide what you need.
Here’s a decent list of things to consider asking them to pay attention to:
How quickly were they able to get into the story?
Was the main character likable or at least relatable?
Did the other characters work well with the story?
Could they keep the characters straight?
Did they ever feel as if the main character(s) is getting too introspective – too far inside his, her, or their heads?
Did the dialogue come across well?
Were they able to get a good sense of setting?
Did the plot make sense?
Was the plot engaging?
Did they notice any plot holes?
Were there any plot points, setting aspects, or character details they wanted to know more about?
How happy were they with the ending?
Were there any parts where the plot, setting, dialogue, or characters felt cliché?
Did they ever feel preached at?
Did the sentences flow together?
Were there any words, parts of speech (i.e., adverbs, adjectives, etc.), or story devices (i.e., analogies, backstories, etc.) that were used too often?
You don’t want to overwhelm them, of course, so don’t expect all those questions to be necessarily answered. But it’s still a good place to start if you’re giving beta readers a fiction manuscript.
If it’s a nonfiction manuscript, how about these questions:
Was there a logical flow from point to point, or did they feel as if the narrative “popcorned” around
Were points stated and backed up factually?
Did the writer (i.e., you) come across as arrogant or condescending?
Were there any points where you gave too much information to back up your arguments?
Did the sentences flow together?
Was it engaging?
Were there any areas they’d like further clarification on?
Were there any words, parts of speech (i.e., adverbs, adjectives, etc.) or literary devices (i.e., analogies, anecdotes, etc.) that were used too often?
Were the sentences engagingly constructed?
Of course, feel free to add in your own as well. You may very well know your own weaknesses quite well.
It’s just that there’s a much better chance that you don’t, especially if you’re a new writer. And that’s what beta readers are for… to help you understand yourself and your manuscript better before you pay a professional to do the same.
Again, they’re not going to be able to find everything by any stretch of the imagination. But the good ones can cut your editorial bill down to size.
That’s why they're well worth discussing further next week.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on "Do You Need an Editor" here.