High Tea with Beta-readers
Sunday 3rd March 2019. It was an important day for me. Today was the day I might find out whether the 100,000 words I’d written over the course of five years — mostly in evenings after work — had any capacity to move, excite or interest anyone who read them.
One month earlier, I had delivered printed sample copies of the second draft of my debut novel to nine volunteer beta-readers. My excitement was tinged with trepidation. They might hate it. Until this point, no-one outside of my immediate family had read any of my story and, while they all had positive comments about it, well, family is family – they were hardly likely to tell me I’d written rubbish.
My readers had all kindly offered their services despite not knowing what my story was about nor whether I had any ability with words. I thought that was quite brave, and I was really grateful that they would do this for me. I made it very clear, however, that they had to be cruel to be kind and give me honest feedback.
I had made an afternoon high tea for everyone: various sandwiches and cheeses, a Simnel cake (even though it’s not Easter), lemon bars (a recipe I can highly recommend), pistachio and chocolate swirl biscuits, and singing hinnies. Unless you’re from north-east England you’ve probably never heard of the last item on the list. They are like flat fruit scones, but made partly with lard and with no sugar. I had to make them because they make an appearance in my story!
And so, sufficiently fortified with teatime treats, we began the discussion about my book. I was a strange moment. Suddenly, these characters I’d created out of nowhere had become real to other people who had views about how they would talk and react. We talked about them as if they were real – which, of course, to me they had been for quite some time.
Each of my readers had put so much time and effort into this task for me. They came armed with sheets of paper answering questions I’d asked, and they returned the books to me having covered them with helpful scribbles and scrawls. We had debates about whether the timelines in the book worked, and points of grammar were brought up too. I found it very interesting how often one person would say that they didn’t like one small part, only to be disagreed with by someone else. It underlined how subjective writing is and how we each react so differently.
Two hours later, my guests having taken their leave, I was left with a head full of thoughts and ideas. It was too much to take in all at once, so I decided to let things settle for a couple of days before looking at the work that my manuscript needed.
All in all, was it a good idea to get so many people to beta-read your novel and have one blitz feedback session? Well, I can see that there are pros and cons to this, however, I learned a lot from the exercise and I would do it again. The success of the day for me, though, was down to the people I chose to help me. They gave me so much help in such a constructive way. I couldn’t have wished for better.
So now I just have to start editing again. Happily though, I do so in the knowledge that the consensus amongst my beta-readers was that my story and characters are worth the effort. ?
QUESTIONS FOR BETA-READERS
In case you find it helpful, I’ve listed here the questions I asked my readers to consider when they read my book. It turned out to be a useful tool and brought me some good feedback.
- Did the story grab your interest from the start and continue to hold you ? If not, why not, and where did I lose or capture your interest?
- Have I handled the time period changes well enough?
- Were the main character believable and did you like them?
- Did any part of the story confuse/frustrate/annoy/bore you?
- Did the dialogue seem appropriate/natural?
- Was the ending good enough to justify all that reading?
- What was the most memorable part for you?
- Did the title entice you?