Author Topic: How many betas?  (Read 2234 times)

Offline Catharina S

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How many betas?
« on: December 14, 2018, 09:16:14 PM »
Is there an ideal number of beta readers one should aim to have read your book? Not limiting to this number, just wondering what a minimum sample would be.


Offline koji

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Re: How many betas?
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2018, 12:22:27 AM »
For me it really depends on the book and how much input I need before I feel like it's ready. I think the fewest I had was three on one book (maybe four?)... the next book I had around 6. Currently I am even having alpha readers on my latest book because I simply want input as to whether a few new things I'm trying are working or not.

So for me I guess I aim for around 5.

Offline rivergirl

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Re: How many betas?
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2018, 08:20:34 PM »
You'll be lucky if you can find a couple of truly honest readers who can 1. be honest 2. have the literary sense to make constructive criticisms. The best beta readers are decent writers.

Offline Waterfall

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Re: How many betas?
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2018, 01:04:58 PM »
You'll be lucky if you can find a couple of truly honest readers who can 1. be honest 2. have the literary sense to make constructive criticisms. The best beta readers are decent writers.

Certainly I agree with the honest part, and the "literary sense," which comes from a dense reading life. But my very best readers haven't been writers at all. They're readers, which is exactly what I need and can never be for my own work. The last thing I want is suggestions, which is what my fellow writers most often do (because... well, because they're writers). What I really hope for is a skilled reader who can say "I was with you right up until X, and then I got confused." Or "I was surprised when [character] appeared, and then didn't get much of a role." And so on. It's my job to decide what to do with those readers' remarks, but they're invaluable just as they are.

A member of one of my writing groups uses the term "fan fictioning" to refer to critiques where someone uses the writer's characters and setting to suit his or her own interests. "You should start it at the point where she leaves for college. And maybe she doesn't even have a mother, so you know how isolated she really is..." That's now become the critic's story and not the author's, and is absolutely not helpful. (And that group member who introduced me to the term is its primary violator.)

Offline Catharina S

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Re: How many betas?
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2018, 06:12:10 PM »
I have little to no experience with asking for feedback from a reader, and the comments here have all been incredibly helpful.

I have to ask for a bit of clarification, however, on one point. If a reader feels that the story starts in the wrong place, would you want them to tell you? Or do you think that, if it's a fellow writer making the criticism, the comment is coming from a different place? Or, do you think that sort of comment rightly belongs to an editor?

Offline slightlysmall

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Re: How many betas?
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2018, 11:19:33 AM »
I have to ask for a bit of clarification, however, on one point. If a reader feels that the story starts in the wrong place, would you want them to tell you? Or do you think that, if it's a fellow writer making the criticism, the comment is coming from a different place? Or, do you think that sort of comment rightly belongs to an editor?

If a reader notices that a story starts in the wrong place, I'd definitely want to know this. Like, "I was reading because you asked me to and I had to until X happened, and then I was hooked" might be this kind of remark. A writer and/or editor might approach the topic with more craft reasons why it's starting in the wrong place, but like Waterfall said, betas are best for finding out what a reader thinks. If a reader notices something that only someone with craft knowledge should notice, I'd pay attention.

Offline Waterfall

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Re: How many betas?
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2018, 02:13:08 PM »
If a reader feels that the story starts in the wrong place, would you want them to tell you?

I've found the best sorts of commentary to be descriptive rather than judgments. So, as Ssmall says, it's one thing to say "the story starts in the wrong place," and another thing entirely to say that "I wasn't really engaged until Mrs. Sullivan showed up. What a hoot she is!" Now I know a) that Mrs. Sullivan is an engaging character, b) that maybe there's more I can do with her later in the story, and c) that my reader was bogged down a little early on. That's three important things I can work with, but it's work that I can do within my sense of what the story wants to be.

It's like when I make a drink for my wife. If she says "yuck!" then all I know is that I shouldn't make it again. But if she says that it's bitter and maybe a little thin, then I know that adding some simple syrup will counteract the bitterness and also increase the density. Careful description of our experiences as readers is the best gift we can give any writer. (It's also less painful than "Yuck!")