Sep 14, 2011

Beta Reading

A topic for discussion today. What's the best time to send a newly-written manuscript to your beta readers?

I tend to send off very raw drafts. There'll already be a number of things I want to change and correct, which I'll delay, by the time I send a draft to my betas. I think I do this because my mind is still at a stage of being aware that changes are needed, so I'm more open to criticism. I worry that if I think a draft is really good before I send it, I might not be as receptive to comments.

But am I making things more difficult for my beta readers in doing this? Is it worth their time to be going over the parts I already have marked for change, or is it good to get as broad an opinion on those areas to have a better idea of how to change them? Generally I like to get as many opinions as I can and weigh up the options before deciding what course to take.

Should a writer send out a rough first draft to be picked apart, or is it better to work in private, or with a smaller number of crit partners, and send out something much more polished, so that there's a chance any changes after the beta stage will be minor, but taking the risk that they'll have put a lot of work into something that has serious issues not spotted even by their crit partners?


  1. I don't think it matters what you send, as long as the person receiving it is okay with what they're getting and understands what type of feedback you're looking for at that stage. In other words, communication is key.

  2. I do the opposite--I work and work on a draft until I don't know what needs to be fixed anymore. When I hit that dead end, then I send it out to a beta reader.

    I do this because I want to hear what I don't already know about a draft. If I know that something needs to be fixed, then why not just fix it? I am going to have to spend the time on it at some point, why not now?

    Honestly, I would be very frustrated if I knew I was spending time making comments on something the writer already knows is going to change. I have a limited amount of time to beta read/write, so I don't want to spend it doing things that don't need to be done.

    The only exception to my "everything is the best I can make it" rule is alpha reading--but those readers know they are alpha reading and only looking at overall plotting. But still--I make the overall plotting as perfect as I can before it goes out.

  3. Lydia: Definitely. Though that could be a flaw in my reasoning. In looking for feedback on everything, am I making it more difficult for my betas to know what to say?

    Heidi: My reasoning was that by sending out a raw copy, I would be getting as many opinions as possible before finding out the best options. There might be something I know needs to change, but elements of it which will still work if changed in a way I haven't expected.

    I'm usually a strong believer that the first draft can be awful if needs be. The only thing that needs to be the best the book can be is what I send out as a query.

    I'm reconsdiering my past decisions, though. Maybe it's like handing someone a pencil and saying "draw something." There's no guideline, no indication of what's needed other than a general impression. I can see how that would be daunting for most people.

  4. Hmmm...I think I was a little confused about what you were saying in your first post. But re giving Betas specifics to look for--I think it depends on the beta. I have one beta who I never limit because she gives such wonderful advice if I just let her go. Others--I do give specifics--based on their own talents and abilities. And I think it helps some betas focus in on exactly what is needed.

    But in the end, whatever works for you and the reader is the most important. Sometimes you don't know what that is for the first few beta reads. But if that relationship continues to develop, it will evolve into a rhythm and you'll know what to expect from that beta and they will know what to expect from you.