Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How I Do Betas: Tips on Efficiently Testing Your Book on Willing Test Subjects

Welcome to Aperture Laboratories Tori's Beta Lab. Betas are essential to polishing your work to publishing worthy. Your eyes alone won't cut it. Using the following method I've managed to efficiently gather helpful feedback from my test subjects betas to help improve my novels. I've had many trials and errors, but here are the positive results of my testings. At the end we'll have cake. Who doesn't like cake?

1.) Prepare for your test subjects betas - Before beginning your search for betas make sure you have the following things prepared:

  • Make sure your book is finished or it will be finished by a certain time - You want to make sure you have your material ready for your betas. I recommend waiting until your book is already edited to the best of your ability.
  • Know how many words your book approximately is - Word count matters and lets your beta know how big of a commitment this is going to be.
  • Know what genre your book is - This should be obvious, but you want beta who are at least familiar with your genre. Ones who aren't will often give you feedback that is out of the genre parameters or dislike your book just because it's a genre they're not familiar with.
  • Have a back cover copy prepared - I know this seems like it could be unnecessary work, but hear me out. You want your betas to know exactly what they're getting into. You're going to have to write one of these eventually anyway if you want this book published, so this is good practice.
  • Have a questionnaire prepared - This is very handy for getting your betas overall impression of your book. These are the questions I use in my questionnaire. Feel free to use them for yours. 

    Beta Questionnaire:

    (Betas) Name:

    1. Could you relate to or at least understand the main character?

    2. Was the main character’s goal clear?

    3. Did you notice change in the main character by the end of the book?

    4. Were the side characters unique, useful, and interesting?

    5. Was the villain formidable and realistic?

    6. Did the characters stay consistent?

    7. Who was your favorite character?

    8. Could you get a good sense of the world? Is there anything that needs immediate expansion?

    9. Did the book’s plot hold you to the end?

    10. Did the plot sag in any areas?

    11. Did any scenes emotionally grip you?

    12. Do you have a favorite scene?

    13. Did the fight scenes feel fast and tense yet clear?

    14. Could you picture each setting clearly or at least clear enough?

    15. Were you gripped from the beginning? Did the hook grab you?

    16. Was the ending satisfying?

    17. Could you sense a resounding theme(s) in the story?

    18. Do you have any other thoughts or suggestions?

  • Know when you need the feedback then set your deadline back one week - People have this weird habit of thinking it's okay if their feedback is just a couple days late, but when you need something back by a certain time this isn't going to cut it. As a precaution, I always set my deadline back one week than it actually is, and then my betas get my stuff back to me either a week early or on time. This isn't the case all the time but I've had this happen. Give your betas one to three months depending on the length of your novel. No longer than that or they can and will forget.
  • Know exactly what kind of feedback you want - I personally tell my betas to critique whatever they want and that's worked for me, but if you want specific focus on something like character development, grammar, or plot, know that upfront. 

2.) Finding Your Test Subjects Betas - The two best places I've found betas on are my blog and from writers conferences I've attended. Other places I've heard are good are writers groups, but I haven't had as good of luck there. I like to acquire 5-8 betas, because I get a diverse opinion, but I'm also not overwhelmed with too many people to keep track of. 

Blog readers are good because they've probably been reading tidbits about your book for months (if you've been posting about it) and already have their curiosities piqued. They already know you and know basically what they're getting into. I like to put out a call for beta readers 1-2 months before I need them in a blog post or two. In that blog post I include the book title, genre, word count, back cover copy, the deadline, and I ask for their email address or ask they contact me using my email address. 

With conferee buddies, I usually have them as friends on Facebook or their emails. If any of them have shown interest in my work already, they're the first people I contact. I tell them the same information that I've included in the blog post. 

3.) Sending Out Your Book to The Subjects Betas - Closer to when I'm going to send my book out, I send out an email to all of my betas giving them further details about the betaing like what exactly I need and I mention the questionnaire. I also request that they return their feedback with their names in the file name so I can stay organized. I also ask that if they can't make the commitment to let me know as soon as possible. Also request they use track changes in Microsoft Word. This makes critique cleaner and easier to manage. 

Because of time restraints, I've had to edit my book as I've sent it out to betas, so I've had to send out my book in bits and pieces. I don't completely recommend it, but I do recommend sending your book in fiveish chapter chunks instead of the whole book in one document. And here's why, because the betas can return you chapters chunks at a time. As they give you back more chapters, you know that they're reading and you can get a head start on going over beta feedback if you need to.

4.) What to do While Testing Critiquing is Going On - Work on another project while betas are reading your story or take a break, but do check up on them every other week. If you break up your book, you'll know progress is being made by getting the chapter chunks back, but if you've been having radio silence from any of your betas for over a week, you need to nudge your betas. I usually send an email like this:

"Hey Beta!

I haven't heard from you in a while. I hope you're doing well. Did the chapters go through all right? Thanks so much for your time!


Also keep in mind that some betas will just not commit. It happens. They had circumstances or something happens. If one or two do that, that's normal. If it's more than that, you need new betas next time. 

5.) Gathering the Results - The questionnaires I like to go over first because I get the overall impressions of what the betas think of the book. I like to write down any answers that are similar like if more than one person thinks a character needs more development or was confused by something.

I don't like going over chapter feedback until I've had the chapters back from all of the betas, so I can compare results as I go. Betas will offer a lot of different opinions and sometimes you'll prefer one over the other. I like pulling up all of my chapter chunks at one time next to my manuscript and going over them chapter chunk by chapter chunk. 

For example: I'll go over everyone's feedback from chapter 1-6 at one time. Beta 1 may have a different way of fixing a sentence than Beta 5. Seeing both side by side allows me to choose which one is best. 

As a rule if one or two people think that something isn't good then it could be fluke. If more than that think there's a problem then you probably need to assess it it in more detail.

If you want more advice on how to handle critique check out my post all about that

6.) Make Sure to Thank Your Betas - Regardless of the feedback you received make sure you thank your subjects betas profusely for their feedback. They spent all of that time going over your work to help you out. They need some thanks. Offer them cake if you can. Make sure it isn't a lie though. ;)

Conclusion - Having book test subjects betas can be scary and a bit overwhelming, but it's all part of the writing process, and it can be really fun! Thanks for reading!

Have you ever acquired betas? What tricks have you used to efficiently get feedback from them? What has been your experience with betas? Any further questions?

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