You've written the story. You've re-worked the first draft and have gone through every line of every chapter till you can say it aloud in your mind. And you're ready to get to the next phase: send your labour of love to the publishers.
If you're a first time author, getting your manuscript beta read is a very good idea before you send it to the publisher. I did and it made all the difference. So who is a beta reader and what do they do?
Beta readers are people who read the manuscript with a fine toothed comb and give you a detailed review of it. Is any of your character inconsistent? Is the plot meandering? Have you contradicted yourself in the story somewhere? In many cases the beta reader is a friend, family member or even spouse.
Amrita Mukherjee, author of Exit Interview with Rupa says, "My husband, a journalist, is a ruthless critic. He read my manuscript and gave me lots of critical feedback. He asked me to change the ending and I'm glad I did it. He always explained why he thought something should be changed. He also edited the whole book before I submitted the manuscript to Rupa."
Satyarth Nayak, author of the bestselling book – Emperor's Riddles says, "I never approached professional beta reading for my first book because I was absolutely clueless that such an option existed. Most debut authors have no idea regarding such facilities. I simply threatened a very close friend, a voracious reader into reading my manuscript. Her feedback made quite a difference to the final product."
Sutapa Basu, the winner of TOI's Amish challenge and author of Dangle offered her first novel to 4 beta readers. "The feedback they gave was extremely valuable. I incorporated it all and I'm certain it became a better book because of their advice."
My personal experience with beta reading has been great too. I hired a professional beta reader and also gave my manuscript to three close friends; one of them an author, one an avid blogger and the third a voracious reader. Their feedback made all the difference to my book and I accepted all the changes they suggested.
This brings us to an important question; what if your beta readers give you conflicting views or if you don't agree with them?
Choose your beta readers with care. Find out what is the genre they like to read. If you give a thriller to a romance reader or vice versa; the feedback will be far from accurate. Don't give the manuscript to your best friend simply because you share a history of a decade or so. The beta reader and the three others who read my manuscript were barely known to me when I shared my manuscript with them. Much to the chagrin of some of my friends, I haven't shared the manuscript with them. I chose my beta readers simply on the fact who would be able to give me critical feedback. I wasn't looking for appreciation. I wanted insight into what I'd written and how it can be made better. Keep friendship and your writing separate.
Amrita was fortunate to find a critique in her husband and she's level headed enough not to break his neck when he gives feedback but think well before handing over the manuscript to your partner, lover or spouse. It could be detrimental to your relationship.
A friend of mine put some chapters of her novel on a site that allows for writers to post parts of their work to get feedback from readers. While she got interesting feedback from the readers, publishers eluded her. Be forewarned, traditional publishers DO NOT consider a manuscript that has been uploaded on a site, blog or etc.
It isn't a bad idea to send a little note to the beta reader; highlighting something specific that you may want him/her to focus on. May be a particular character, if it's needed, the plausibility of the plot and the twists in it, the growth of the character or anything that you may want to focus on. Be totally clear about what you need and want.
Most importantly brace yourself for criticism. It's much better to be told that you need to work on the manuscript than have it rejected by publishers.
One of my friends who read my manuscript, told me, "KB, it's a nice placid tale." I couldn't sleep that night. My novel 1 is a story of a woman who has lost her memory and is an emotionally abusive marriage. How can it be placid? This was the best advice my friend could have given. I went back to the story, chopped 40k words, rewrote it majorly and turned the story on its head. I was rewarded by being signed up by Harper Collins.
So by all means cringe and feel upset. Allow yourself a day to wallow in pity if you must but then get to work and fix it. As Satyarth puts it so succinctly, "Writers are always fiercely attached to their book and can never be objective. It helps immensely to hear out a dispassionate voice who can look beyond the umbilical cord and diagnose your baby more accurately."
Do beta readers charge?
Professional beta readers do. And I think it's money well spent to hire the services of a professional. A good beta reader charges anything between 7000 to 10,000 INR. This isn't much considering they go through the entire manuscript with a fine-toothed comb.
Join a writing group
It's always a good idea to be a part of a group of writers. "Find your creative tribe. A good brainstorming group, critique partner, writing group, or team of beta readers can be invaluable. Don't write in a vacuum. We're never objective about our own work. Additionally, new minds can mean new ideas. Sometimes when you're stuck, a brainstorming buddy can help you find solutions you hadn't thought of," says Lisa Wingate, an inspirational speaker, a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and the author of over 20 novels and countless magazine pieces.
Join a writing group. Share and read each other's work. Get yourself a beta reader. You'll be thankful you did.
[This blog post was originally published on "Writers Melon".]