So you’ve written a novel (or short story or poem or whatever). What now? Though the temptation may be to shoot your newly finished baby off to an agent or publisher, don’t. Stop.
(See what I did there?)
Though you may be proud of your manuscript (and you should be. Finishing a creative work is most definitely something to be proud of), it needs work. I promise you. It does, whether that work is minor or major, it needs work. And this is true if you are a neophyte or an established author. Yes, put it away for a while, so you can go back and read it in a few weeks’ time and look at it with new eyes. But you need to do more. You guessed it…
You need Beta Readers to read your manuscript and give you unvarnished feedback. Mom, your SO, or BFF can read your book, but are they going to be honest? Okay, if they are like mine, they will be, but it’s not enough. You need critical friends.
Great. Where do you find them? Local writing groups are a place to start or if there aren’t any near you, on social media. You could just ask if anyone in the group would want to read your baby, though I don’t recommend that. If you are aspiring to be a writer, then you need to be on social media anyway, so join writers groups and participate on a regular basis, then you’ll get a feel for who matches your style, who you can trust. The same is true if it is a local guild that holds regular meetings. Go to them regularly and participate.
When you find someone to read your work, don’t just drop it in their lap. Have specific questions you want answered or things you want focused on. Are the characters believable? Do chapters 5 and 6 drag? Are their glaring grammar errors?
Then wait patiently for them to read it. (This is the hard part). Remember, your readers are taking time out of their lives to do do you a favor. Don’t pester them, and be sure to return the favor, or do something awesome for your readers. Make them cookies.
When you get feedback. Listen. Just listen. Don’t react. Yes, they just insulted your perfect manuscript, but don’t snap back that they are uncultured idiots. Remember, they just did you a favor. Give yourself time to process what you’ve been told. You don’t have to agree, but you should consider what you’ve been told. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether you change that characters name or drop that charming little verbal tic you gave Aunt Bess because your reader found it grating.
But you better give it serious thought because if one reader found it annoying, others might, and if that wasn’t your intent, it undoes your hard work.
Above all, thank them for their time and effort.
Me? I have several trusted Beta Readers, so trusted that I sometimes send works in process to get feedback. Their input has shaped several of my novels, but I had to listen to them first.
The truth is, if you can’t handle criticism from Beta Readers, you will be devastated by the query process.
And that’s before an editor gets ahold of it.
So, find your Betas and while you’re waiting, write, write, baby.