How to be Your own Beta-Reader

I’d like to begin this post by contradicting myself – YOU NEED BETA READERS WHO ARE NOT YOURSELF. But really, there are a few things you can do to be a more effective self-editor in early editing rounds – big picture stuff.

  1. You have to be willing to set the MS aside for long enough that the words feel new. For me, this is about 3 months, IF I’ve seriously worked on at least one other project during that time.
  2. Pretend you’re reading for someone else. No in-text notes, just overall ideas and thoughts at the end. (Remember, we’re talking early edit rounds here).
  3. Read the MS on something like a kindle. Something that would make it super annoying to fix anything, or impossible to fix.
  4. Do your best to read in one day, maybe two.
  5. I like to make ONE SENTENCE notes and some highlights on the kindle text, but you really just want to get through the entire novel so you have a solid big picture idea of what’s missing or needs to be re-arranged. So, the below is from a book I’m working on now. My kindle notes are hard to decipher b/c I don’t fix typos, and I opened the MS, so I’d know what chapter I’m in. (I like to be able to check off chapters). And then in blue, I have notes that are bigger than the chapter. The chapter notes, I can strike through, but I leave the blue notes to check over at the end. Often, those blue note things lead to questions that I ask my first reader.Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 6.59.16 AM
  6. When your notes are all together, read them over before digging in. You might take a day or two off to really think about your notes before diving in.
  7. If you haven’t blurbed your book yet, do it NOW. (Like a query letter  – something similar to what you’d read on the back of a book at the bookstore).
  8. Write your theme or main idea. Maybe the reason you wrote the novel. Maybe the idea you hope people will walk away with.
  9. Write how you want your reader to feel at the end.
  10. Write how your MC feels at the end of the novel.
  11. Look back over the notes you took, and add to them after writing up those three things. Make sure your story is tight (revolves around that blurb/theme/idea/feels)
  12. Put your notes to use in your MS.
  13. NOW send to someone else 🙂

While I’m a HUGE believer in good readers, I also believe that sometimes we get off track from what we want our story to be. If I’m able to force myself to spend time away from my book, I’m able to keep my stories closer to what I want them to be, and so when I get notes back from other readers, I can sift through them more easily.

Sometimes our readers come back with – “I don’t like how your MC did X.”

And you think,, “But she has to do X. Oh, well…” And you take out that thing b/c someone didn’t like it.

When in reality, you maybe just needed to bring your reader to the point where it makes sense that your character would do X. THIS is the exact reason that I try to do the above with every story. When I’ve done a read myself, and written up those few extras (#6-9), notes from other readers are so much more valuable, and my story remains my story.

Happy Reading!

~ Jo

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