Copy edited manuscript
CC 2014 Phoebe via wikicommons

In December, I dove into my beta reads for Second Wave. They came in three different versions. The first was actually a light pass, more to confirm I was being consistent with the rest of the trilogy. The second was deeper and asked for more stylistic changes. The third, which I’m now going through, bordered on a developmental edit. I had a fourth beta reader who never returned his read. It happens. 75% is about the return rate on beta reads. More than four runs into too many cooks. And you have to select your betas wisely.

There are three things you have to balance with beta reads. First off, are they simply patting you on the head saying “Oh, wow, it’s good!” If so, you didn’t choose wisely. Second, with multiple betas, you pick up on what are real problems and what are personal preferences. One reader might flag a term or a plot point that the others will ignore or even praise. However, if you see the exact same note across two or three reads, you might have a problem.

The last thing you want to watch for is when a beta wants to completely rewrite your story or starts inserting his or her ideas. I’ve had that happen. It did not end well. Which leads me to one last point.

Betas are done for free. You can tell an editor whom you’re paying to back down, and you can push back if you’ve been given money. (I highly recommend being diplomatic, especially if it’s your first time publishing traditionally.) But betas are usually free or for barter. I trade betas with all three of the people I had do Second Wave. So if  I don’t like something, it pays to hold my tongue. Besides, if they’re loading a manuscript down with lots of good stuff, you want them to keep sending that along on future betas. And again, if it’s a bad beta, they did it for free. Or barter. How would you like to slog through someone’s unedited manuscript? I have to start on two in the next couple of weeks. Of course, I also know what the payoff is. Like I said, I’ve got three people I can count on, and I always fish for a fourth for a fresh perspective.

I’ve got three good beta reads back this time. Each reader comes from different perspectives. You get a balance of different types of readers that lets you judge whether something’s a problem or is working. Also, three sets of eyes spot three sets of issues.

Plus the comments in the margins are always funny, especially if they know your work.