Finding the right Beta Reader

I don’t normally solicit feedback on my works in progress.

Yet I have used Beta Readers twice in recent years, and my first novel was professionally assessed several times. This paid assessor gave feedback over several drafts before I decided to have another draft looked at by a team at a publishing house, for the hefty sum of five hundred dollars.

While I was waiting for the team’s report, a psychic I used to see suddenly blurted “What happened to that woman?” in the middle of a session.

I was confused. I had no idea what she was talking about until she uttered “She understands your work!” I explained I just wanted a different opinion on my manuscript, and having a team from an actual publishing house could work in my favour.

My psychic was right.

That novel was Drama Queens with Love Scenes. My initial assessor helped me develop it while the new team got plot points confused in their report, and suggested that this story might work better if set in a monastery.

The latest edition of ‘Drama Queens with Love Scenes’

The story takes place in the theatre district of the Afterlife which is something my first assessor loved. She encouraged me to write what I know, and as I had done amateur theatre before studying acting for several years, she explained those aspects of the story should be expanded. So why would someone suggest to move the tale to a monastery?

I soon learnt another way to assess my work.

A successful author showed me how putting my work away for at least three months would help me see everything that’s wrong (and right) with my current draft. I’ve used this system over and over until I decided to use a Beta Reader for The Midnight Man.

But she gave me advice as if the story was a Romance. I had my own doubts about this novel so I wrote a version based on some of her suggestions. Sadly, it weakened my ending. I always know my ending and work towards throwing my reader off course so they are surprised as they read the final scene. My ending now had less ‘bite’ as the darker elements in this rewrite weakened the overall message of the tale.

However, some of what she said did make it in the published draft, just not in the way she suggested.

Which brings me to my latest work in progress.

I asked a friend who’s studied literature to read it and he gave me some very valid feedback. The story takes place during the 90s and in a few scenes, my story gets political. The characters spend a lot of time socialising on Sydney’s major gay strip at the time, and while it was important for me to examine how society has changed since then, my friend gave me a fresh perspective.

He mentioned how that era in Sydney is legendary. Stories of trashy nights on Oxford Street, and all the rave parties which seemed to be on almost every weekend, have entertained gay folk in other countries for decades.

My friend made me realise that too many specific Australian references to political figures won’t work for readers overseas. Until he said it, I never thought about this book having an audience outside this country.

Someone who contacted me about this WiP, and another who read my first novel

I’ve just finished amending certain scenes.

The politics is still there and is true to what I wanted to say. It’s just being said in a way that’s more direct to non-Australians. We may not have experienced these things in the same decade, but where we are left now is similar in many countries. Other readers will relate.

So I’ve found that if you use a Beta Reader, it’s important that they are on your wavelength and have the skills to help you achieve what you want, while offering industry-friendly advice.

Now to find a publisher for this manuscript on the same wavelength.

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