Ah, beta reading…it’s a big topic. So over the last few weeks, we’ve covered beta reading in detail. First, we discussed all the FAQs about beta readers, and in Part 1 of this guide, we laid the foundation for your beta reading process. This week, in Part 2, we move on to the nitty-gritty of running beta rounds, including tracking your readers’ progress, compiling feedback, and more. You’ll also find some free tools I’ve created to help you organize your beta reading process and keep it running like a well-oiled machine.
So let’s dive in!
(Note: The steps in Part 1 should be completed before you move on to the steps in this post! So if you haven’t already laid that foundation, then go back and do so before moving on.)
1. Create a Beta Reader Tracking Chart.
Once you have your team of beta readers in place, you’re going to want to keep track of them. This spreadsheet will help you see at a glance where each reader is in the process. (And, ideally, everyone will be on the same round at the same time!)
Your beta readers’ names go in the left column, and the steps in the process are listed across the top. Every time you send or receive an item, place a checkmark or asterisk in the appropriate box. This tracker will help you stay organized and on schedule. It also allows you to see at a glance if a beta reader is lagging behind and in need of a polite nudge.
To use this spreadsheet, simply click the image above to download it. Then replace the underscores with the name of your novel, add your beta readers’ names in the left column, and adjust the steps across the top as needed.
2. Create a Beta Feedback Spreadsheet.
With such a deluge of information rolling in, you may find it helpful to organize it in a single document—your personal Feedback Central, if you will. (This is especially useful if you’re a visual person.)
I use this spreadsheet to compile my beta feedback.
To utilize it in your own beta process:
- Click either the link or the image above to download the file
- Replace the underscores in the title with the name of your novel
- Type your beta readers’ names in all the boxes labeled “Name.” Scroll down the page to make sure you add names in each name row, being careful to enter them in the same order each time!
- In the left column, replace the underscores in the labeled boxes with the chapter numbers you’ll be sending in each round (e.g., 1-5).
- In the blank boxes below each label, type the beta questions for that round. Don’t be alarmed by how small the boxes are! They’re formatted with text wrapping, so just begin typing and the box will automatically expand to fit all the text you enter.
- If you have more than ten beta readers, you can add more columns. On the spreadsheet, click on the last column on the right, then click “Insert” in the toolbar. In the dropdown menu, click on “Insert Sheet Columns” and a new column will appear.
- If you have more than ten beta questions in any round, you can add more rows to that section. Just click on a row, then click “Insert” in the toolbar. Select “Insert Sheet Rows” and a new row will appear.
- Save your spreadsheet and set it aside for now. We’ll go over what to do with it in a later step.
3. Send chapters and questions for Round One.
With your beta readers’ email addresses in hand, compose a brief email to accompany your chapters and questions. Your email should:
- Thank readers for their time
- Include any instructions or pointers you have for them
- Clearly state the deadline for returning feedback.
Just to get your brain juices flowing, here’s a look at the email I send out with the first round of beta reading. Feel free to adopt any part of this email to use in your own beta reading process.
Attach the chapters and beta questions for Round One to the email, take a deep breath, and click “send.” Then go scream into a pillow for a while to get all that pent-up nervous energy out of your system. (I know you want to!)
4. Prepare yourself mentally.
Asking for feedback is hard, but actually reading it is so much harder! Yes, you’ll get positive feedback, but no matter how good your work is, some of the comments you receive are sure to be less than glowing.
Before all that feedback starts flooding your inbox, here are a few things you can do to get yourself in the right mind frame to go through it:
- Dance, watch a rom-com, read a great book, get out and enjoy nature—do any activity that helps you relax.
- Chant a mantra (such as “I love being a writer”) that reminds you why you’re doing this.
- Look at your shelf full of writing craft books and remember the long hours you’ve spent honing your writing skills.
- If you polished your manuscript to a shine before sending it out, then take comfort in the fact that you’ve presented your beta readers with your best work.
- Remember that your readers’ opinions are just that—opinions, not writing edicts you must follow. Only you can decide what’s right for your story.
- Rest in the knowledge that every problem your readers find, no matter how big, can be fixed.
- Wrap yourself in the thick, prickly blanket of humility. Some of the feedback you receive will be, well, less than helpful…but some will be solid gold. But you’ll never recognize the gold if your ego is clouding your vision. So give your ego a vacation while you read through the feedback so you can evaluate every comment with a humble and objective heart. And remember: your beta readers are trying to help you, not hurt you.
5. Send a reminder email.
Two to three days before the deadline, email a friendly reminder to any beta readers who have not yet returned their feedback for the round. Most of your readers will have busy lives, so a polite reminder of the upcoming deadline can help prevent your novel from getting lost in the shuffle.
6. Compile beta feedback.
You may be tempted to put off reading your feedback until after the last beta round, but I encourage you to bite the bullet and go through your beta readers’ responses after every round. Doing so allows you to ask any follow-up questions while the chapters are still fresh in your readers’ minds. In addition to this, the feedback you receive in one round may bring up a new question you’d like to add to a later round.
You can either read through your beta readers’ responses as they trickle in, one by one, or you can do “batch compiling” and go through it all at once. To compile feedback, open your Beta Feedback Spreadsheet and type your readers’ answers into the appropriate fields. Don’t worry about space here; the boxes will expand as you type just as they did when you entered your beta questions.
As you go through each reader’s feedback, keep a list of follow-up questions you have for them based on their answers. For instance, if Beta A says she really hated Character X but doesn’t say why, you might want to follow up with her to ask, “What was it about Character X that made you dislike her?”
7. Send a follow-up email.
Once you’ve gone through all the feedback for Round One, send each beta reader an email thanking them for their time and their helpful insights. Include any follow-up questions you have based on their feedback, and be sure to word them in a way that requires specifics rather than a simple “yes” or “no” (unless that’s all you really need, of course).
Limit your follow-up questions to one or two per round, and keep your requests brief. Sending more than just a couple of questions—or those that require very detailed responses—will make your reader feel like she’s been thrust into Round 1½.
When you receive answers to your follow-up questions, be sure to add them to your Beta Feedback Spreadsheet.
8. Repeat steps 3-7 until all rounds are completed.
When Round One is over, check your Beta Tracker to make sure you’ve received everyone’s feedback. If a beta reader hasn’t returned the questions, then do not send her the Round Two chapters and questions until she does. Otherwise, you’re likely to never get her feedback on Round One at all.
It’s normal for one or two betas to be running behind schedule, and you can use your own discretion about how to handle this. If you feel you can keep track of betas who are lagging behind the group, then feel free to extend your deadline for them (though I don’t recommend this, especially if you’re on a deadline yourself).
However, if a beta reader consistently misses deadlines, then it’s perfectly reasonable to remove her from your roster. (I address how to “fire” a beta reader in this post.)
9. Send thank-you gifts.
When the last round of beta feedback rolls in, it’s time to send your beta readers a thank-you gift. Yep, even the ones who were tough on you. (And, in some cases, especially the ones who were tough on you!)
Your beta readers donated several hours (or more) of their time to help you improve your novel. So it’s a good practice to thank them for their time and effort with a token of your appreciation.
Some great gifts for betas include:
- A journal and a fancy pen
- A gift card to Amazon, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, etc.
- Swag for your book (if you have any)
- A writing- or book-themed coffee mug
- A book light
- The list goes on and on…
While physical gifts are lovely to give (and receive!), the cost of shipping has skyrocketed over the past year. So it’s perfectly acceptable to send a thank-you card with a handwritten note and a gift card tucked inside. Trust me, your betas will still love it!
Your budget for thank-you gifts will depend on your own financial situation. When choosing your budget, keep in mind that it’s customary for authors to send beta readers a copy (either physical or digital) of the novel when it’s released. If you choose to do this, it will add to your overall costs, so keep this in mind as you plan your thank-you gifts.
10. Create a Revisions Checklist.
The last step in the beta reading process is to create a checklist of revisions you may need to make based on beta feedback. Because I’m a very visual person, I color-code my beta readers’ answers on my spreadsheet so I can easily pinpoint any areas of my manuscript that need work (or, conversely, that were well-received).
During this step, I go through my Beta Feedback Spreadsheet one question at a time. Using the “fill” feature, I color-code each box based on the type of comment inside.
- White (no fill) indicates a neutral or positive comment.
- Green highlights comments that give me an extra dose of warm fuzzies. (You can skip this, but it feels pretty awesome to see some green sprinkled here and there on your spreadsheet!)
- Yellow indicates issues that I need to give further thought
- Red calls attention to things I will most likely need to fix during revisions.
Once your feedback is color-coded, take an overall look at your spreadsheet. The colored boxes can help you see trouble spots in your novel at a glance. Of course, you have the final say in any changes you make to your novel, but allow your readers’ opinions to inform your decisions. When a majority of your readers point out an issue with a certain element in your novel—whether it be your pacing, a character, your writing voice, whatever—it probably means there’s a legit problem there. However, if only a small minority of readers mentions an issue, then you can probably leave it alone.
This step of the beta reading process can be so disheartening. You’ve already spent months (or years!) writing this novel, and now you’re faced with a list of changes to make to it. It can feel like an uphill battle…carrying an elephant…through a blinding snowstorm.
So I recommend taking a step back after you’ve written your checklist. Put your novel aside for a week or two (or even longer) while you rest, relax, and regroup. Go through a writing craft book or two to brush up on your skills. Read a few great novels for inspiration. Exercise to get your body—and your mind—ready for the revisions marathon to come.
When you’re ready to begin revising your novel, open your Beta Feedback Spreadsheet and read all the comments in the green boxes first. They’ll give you the boost you need to buckle up and get back to work.
So there you have it…
…your complete step-by-step guide to beta reading. It may seem daunting, but you can do it! Just step into the fray with courage and determination, and trust that every round will get easier.
My YA novel, Kaleidoscope, is almost ready for the copyeditor, and I’m in final revisions with my prequel novella, Reflection! Want a free digital copy of Reflection when it’s available? Sign up for my email list in the box below this post and you’ll get the novella for free when it’s released!
I’ll be taking a brief sabbatical from blogging so I can focus on getting both books published. But I promise to be back soon with more writing tips just for you! Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!
While I’m on sabbatical, you can catch up on a few of my most popular posts.