You’re almost done! You’ve put a lot of work into your novel, even after the thirty days of NaNo.
It probably looks a lot different than the one you started with. You’ve added new scenes, changed plot points, fixed character development, and removed most of the awkward phrasing and dialogue.
At this point, you’ve probably shared your book with several other people. At the very least, you’ve had one or two people look it over to help you in the editing process. But up till now, what you’ve been sharing has been fairly rough.
Now you’re ready. The next step is to share.
Talk to your friends who like to read and offer them a copy of your book, whether it’s as a word document or a .pdf. Go to your family members and guilt them into reading ask them if they would read your book. These are your beta readers.
Make sure that you give some kind of deadline for when you’d like their feedback. Obviously, you can’t force people to read your book. (Well… you could always [redacted].) But you want to give people a month, maybe two if your book is long, so they know when you’ll be asking for feedback. Otherwise, it could be a year before you hear back from any of your beta readers, and you want this book to be done. Another important thing to do here is asking them to note if they see any typos or other proofreading mistakes. They may or may not (and hopefully you’ve caught most of them already), but more eyes are always a good thing.
It’s important that you wait until now to use beta readers, because if you go too soon, you may end up with bad advice. These are people who will be reading the book for pleasure, and then you’ll ask them what they think. They’re not going to do the kind of intense editing that you’ve done on the manuscript. More importantly, they’re likely to come up with lots of conflicting answers.
In one case, I’ve seen half of the readers come back and say that a book’s pacing was way too slow, while the other half said it was too fast. Sometimes, a given reader will hate a character that actually is what makes the book come together. If you go to your beta readers too early in the process, you’ll give too much weight to their opinions and might end up making changes that you’ll regret later.
This isn’t to say that their opinions are unimportant. It’s possible that you and your editor missed some glaring problem with the plot that the readers will catch since they aren’t as invested in the story. If all of your beta readers agree that a particular scene was too cheesy, you probably want to change it. But if you get two or three who insist that the protagonist should have been a man instead of a woman, you’ll have enough invested in the story and enough knowledge of how it works that you’ll know that it’s not a change that should be made (probably).
When you go to your readers for feedback, have a list of questions for them. Obviously, that list will depend not only on your book but on the reader as well. You’ll want to ask your sister who only reads romance different questions about your sci-fi horror novel than you would ask your friend who reads three or four books in your genre every week. You’ll also want to be sure you ask follow-up questions as you go. This is a conversation, not a test. But here are a few ideas:
- What did you think of [insert character here]?
- Did you see [plot twist] coming?
- What did you think of the ending?
- What do you think happens next?
- Why do you think [character] acted the way he did in [scene]?
You get the idea. You want to be asking specific questions, rather than just “Did you like my book?” These are your friends and family. Hopefully, none of them would just say “I hated it. Why have you been wasting your time?” But you want to find out what they liked and what they didn’t.
Once you’ve gone through your notes, incorporated their suggestions into your book, and looked it over one more time… you’re done. You have a book!
Next week, we’ll recap, with some suggestions for next steps, once you have your book written.