The followed stemmed from a conversation I had with one of my super-amazing authors, Betsy Schow, over pie shakes* during a writers conference last year. Without further ado, I give you Betsy in her infinite wisdom.
Allow me to teach you the simple trick of beta fishing.
Step one: Find up to ten beta readers with a mix of writer friends and readers THAT ARE YOUR TARGET MARKET. Do not try to get someone to read your light fairytale YA who loves high TOR fantasy.
Step two: Receive feedback from your little betas. Read the feedback with an open mind, but don’t make any changes. Let it stew overnight.
Step three: Go fishin’. Look through all the notes. If one starts a light bulb moment—”Aha, that’s what was missing right here”—then make a change. If you don’t agree with the note, set it aside. Fish through the other readers’ notes and see who agrees. If 2 or more people are telling you the same thing, it might be time to consider making a change. If you only hear it from one person, or have readers contradicting each other, it is going to be a matter of taste. Believe in yourself and stick to your vision.
Many a manuscript has been ruined by the author trying to please everyone. Here’s a truth that took me a while to realize—not everyone else knows best! For a long time I was sure that everybody had to know better than me. So and so had been writing for 10 years, surely they would know best, right? Nope, not true. Take the criticism, especially when you hear it over and over; but what someone else might like to happen may not be what’s best for your book or your narrative voice.
Everyone has a personal preference and taste, and you can’t make the perfect book that everyone will fawn over. This includes agents and editors too. The goal is to write a book that you love and would love to read. I promise there are lots of other people out there who have similar taste to you and will feel the same way.
So when using Betas, fish for the stuff that resonates with you, fish for the stuff that seems to repeat—then throw the rest back.
*Yes, my friends, they toss a slice of pie in with some ice cream and voila! Heaven in your mouth.