A while back I wrote this blog post on 7 Tips for Working With Beta Readers, and I recently had a conversation that inspired me to add a few more thoughts on the topic. Consider this a bonus round.
The conversation was with a client who, since going through my Sit Write Here coaching program, has continued to attend workshops with me. He told me he was feeling a little frustrated because his beta readers were taking a long time to get back to him with their feedback on one of his projects (he has a few in the works).
I suggested he reach out and touch base with his readers, to gently ask how it’s coming and to schedule a time to talk with them. Well, he did, and every single one of his readers had more or less forgotten that they promised to read the manuscript. One even asked the writer to re-send it. Ug. To have waited months for feedback and realize that a reader doesn’t even have the draft was super frustrating. Understandably.
Before you send a draft to a beta reader, be sure to ask them if they have time to read it and GIVE THEM A DEADLINE. You don’t have to be a hardass about it, but say something like, “I’m hoping to start doing edits in about two months. Would you have time to read it in the next six weeks and then we could get together to discuss it sometime during the week of (be specific)?”
Writers often feel funny giving deadlines to beta readers if they themselves are not on an official deadline, but if you don’t put a time frame on these things they can stretch out for years. Years!
When you ask, always give them an out. Tell them that if this timeline doesn’t work for them, you will almost certainly have more drafts that need feedback in future. I like the phrase “I can save you for a fresh read a little further along in the process.” Because the truth is, most people will be excited to be asked and you don’t want them to think they’re missing out if they don’t have time right now.
Build in Cushion
If you do happen to have a deadline from an outside source, make sure to build in ample cushion. For example, if your editor wants your edits in three months and you need a month to do the work, don’t tell your beta readers two months. Tell them six weeks. Because something always comes up. And if nothing comes up then lucky you, you’re ahead of schedule.
When you send the draft, reiterate the deadline. I always like to hand (or even send) my beta readers paper versions, because it’s nice to read on paper and printing out hundreds of pages is a pain. I always include a little thank you note on the top of the manuscript, reminding them of when we will meet to discuss it.
Then, a few weeks before we’re supposed to meet up, I drop them an email to ask how it’s coming. Often this is the point at which they actually start reading. That’s why I do it a few weeks ahead of time.
People are busy, but they do want to help. Meet them half way by being super clear about your timeline and then reminding them along the way (once or *maybe* twice – don’t check in more than that, and DO NOT start talking story – not yet).
When it comes time to actually sit down and hear their thoughts – refer back to this post for my suggestions on how best to navigate that part.