This post is a tad bit late thanks to my body going on protest against functioning in the world, resulting in me laying in bed for three days straight, running on nothing chicken noodle soup and lemon-lime Gatorade. It was meant to go up the day after I wrote Part One, where I talked about how I didn’t like a short story I wrote yet others did and the difference in opinion intrigued me. For Part Two, I want to muse over beta reader feedback and why I think it is not only terribly important to seek out beta readers, but also to always have multiple. The main reason?
Because everyone has a different opinion.
Obvious, I know. But when you are viewing that obviousness in terms of your own work, it is actually quite fascinating. Over the past week, I’ve poured through feedback from five different beta readers over my novel, ARTEMIS SMITH AND THE VIRTUOUS MARRIAGE QUEST. It was fantastic because it showed me a lot of places where my novel could improve: from starting in the wrong place (which happens to me with every novel I write, frankly) to being way too repetitive in delivering information in the first half of the book to fine-tuning details to raising questions about how logical something is,; I have so much material to help raise this book another notch. And I’m actually quite excited about it, despite the workload ahead of me being a bit daunting. I was also very lucky in that there were some elements that were praised, as well: the unique voice, the creatures that are incorporated and, one sweet soul even claimed, I have a “knack for storytelling.”
Aside from all of this awesome feedback, the copious amount of notes I took, the editing game plan I finished up this evening and am really stoked to put into motion starting tomorrow, and the crazy amount of line edits I’ve already made (good lord, I didn’t realize how many misspellings I had!); aside from all of this, one of my favorite aspects was the patterns that emerged looking at all of the feedback. Sometimes, in the notes within the actual manuscript, the same typo would be caught by everyone while the next would only be caught by one person. Or everyone could comment on a specific paragraph, even if they were all saying something different. Or how a majority of the comments came in the first 50 pages, cluing me into where the majority of my focus for revision should be. These patterns are so telling.
Reading the questionnaire I asked them to fill out, this is where I realized the importance of multiple beta readers. All of them had varying opinions, but four of the five were generally on the same page, with minor differences and ranging suggestions. Then, my fifth reader was completely opposite. Every single time. And while, in the end, I decided that reader simply didn’t connect with the book the way I was hoping, so some of their suggestions I’m not going to follow–which is totally okay and totally happens, by the way–their feedback was also ridiculously helpful, because it showed me exactly how readers would respond if they didn’t connect with my book; some of the issues that would be raised; some of the elements that would turn them off. Sure, I may not be following their suggestions to fix this disconnect, but their feedback was still damn helpful and is still going to shape my book to be better than it was a draft ago.
Quite honestly, it did make me laugh, sitting in Panera and, question by question, never failing to reach that fifth questionnaire and get the exact opposite feel and opinion that was just expressed in the previous four. And I mean laugh in a good way. I was honestly fascinated by this response and, in a weird way, proud of myself. A few years ago, if I had read that questionnaire, I would have been devastated. I would have wondered how everything I tried to do missed the mark; wondered why someone I respect so much didn’t enjoy something I wrote and loved. Now, I am thankful for another viewpoint, for honest feedback and recognize my ability to discern between feedback that needs to be heeded and feedback that is simply a difference of opinion that is respected, even if not followed.
Which, friends who are currently trying to edit the beasts they’ve created, is exactly why you need feedback from multiple sources. Just because someone suggests a change or, hell, even praising something you did well, doesn’t mean you should heed them and believe those opinions to be fact automatically. Because at the end of the day, they are just opinions to be weighed and considered. Just like your opinions change on a dime–one day, you love every word you’ve written, the next, you wonder where the nearest dumpster is and how your manuscript wasn’t born in it. So obviously, you need to marinate on feedback and listen to your gut before you decide to pursue it.
I’m very lucky that my beta readers were so thoughtful, insightful and in-depth with their thoughts and opinions, so I had plenty to muse over and chew through. And now, thanks to their feedback–and their differing viewpoints–I have a course which to sail towards, with much more guidance in terms of which direction I should travel than if I were attempting this alone, like I usually do on the editing journey. I can’t express how thankful I am for them and what a joy it was to work with them all. Hopefully, I’ll get to do it again, one day.