I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Heidi Skarie today to talk with me about the importance of Beta Readers. She writes visionary novels that are an intoxicating amalgam of action, adventure and romance, featuring strong, spiritually inquisitive heroines. Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge is her first science fiction novel. She previously published Red Willow’s Quest, a historical novel based on a past life, about a Native American maiden training to become a medicine woman.
In the fall of 2015 Heidi plans to publish her new novel: Annoure and the Dragonships, another historical novel based on a past life, about a young woman kidnapped by the Vikings. In 2016 Star Rider and the Ahimsa Warrior, the second book in her Star Rider series will be published.
Heidi, do you use beta readers?
Yes, it’s wonderful to get feedback on your book.
I know of a few authors who use beta readers for different phases of their manuscript. How many do you use and in what phase of your WIP do you require them?
I write the first draft of my novel without any input so I can create a cohesive story without being influenced by anyone else. Then I work with my critique group and go through the manuscript chapter by chapter. After I’ve gone through the manuscript with them, I use beta readers for feedback on the entire book.
On my last book I used three beta readers, but I’d like to have more.
What is it that you look for in a beta reader? What is the importance of them?
I look for people who like novels in my genres, which are science fiction and historical fiction. People who read a lot are best so they have a good sense of story and can give me constructive feedback. I want to know both what they liked about the book as well as the areas where they think it needs work. An author gets so close to the novel that it is hard to see it as a whole. My critique group is helpful, but they only critique a few chapters at a time. A person sees different things when they read a novel through in its entirety.
I want feedback on the plot. Are there are any inconsistencies? Was the ending satisfying? Did the story keep you engaged, so you didn’t want to put it down? Did you think about the story after reading it?
I also want feedback on the characters. Did you relate to the protagonists and their problems? Were the main characters three-dimensional, including the antagonist?
I’ve found that beta readers are good at seeing different aspects of the book. Some beta readers give very detailed feedback and others give their overall impression of the book. For my last book, one of the readers pointed out the timing in one scene was off. It was morning in the beginning of the scene and a few paragraphs later the sun was setting. Another beta reader said there needed to be more references to the minor characters. Both these points were well taken and easy to correct.
It’s also important to find people who have the time to read the manuscript fairly quickly so I can meet my deadlines.
How do you choose your beta readers?
I asked a few people who I know well and trust, but in the future I’d like to get feedback from people who I don’t know. They might be more objective.
What has been your experience with them?
It’s been a great experience. They are usually supportive and happy to read what I’m working on. They often tell me they get emotionally involved with the characters and storyline.
Is it always helpful to get feedback?
Not always. You can’t change your story to please everyone. Not everyone is going to like it. It’s like a painting: some people like modern art, some impressionistic and some classical. If your book is space opera and they like hard science, they aren’t your best choice as readers.
How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?
I try to keep my vision and the theme of the novel in mind as I go through the comments. If the comment is just pointing out a mistake, I fix it. If the comment is subjective, I think about it. If different readers have conflicting ideas, I go with what I think will best fit the characters and overall plotline. In the end I have to trust my own inner voice.
Do you use them for every book you write?
Yes, and I plan to continue to use them. Many successful novelists find beta readers helpful and constructive.