In his 2000 craft On Writing, Stephen King says,
Plenty of writers resist this idea [that you should take your beta readers’ critiques into account.] They feel that revising a story according to the likes and dislikes of an audience is somehow akin to prostitution. I’d hate to see novels revised on the basis of test audiences, but come on, we’re talking about half a dozen people you know and respect. If you ask the right ones, they can tell you a lot.
Finding beta readers is only the first step.
Yesterday I talked about the importance of finding beta readers to help critique your novel. It’s a part of the revising process I find to be critical to your success as a writer, especially when it comes to novel writing.
You simply cannot do this part by yourself. After a second or third draft, you’re going to need some people to read your book and give you feedback.
I talked about ways you can find beta readers. You can request them through Facebook and Twitter. You can turn to the people in your inner circle.
Don’t trust your mom or best friend to critique your novel, unless they’re writers, too. Anyone who will read your book and say, it was great, you don’t have to change a thing, is not someone who’s going to help you.
But of course finding those people you trust and giving them your novel is only the first step. Waiting for them to finish your novel and get back to you with feedback is another.
The crucial part of the whole process is reading through your beta readers’ comments and actually implementing them into your novel.
This is the part that’s actually worth a damn.
If you go through the next draft of your novel and implement every single comment your beta readers left you, that’s bad. You’re not thinking for yourself, and you’re allowing other minds to essentially control where your novel goes next.
And if you go through the next draft of your novel and completely ignore almost every comment your beta readers left you, that’s equally terrible. What’s the point if you’re not actually going to take the feedback seriously?
What you should do is read through your beta readers’ comments slowly and thoughtfully, and then implement the ones you feel will make your novel better.
I had five people beta read my MFA thesis novel last year, and I would say about five to ten comments from each reader I implemented into the next draft of the book. Many comments I ignored. And many comments I hated reading… and yet still implemented their ideas into the book anyway.
Revising a novel according to an audience is NOT prostitution.
You’re going to read comments from your beta readers you don’t like. And you’re going to see things that will surprise you, and not in a good way. You will want to delete the feedback entirely sometimes and pretend you never saw it in the first place.
You might think to yourself, this is just one person’s opinion. I don’t need to do a thing. Nobody has to know. I’ll just keep revising the way I want to revise.
Again, this is not a good direction to go in. Revising your novel according to an audience isn’t prostitution. It’s not going to bastardize your novel, as long as you’re paying attention to the notes that you feel in your gut will make the book significantly better.
If you totally disagree with a note, then sure, throw it out. But if you know deep down that note will improve the manuscript, you cannot ignore it! You need to look back at your novel and make the tough decisions.
Beta readers are gifts in the revising process. They are people dedicating large chunks of time to reading and critiquing your book for free, all to make you and your novel more successful.
Be thankful for beta readers, and don’t resist their advice. Allow them to help you in any way they can.