Beta Readers — The Agonizing Wait

As much as I complain about how mind-numbing editing and re-writing can be, I actually do really enjoy the writing process. Although banging out that first draft is definitely my favourite part of writing, the subsequent months/years of editing can be quite fun, and it’s all worth it when you get to sit down and read your finished, polished, wonderful story.

But there’s one part of writing I absolutely cannot stand. And that part, my friends, is waiting for beta readers to read the manuscript.

It drives me crazy! Working for months and months to produce a piece of writing you think is finally ready for other human eyes to see, sending it off to a select few … and then waiting and waiting and waiting for them to respond with their critiques. Obviously, I’m incredibly appreciative that they’re bothering to read my story at all, and I recognize that reading an unpolished manuscript is time-consuming. But I want to get their suggestions and get started on revising now, dammit!

The obvious solution is, of course, to impose a time limit on the beta reading process. Except that doesn’t work, because my elite beta reading team knows that I value their opinions, and that I will wait as long as necessary to receive said opinions. Curse my dependency! Curse it!

I need another strategy! Any suggestions on how to increase beta reader reading time / productivity? Any suggestions on how to keep my sanity whilst waiting for the critiques to return? Any suggestions on how to deal with people at festival booths who ramble on about astronomy for thirty minutes and scare off potential customers while you smile and nod and wish they would go away?

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46 thoughts on “Beta Readers — The Agonizing Wait

  1. Gwen

    I think we all have a stage of the process that makes us crazy. Why not write something new while you wait for the feedback? I seem to remember you telling me about a short story you’ve been thinking of publishing?? Why not polish it up and shop it around? Having more than one project in the works will take you mind off the current novel revisions. Then when the beta readers are finished, you can attack revisions with a really clear, objective head! Good luck, and keep your blog readers posted. 😉

    • Yup, I did have a short story in the works — I sent it off to the Sword and Laser anthology competition, so now I’m waiting to hear back from them on that 🙂 Waiting, waiting, waiting! I recently rediscovered a story I started last summer, which is a really tragic romance set in an ancient world that is sort of like feudal Japan except not really. So I’m probably going to dabble with that while I wait for the beta readers to finish reading 🙂

  2. Depends on how evil you want to be. Keep their souls hostage, slow-working contact poison with the promise of an antidote, and other things would probably get you put in jail. I get by with writing the next book of the series or planning the next one. The results will come back when they come back and then I’ll jump back into the editing.

    Though, if you have any advice on how to stop going mad while waiting for cover art, I’m all ears. That’s the part that drives me nuts.

    • So the common theme here is that waiting = insanity. Woe is us!!! Yeah, I’m trying to distract myself whilst waiting for the feedback to return. Game of Thrones is a big help, although that’s only once a week, and that’s almost over. As for your cover art conundrum … okay! Solution! Whip up an absolutely terrible travesty of a book cover and send it to your designer, along with the following message: “Send me my design within 7 business days or this is going on the cover of my next book”. Foolproof!

      • Great plan. Although, one of my issues is that he disappears for weeks at a time. I might have to go through on that threat. :/

        What about requesting weekly updates even if it’s just a simple ‘I’m on page 8’?

        • An interesting proposition, but I don’t want to make it seem like work, you know? Requiring status reports might make it feel to them like a second job, and I want my little beta readers happy and carefree 🙂

  3. I agree with Gwen. I’m also waiting to hear back on a short story contest and I’ve totally felt your pain before with beta readers. It is sooo hard! But working on something new while waiting made the time go by faster. Good luck!

  4. David Emprimo

    I’ve been blessed in that my four beta readers all usually finish within a week. This last time, three finished in one day and I waited an extra day or two for the fourth.

    Of course, my book is only about 125 pages long, so it’s not likely to compare with proofreading yours.

    Stephen King suggests that when you set the book aside for either editing or while others read it, you get to work on something else. That occupies your mind with the new work, and you don’t worry as much about the one that’s out to your beta-readers. Good idea, but I don’t have another idea, yet.

    • Still, 125 pages in one day is very impressive! Can I borrow your beta readers? Lol.

      Yeah, working on something else seems to be the best remedy. That, or sitting curled up in the corner, whispering over and over “When will my precious return to me?” while everyone carefully avoids making eye contact with you.

      • David Emprimo

        Another thing I might suggest: Going through your first book and the new manuscript, but for the purposes of creating a list/database/whatever of characters/places/things for reference if you plan on a book 3. I did that after my first book and it really helped with the second one. I didn’t have to keep looking through the first book to refresh my memory; I just went to my database and looked up the person/place I was looking for and there were all of my notes!

        Time consuming, yes. But well worth the effort.

        I used Scrivener to make my list; but you could probably do the same thing with just a word processor.

        • Ooooh a database! That’s an excellent idea. Yeah, I really need to do that, especially considering how terrible my memory is, lol.

  5. Sadly, I’m one of those beta readers that takes an inordinate amount of time to give people feedback. I normally try reading it before going to sleep, and then re-reading it in the afternoon and writing my thoughts as I read it. But, yeah, that takes awhile.

    It would help, though, if you were also beta reading for them. Then they’d feel guilty for taking a bit of time while you send them critique after critique. 🙂

    I hope you get their feedback soon. It is rather agonizing to wait for the feedback, and the way i do it is I just write a different story. Or at least I just reread my book. (Which takes longer than one thinks. I keep taking a break because of a stupid mistake that I made every other page.)

    Hope that helps. 😀

    • I wish I could beta read something for them, but sadly none of them are writers, just avid readers. Well, some of them are writers, but they haven’t actually written a full manuscript yet, so there’s nothing they’ve done that I can review.

      Yeah, writing another story sounds like it would work. Or rereading my book! I like that idea 🙂 I actually have been meaning to do that, because I wanted to basically go through it and write down all the aspects of the story that I really like, so I can attempt to capture them again in the sequel.

      Thanks for the excellent suggestions 🙂

  6. I’ve not reached a stage with my book where the beta readers have a finished book to read! When they do, I plan on working on my other WIP. Seemless transition because otherwise I would end up in a padded cell. 🙂

    • You know, my walls do seem to have gotten more padded of late. I also get served all my meals on trays, accompanied by colourful little cups of what they call “vitamins”, and the front door won’t open. O_o

  7. I think it helps to give beta readers a target date. For me personally, when I beta read for others having an expectation to meet gets my butt in gear and I’m less likely to procrastinate. In my last round of beta readers, everyone was darned close to the 2 week goal I set which was really nice 🙂

    • I tried that for Imminent Danger last summer. Of the ten copies I sent out, only about a third of the people got the whole way through in the set timelines. Ack!

  8. Send it to me! I read real good.

    • You get the next version, the one where I’ve fixed all the logical errors my brother pointed out from the current draft. Trust me, it’s better this way 🙂

  9. Michelle: Great that you have beta readers. I don’t have any, wish that I did. I pay an editor and also have someone go over the entire story line first to make sure things are working/meshing. 🙂 I know some writers do beta reading exchanges, but I don’t really have time to devote to reciprocal…

    • My beta readers are technically just my friends and family, so … I’d say try to guilt some relatives/friends into reading your story, and see what happens 🙂

  10. Oh, I know how frustrating that is, not to mention ego crushing. You think you wrote a page turner, and then it takes your beta reader months to get through it. One way I’ve gotten around the long wait is I’ve started to give a few of my beta readers chapters as I write them instead of waiting until the entire book is done. I have one amazing reader that I meet for coffee about every two weeks and I give her whatever I’ve written since then and she gives me back the previous weeks’ pages with her comments. We talk about more than just the book, so it makes it a little bit more fun for her. It also has been helpful for me because then if I realize I’m going in the wrong direction with something or am being unclear, I catch it as I’m doing it instead of having to go back and rewrite several chapters.

    • That’s a really cool idea! I don’t know if it would work for me, though. I tend to write scenes out of order, and then once I actually get the draft completed, I tend to go back and make major changes. So I don’t think I would actually want to show any of the manuscript to anyone until I’d ironed out the major problems and made sure that everything flows the way I want it to. Still, I really like that idea — maybe that’s how I can convince my beta readers to hurry up? Promise them a slice of cake for every ten chapters they finish? 😀

  11. Can I add to that frustration of waiting the soul-crushing self-doubt that comes with it? “Wah, they’ve not read it within the day, they must hate it!” That’s my reaction anyway.
    I don’t have any more wisdom to offer other than what everyone else has said already – occupy yourself with something else. Apart from that I can only offer commiserations and the assurance that I feel exactly the same.

    • And then there’s the fact that I KNOW they’re going to come back with all sorts of tricky questions and huge things to fix, and I want them to just read the book and love it, dammit!

  12. I try not complain since beta readers tend to do this for free, but I agree that I am biting my nails to the skin waiting for a response and sometimes feel like they are holding me up. BUT, I know it is all worth it in the end.

    • I just realized I’m one of your beta readers, lol. Oh no!!! Am I the world’s biggest hypocrite???

      • LOL. You’re too funny. Don’t worry, you only contradict a few of your own points, but who’s counting. Hehe

        • Oh dear. Well, feel free to ignore me if I contradict myself, lol. I suspect that’s partially because I’m reading it straight through, so things I believed in the first part of the book may change as I proceed through it. Or I could just have no idea what I’m talking about!

          • There is definitely a whopping twist, so if your jaw drops and you say, “I never saw that coming!” I’ll ignore all your contradictions. 😉 LOL. However, after swimming through the read notes you left, I see many errors in my ways . . . though, I did rather enjoy some of those passages with red lines through them. LOL. That is why it is creative writing, right?

  13. Any suggestions on how to increase beta reader reading time / productivity? realistic ones? Er… no. Sorry. Was going to suggest paying them to take time off work but you want realistic suggestions, yes? 😉
    Any suggestions on how to keep my sanity whilst waiting for the critiques to return? Write Imminent Danger 3, draft #1 while you wait. 🙂
    Any suggestions on how to deal with people at festival booths who ramble on about astronomy for thirty minutes and scare off potential customers while you smile and nod and wish they would go away? That is so me! I must remember not to do that… Did I go to Canada and not realise? My kids have the same problem you describe. They just tune out. Well, daughter turns her iPod up and makes sure I can see her earphones are in. Son just says no. That’s a little rude with strangers who couldbe potential customers so not advisable. You might need a friend/rescuer!

    • I’ll start Imminent Danger #3 just as soon as I figure out what’s going to happen in it, lol. As for my astronomy rambler … yeah, it’s tricky, right? My mother suggested I say something along the lines of “I think this is really interesting, but unfortunately I can’t talk about it now — while I love the subject of astronomy, I AM trying to get my name out there as an author, and to do that I need to chat with as many people as possible.” Or something along those lines. The worst part was that he admitted up front he wasn’t going to buy one … so why did he stick around???? I guess he just really liked talking about astronomy, lol.

      • Actually a good way to get rid of astronomy ramblers is to point out that the Moon and Uranus are passing Aquarius and things are going to get really uncomfortable! They hate it when people confuse astronomy with astrology. They think they’re talking to a lost cause and quickly walk away! 😉

  14. islanddiva82

    Sounds like a process that would produce a few gray hairs, especially if that person procrastinates. Good luck!

  15. My problem with beta readers is that I don’t typically get good feedback from them. I have to push and prod them to say anything more than, “It’s good. I liked it.”

    I finally discovered the best way to get away from this is to join a novel workshop. I have a group here of five other authors and we meet up once a month to discuss two or three chapters from our WIPs. The feedback I’ve received from this group is the best I’ve ever heard. Maybe it’s something you could look into, if you’re not already a member of a similar group?

    • Good idea! Hmm … well, I’ve joined a critique group — we meet twice a month, and you can get a chapter critiqued at a time. They’re fairly awesome … but of course the problem with that is in order to get the full novel critiqued, I’d have to monopolize a third of each meeting for about 40 meetings … which might annoy people a bit, lol. I’ll have to look into this novel workshop idea!

  16. What are beta readers?

    • They’re the people who read your manuscript before it’s in its final, polished state. So the basic writing process goes:

      1. Author writes manuscript.
      2. Author edits manuscript.
      3. Author gives manuscript to “beta readers”, who read the book and provide a thorough critique covering everything from plot holes to suggested wording changes.
      4. Author makes revisions to manuscript based on beta readers’ feedback.
      5. Manuscript = ready for professional editing and then publication!

      So beta readers are essentially your test audience — if they don’t like your book, then odds are the rest of the world won’t either.

  17. Yes, I agree that waiting on someone else to read it can make you impatient, as well as nervous. (I always feel nervous when my husband is reading my book right in front of me. Not sure why–guess I’m afraid he’ll turn to me and say, “This is awful.”)

    I generally work on something else while the beta-reading process is going on. (It’s a good idea to let your work “cool off” anyways–i.e. take time away from it–so this can count towards that.) I never lack for sequels, new stories, apocrypha, or editing (of other books), that I can do while I’m waiting. It’s more productive than chewing on your fingernails.

    • Oh man, it’s the worst when the beta reader’s doing it right in front of you! Because then you get all worked up over whether or not to ask how it’s going, because you want to know the answer, but at the same time you really, really don’t want to hear that it’s terrible, lol.

      Definitely agree with working on something else. My brother and I are sketching out a new fantasy series. We haven’t actually written anything down yet, but the planning process is really fun 🙂

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