Trudi Canavan has very kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions on her use of beta readers in her writing process. I’m happy to say I have beta read a number of manuscripts for Trudi over the years. My daughter is a big fan of Trudi’s and I’m always happy to tell her that I have read the next book before she can even get her hands on it at the book store. Trudi is now working on a new series and ,yes, I have seen a beta version of the final installment in The Traitor Spy Trilogy (she says smugly). Trudi’s website can be found here.
A big thank you to Trudi!
How many beta readers do you have and how long have you used beta readers in your writing process?
I’ve had at least four and maybe as many as ten at a time, for different books over the years. Less now than in the early days.
In what ways do beta readers assist you in developing your novel for publication?
Different readers at different stages help me in different ways. I have always had one or two people reading my books as I wrote them, and from them I learn what readers may think or need to know at different stages of the story, but they don’t bother with typos. Then there are early draft readers, who mainly look for plot points but not typos. Finally, late draft readers look for plot points and check for typos.
Do all your beta readers pick up the same points?
No. I’m always surprised at how one beta reader can pick up a whole different set of typos than another. Of course, if one reader has a particular expertise – say, horses – they will be more likely to see errors in that area. You also have to take personal taste into account. If I have two beta readers who have quite opposite views on something, that’s a good sign that it’s a matter of taste. Then it’s important to have a couple more to see if they favour one side or the other. In these situations my final decision will be whichever suits my taste, because I’m writing for people who have the same taste in books as me. After all, it would be crazy to write for people whose taste was opposite to mine!
Do you sometimes target your beta readers to particular areas based on the experience you had with them in the past? For example, one reader is good at plot holes, another reader is good at grammatical issues and another might be good at style. Or do you take what comes?
Sometimes. I learned early on that when you engage with a new beta reader it is as much a test of them as your book. I’ve had beta readers who weren’t particularly useful. Usually because they didn’t find much, whether because they hesitated to ‘be mean’ or simply didn’t spot the mistakes. Of course, if I have to chase someone too much to get their feedback, or they give me the impression the whole thing is a bit of a trial, I won’t use them again. Or if they are too busy to look at a book early in a series, I may not give them the next book because they won’t be familiar with the story – though it can be useful to see if a book holds up well when a reader hasn’t read the earlier ones
Do you always want the same thing from the beta reader for each novel? For example, when you have deadlines and only have time for high-level feedback?
See my comments on the different stages (question 2)
How hard is it to find a good beta reader?
Not overly hard. I have a lot of friends who are writers, and even more who are readers. I would never use a complete stranger. It’s too much of a risk. If I was that desperate I’d ask my publisher to find me beta readers they felt were trustworthy. That way I’m covered if the beta reader sells my book on eBay
Do you have any advice for readers who want to be beta readers or even editors in the long run? For example, what type of commentary to you prefer?
Don’t spare the author’s feelings. We need you to be mean. On the other hand, if you learn how to be mean in a nice way, it’s more likely you’ll get to be a beta reader again. And it doesn’t hurt to indicate where you think we’re being brilliant, too. It can be useful to know when we’re getting it right, too. All in all, useful comments are what we’re after. Saying ‘this is crap’ is not useful. Saying ‘I don’t think your one-legged character would make that ten metre jump between the rooftops because, well, he has one leg’ would be.
Another interesting insight to the usefulness of beta readers. Thank you again, Trudi. I will try to make sure I make lots of comments in future so you don’t cast me off! Lol!