Tag Archives: reviews

Beta Reader Checklist for Useful Feedback

A while back, I wrote about How I Found My Beta Team for Eyes of the Hunter and promised to share the guidelines I provide my beta readers with to help them give me useful feedback. This is that post 🙂

When looking for beta readers, I target honest and dependable people who enjoy the manuscript’s genre. I also make sure they are familiar with both good writing techniques and important elements to the craft.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, I need to know exactly what I want from my beta readers. Then, I make sure that they know by providing them with a clear list.

 

 

Below is the basic letter I give my beta readers, which I tailor per project and person. You can also download the Beta Reader Checklist [pdf] for future reference.


Dear [Beta Reader];

Thank you for being part of my Beta Team! I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to help me make improvements to [Book Title]. Please, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues; an editor is helping with those. The feedback I’m concerned about centers on continuity, character development, dialogue, flow, and completeness:

  • Is the story interesting?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Any plot holes?
  • Does the story flow?
  • Is the continuity okay?
  • Did I miss any important information or opportunities?
  • Do you get a solid feel for the setting and people?
  • Do the characters unfold well?
  • Do any of the characters need more development?
  • Is the pacing okay? Does it lag anywhere?
  • Is anything clunky or awkward?
  • Are there problem areas that need more attention?
  • What worked for you? What didn’t work for you?
  • … And, of course, anything else you feel I should know.

 

Specific concerns I have for this book are:

  • [Specific feedback needed]

 

Please, be as specific as possible with your answers. Your honest comments will go a long way in helping this story be a success. I need your notes by [date]. I look forward to reading them and thank you, again.

Sincerely,
Rosa


 

Download the Beta Reader Checklist [pdf]

Beta Reader Team: Assemble!

header-beta-reader-team | I Am Rosa

 (Or, “How I Found My Beta Team”)

 

My latest book, Eyes of the Hunter is currently in the hands of a wonderful team of beta readers. Even though they’re still reading, I’ve already received some very constructive feedback.  I’m thrilled!!

Today, I received this question from a fellow author:

May I ask how you got a team of beta readers? Because when I tried to get people to read my book before it was published no one was interested!

The short answer is:

I do my homework and am picky about who I ask.

The long answer:

I try to approach people who I know have beta read in the past, are interested in the genre of my book, have a good eye for detail, and have given solid feedback (to myself or others) in the past.

 

5 people agreed to beta read Eyes of the Hunter. Here is how I chose each one …

 

Beta Reader 1

This lady actually found me. She’d read a review I was under attack for writing, loved how honest and fair I’d been, and tracked me down on Facebook to ask if I would review her fantasy novel. I agreed, but couldn’t make it through the book. So, instead of writing a review, I asked if I could just give her suggestions on improvements. She agreed. She made the changes. She got picked up by a publisher (I’m not taking credit for that, btw) and has just release the sequel.

We kept in touch. When I see a snippet or article she’s written, I read it and comment. She’s improved. A lot. She’s serious and dedicated, so I continue to support her. And, she also freelances as an editor. So, when it came time to assemble beta readers, I asked if she’d be interested. She said, “Yes.”

 

Beta Reader 2

Amusingly enough, I found this lady exactly the same way Beta Reader 1 found me! She was being attacked by another author for the honest review she wrote on GoodReads in exchange for an ARC. Curious, I read the review. It was actually a very fair review, praising the author’s writing skill, but pointing out there were issues with the story that didn’t sit well with her. She didn’t finish reading, so she marked it DNF (Did Not Finish) to make sure it wouldn’t hurt the author’s rating. I sent her a message, apologizing on behalf of authors who aren’t dicks, and told her that I really liked how honest and fair she’d been. Since I knew from her GoodReads profile that she liked stories similar to Eyes of the Hunter, I asked if she’d be interested in beta reading it and gave a her brief description. She agreed.

 

Beta Reader 3

About a year ago, a lady in one of the Facebook writing groups I’m part of asked if someone could do some artwork for her. I was interested in what she wanted done and offered my services. I really liked her honesty in comments and noticed she always had great suggestions. So, instead of cash payment, I asked if she’d be interested in beta reading for me. I gave her a brief description of Eyes of the Hunter. She liked the story idea and had read some of my other writing, so she felt confident that she’d enjoy this and agreed.

 

Beta Reader 4

This one, I can thank Beta Reader 1 for. She’d talked me up to this gentleman and I apparently made a good impression in the Facebook groups we were part of. We chatted back and forth on Facebook for months. When he found out I was almost ready to hand off Eyes of the Hunter to beta readers, he expressed an interest in reading it. From our conversations, I knew he’s very honest about his opinions and he has a great eye for detail. Even though the story is aimed for YA female readers, I thought a male opinion would be beneficial. So, I asked if he’d go one further and beta read it for me. He said yes and  offered some amazingly helpful insights.

 

Beta Reader 5

I met this lady through – you guessed it – a Facebook writing group. She sent me a friend request after we’d exchanged comments in the group. I had a favourable opinion of her; plainspoken and insightful. I accepted though we never actually chatted after that … until I saw a status update from her one night as I was about to shut down my computer for the night. She seemed to be in distress and I was worried that she was suicidal. Facebook had just implemented its suicide prevention feature, which was totally useless. So, I sent her a message which led to a conversation that lasted several hours (until I felt satisfied that she wasn’t going to do anything harmful to herself). Being writers, we naturally talked about books and writing. I told her a bit about Eyes of the Hunter and it was apparently up her alley of interest. She told me that she beta reads, critiques, and reviews. So, I asked if she’d like to beta read it for me and she said, “yes.”

kapow-1601675_960_720

And, there you have it: My amazing beta team for Eyes of the Hunter <3

Finding quality beta readers is a long process:

  • I observe the feedback a person gives to others and what they contribute to conversations in groups.
  • I build a sincere rapport with them. (Note the word sincere. I care about these people and they care about me.)
  • I find out if beta reading is something they’re interested in and what genres they prefer.
  • When I ask them to beta read, I give them just enough detail about the story to hook them, but not enough to ruin the fun.

Some people I asked were swamped with other projects or felt the story was not quite to their interests. No problem! I’ve asked enough people that a couple of “no’s” still leaves me with a fair size group for feedback. Plus if anyone has something come up where they can’t follow through, I wouldn’t be stranded for feedback.


Want to know what guidelines I give my beta readers?
Read my follow-up article, Beta Reader Checklist for Useful Feedback.

Dear Author Who Got a Bad Review…

dear author - bad review | I Am Rosa

I actively support fellow authors … for the most part.  Recently, a fellow author brought to light – or rather, she created a drama about – something that touched on several topics we, as writers deal with almost daily, including the dreaded “bad review”.

This particular author got a review on GoodReads marked DNF (Did Not Finish) and complained about it in a few writing groups we’re both part. Normally, I’d link to the review so you can read it for yourself, but I’m trying to be classy and protect the author by keeping her name, book title, and any description of the contents of her book private so she’s not publicly embarrassed anymore than she has been by her own unprofessional behaviour.

Review 01 | I Am Rosa

Reading the review in question, a few really important things jumped out at me:

1. The author gave this lady an advanced copy of her book and asked for an honest review to be posted publicly.

2. It wasn’t a negative review. The reviewer had an issue with some of the events in the book that made her lose interest. She simply left her personal opinion as to why she couldn’t bring herself to finish it. (Note: I personally couldn’t finish another book by this author. When she had the female lead gang-raped, I had to skip past that chunk of the book. However, when that character then decided she needed to screw the next handsome, dangerous dude she came across mere hours after being raped, I was done. Period. I couldn’t open the book without feeling sick.)

3. By marking the book as DNF (Did Not Finish), the reviewer was actually protecting the author’s rating score.

4. The reviewer praised the things she liked about it, saying things like, “The story was original, and writing was really nice”.

Review 02 | I Am Rosa

As both an author and a reviewer, I can confidently say: This lady is really good reviewer and gave a reasonable, objective review. She shared her opinion and commended things about a book she didn’t like. Plus, she pointed out the good things she found, leaving it to the reader to decide if this was a book they wanted to take on. I was impressed. Personally, this is the balance and class I strive for when I write a review for something I didn’t enjoy.

The author, on the other hand, was neither classy nor fair in her response. She could have done one of two professional things at this point:

  • Be gracious and thank the reviewer for her time and thoughts, then move on; or
  • Ignore the review and focus on the positive reviews she received.

Instead, the author made a public deal about what was, in her opinion, a “bad” review, calling the reviewer a “f*ckwit” and “c*nt”.

This, of course, inspired her friends and followers to demean the reviewer’s opinion, mock her comprehension of and ability to writing in English (which is not her first language), and question her validity to write reviews – both in the groups and, to my horror, directly to the lady in the comment section of her review.

1st post 01 | I Am Rosa

Part of my horror is because, as an author, I would never abuse my readers like this. Without readers – even those that don’t dig what I write – I could not be a professional author. I’d be a hobbyist, scribbling thoughts to myself.  As a reviewer, I’ve been under public attack much like this lady has been.

So to this fellow author and those who will undoubtedly be in her shoes at one point:

Don’t be a dick to the courageous few readers that actually leave you a review.

Don’t like the review? Tough nuggets. Writing, like every other art, is subjective. Not everyone has the same tastes. Write to the best of your ability and learn from the feedback you get.  If you’re too thin-skinned to handle bad reviews, either get a job where your tender soul isn’t exposed to the vicious teeth of critics or have someone else read them and give you an author-friendly version.

Author Raphael Merriman summed it perfect in his reply to this post:

A review is just one person's opinion of your work, but your response to that review is an indication of your personality and character.

Why Readers Don’t Leave Reviews

 Original article.

Review Header

Authors spend months (years) crafting a tale, editing and polishing, finding an agent and/or publisher, learning self-publishing options and formatting, dealing with cover art, blurbs, marketing, book tours, interviews … all that before their book is even published. Once their work is out there, authors are vulnerable to critique, rejection, or worse – indifference. After such dedicated bravery, it’s no surprise the biggest complaint I hear from authors is that readers don’t leave a review even when they like the book.

Readers value reviews as a means of gaining insight into the story before spending hard-earned money on a book. Some authors look to their reviews for validation that their hard work has paid off. Others for feedback to help them hone their writing skills. So, what’s the deal? Why don’t readers leave a review?

 

The Fear Factor

Lack of time or skill to write a review top the list of excuses. But, there is something much more visceral keeping people from leaving reviews: Fear.

What if you didn’t like the story? Or, you liked it, but not enough to give a 4 or 5 star rating? Besides not wanting to hurt or discourage the author, leaving an honest review (even a positive one) can have damaging repercussions.

People can be rude to reviewers who leave a positive review, but
they’re downright abusive if you dare leave a “critical” review (3 star or lower),
no matter how thoughtful and even-handed it is.

When you leave positive reviews, there’s speculation you’re fluffing the ratings either to make your pals look good or to have the favour returned. When you give negative reviews, you’re obviously a no-talent hack taking out your frustrations on others.

“... she was lashing out because of her own inability to sell books or perhaps write.”

Leaving a less-than-stellar review can damage or end relationships with other authors. Sometimes, it’s a simple unfriending on Facebook. Other times, it’s an ugly public “breakup” … and I mean U-G-L-Y.

 

Public Humiliation and Attack

We’re all adults, right? Professionals who understand not everyone will agree … right? Then, why do so many people mutate into schoolyard bullies when they read a critical review?

In 2014, I made an acquaintance on Facebook via our mutual interest in ancient North American civilizations. He’d written a YA Sci-Fi and the description sounded interesting enough that I bought the ebook. It started out okay, but the more I read, the more upset I got. As a reader and author, I was deeply offended by the sub-standard quality of the writing and complete lack of editing.

It looked like a first draft of a hastily dictated story.

I took 3 days to calm down and another 3 days to write my review. Even though I was giving it a 1-star rating, I was determined to be even-handed and include what the author did well.

The day after I posted my review, I discovered several hostile public posts by the author splashed across multiple social media platforms.

“... she could have at least sent me a message ... warn me of the horrid little review ... I certainly do not wish to be a friend or follower of someone who hates my writing so bad that she would give a $1.99 novel a 1-star ...”a 1-star ...”

(Note: Yes, he actually believed being an indie author and offering his book for a “cheap” price was a valid excuse for lack of quality.)

Things quickly degenerated as he and his friends swung into a full-on public bashing session: name calling, speculation about my writing skills, and insults about my physical appearance.

" ...mook-jabroni ... a-hole ... low rent jobber ... bristles instead of back hair ..."

 

Retaliation

Besides public attacks, I’ve faced other forms of retaliation over the years:

  • rude comments on my blog and Facebook Fan Page;
  • hack attacks on my websites;
  • creepy emails and private messages; and
  • vicious comments left on reviews I’ve written, like this one on a “classic” written by a long-dead author:

"You only read trash, no wonder you wouldn't understand good literature if it hit on the face! Oh,my God: I just realized you actually WRITE books!!! God have mercy on us ..."

 

  • I get called “wishy-washy” when I outline the positives in a book I don’t like.
  • I’m “apologetic” when I point out aspects others may appreciate about a book I’ve rated poorly.
  • I’m “confusing” and shouldn’t post reviews, because I give a positive rating to a book I don’t like, but feel was well done and would be enjoyed by others.

 

Who needs that abuse and stress? It’s not like writing reviews is benefiting me in any way.

 

Time and Money

Here’s a secret authors may not know:

Writing book reviews to post on sites like Amazon, Smashwords, and GoodReads
is a losing prospect for the reviewer.

It takes hours to write a thoughtful review. And, that’s after you’ve spent several days reading the book in the first place. You need to:

  • organize what worked and didn’t work;
  • touch on points that may interest other readers;
  • and write it in a way that is fair and intelligent.

Then, you need to edit and polish your review so it doesn’t read like a 4th grader wrote it. Any errors will immediately invalidate everything you’ve written and subject you to more public ridicule.

As a freelance writer, I charge between $25 and $75 for content that requires the same amount of time and effort put into the reviews I write. But, I’m not being paid to write reviews and that time could be better served working on my own novels (as my husband frequently points out).

Reviewing books is a “hobby” that costs me time and money. Unlike a hobby, though I can’t recoup losses by selling my products on Esty.

 

Loss

Speaking of loss, it’s hard to be honest about not liking an author’s work when you share the same social circles with them. If they take the review personally, there’s the serious possibility you’ll not only lose the author as a contact, but also their associates.

Mutual friends may shy away from you, either out of loyalty to the author or concern that you’ll give them a bad review also. Even if you don’t know the author, posting an unpopular review can make you an outcast and cost valuable contacts you rely on for networking; people who could help you advance by buying, reading, reviewing, and even promoting your books.

 

Just another “Stinky Butthole”

In the end, a review is just someone’s opinion. And as the adage goes, “Opinions are like buttholes. We all have one and we all think everyone else’s stink.”

As much as I want my reviews to make a meaningful impact, the harsh truth is they’re often another number that either bolsters someone’s rating or drags it down. The number of times my reviews are voted “unhelpful” (even 4 and 5 star reviews) is higher than the times they’re voted “helpful”.

Based on my personal experience, is it any wonder why readers don’t want to leave reviews? While I try not to take it personally, it’s frustrating. In fact, I nearly gave up writing reviews several times … but then, I get a “thank you” note from an author, a public mention, and even requests from someone who read one of my critical reviews and wants an honest opinion of their work. My reviews may not matter to everyone, but every now and then, they have meaning to the right someone.

"Your review is so awesome! I'm humbled and honored!"

 


 

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