This post, by Jodie Renner, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 4/25/11.
Since I’m a freelance fiction editor, most of my posts here will be advice, tips and resources for aspiring novelists, with an emphasis on thrillers, romantic suspense and mysteries.
So you’ve written your first draft? Congratulations! What’s next? A future post of mine will go over the revision process, but for now, let’s skip ahead to after you’ve revised your first draft once or twice. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sending it off to an agent too soon, or self-publishing it yet. That’s the biggest mistake of unsuccessful novelists – being in too much of a hurry to get their book out when it still needs significant revisions and final polishing. To start, get some input from volunteer readers familiar with your genre, then do some revisions based on the feedback, and finally, get a thorough copyedit, preferably by a professional freelance editor.
First, get some trusted colleagues or acquaintances to read your story through (or even the first few chapters) and tell you what they think of it so far. But don’t ask your parent, child, sibling, bff or significant other to do this “beta” reading, as they probably won’t want to tell you what they really think, for fear of jeopardizing your relationship. So how do you find your beta readers? Perhaps through a critique group, writing class, workshop, book club, or online networking such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.
Be sure to choose your pre-readers from people who already read and enjoy your genre. In the case of a YA novel or children’s book, look around for be age-appropriate relatives, neighborhood kids, or the children of your friends – or perhaps you know a teacher or librarian who would be willing to read some or all of it aloud and collect feedback.
To avoid generic (and generally useless) responses like “I liked it,” “It was good,” or “It was okay,” it’s best to guide your readers with specific questions. I recently polled some author clients and friends about this, and here are their lists of useful questions for your “beta” readers or critique group.