Recently, I had four talented fellow writers beta read book one of my supernatural YA series.
This was the book I spent a year shopping to agents, and waited over a year for a publisher response. There were issues with the manuscript. I knew it from the rejections. So I rewrote parts, bumped a minor character to a major role, and gave this shiny new version to four people who’d never read it.
Their feedback was invaluable and gave me lots of new things to think about. There was also plenty to sort through. For a writer who is not a planner, the organizational side of me loves getting out the colored highlighters for feedback, and here is how I sort through it without going insane…
1. Decide what to focus on (typos, sentences flagged as unclear, grammatical errors etc).
2. Highlight each type with a different color. For example, I always highlight my typos in green. You can do this with a printed page and a physical highlighter, or digitally.
3. Organize the feedback into lists. If I’m working off a printed page, this is where my colored highlighting helps. If I’m working digitally, I’ll copy and paste the feedback into separate, dedicated notepad files. It might seem like unnecessary busy work, but it helps me process everything.
My lists are the following. You can do the same or make up your own.
Good – feedback that tells you what you did right.
Constructive – feedback highlighting the areas that need work. Pay serious attention if it’s the same thing brought up by multiple betas.
Typos/spelling – no matter how much you think you caught all the typos, you didn’t. If you have betas from different countries, they may flag the spelling of some words as incorrect. Make a note and double-check the spelling is correct for the dictionary you’re choosing to write with.
Rewrites – these are the sentences flagged as confusing. Paragraphs marked as telling instead of showing. Plot twists that didn’t twist enough (or too much). Setting/staging confusion. Basically, anything that needs a rewrite to fix it.
Grammar – stray commas, missing full stops, and questions without a mark. Highlight them all for correcting.
4. Fuel yourself with snacks. I consume green tea, or for when I hit the constructive list and it makes me feel like giving up, chocolate.
5. Set a deadline to work through the feedback by a certain date or else you’ll be tinkering with it forever. I usually work on the easier sections first, such as typos and grammar. This makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I save the harder work for the constructive and rewrite list. They take longer and I need all my creativeness and blessings from the muse to complete them.
Once I’ve gone through my five simple steps of focus, highlight, lists, snacks, and deadline, I’ll let the MS sit for a week before reading it from start to finish with fresh eyes.
After that, the MS is either sent to more/different betas or compiled for submissions. I also print out my good feedback and put it where I can see it as I write. It helps on those days when I’m fueled only by self-doubt and chocolate and need something to remind me I can do this.
— K.M. Allan