I’m not interested in skinning cats, because I quite like them. But we all know that there’s a thousand ways to skin a cat.
There’s also a thousand ways to organize beta reader feedback, but surprisingly little information online about the ways you can do that.
If you’ve found any helpful information, by all means, share it with me! I began seriously doubting my Boolean search skills as I only found a few resources that gave any tips.
I’m still in the middle of my beta-reader process, so this might be more helpful after I’ve finished and learned along the way, but I wanted to touch on some things I’ve learned the hard way–things I don’t want you to learn the hard way.
Oh yeah…I also have an awesome excel spreadsheet for anyone that’s interested. It’s preloaded until Chapter 10, and after that you can simply copy/paste to however many chapters you have in your novel. It’s also preloaded for 10 beta readers. If you have more, simply insert the rows you need.
If you don’t know what conditional formatting is (I didn’t until a week ago), it’s what auto populates the pretty colors in my spreadsheet.
Your first task is to determine who your betas are, and what their contact information is. After you’ve incorporated that into the spreadsheet, your next job is to figure out a system for organizing those files…because you’re going to have a lot of them!
My folders look like the image to the right. Each chapter has its own folder, and each of those folders has all of my individual beta’s feedback as I get their responses.
Let your betas know how you’d like their response documents formatted in your first email to them. I have mine sent as “Chapter X” and requested their document be titled “Chapter X – Last Name.” This makes everything alphabetical and pretty, and makes my job a little easier.
Also use individual email threads. When you send a group email (below), all responses to that email will be in the same thread, which will get confusing. After that first email, create a new email (so each beta now has their own thread in your inbox) and title it something like “Beta Feedback – Insert Book Title”
Stick to this filing system. Along each step to incorporating your betas feedback, it’s important you’re consistent. Trust me, it feels terrible when you discover that your awesome beta hasn’t responded in two weeks because you didn’t send out the next chapter.
In the beginning, I didn’t have a column in my spreadsheet for when the beta responded to me, as my job is only to send the chapter and go over the feedback.
Boy was that an egregious error. My folly resulted in a handful of betas not being sent the next chapter, since I had no system in place to monitor my own work-queue.
I added that column and think I have a pretty darn good system now.
The very first email I sent to my betas included my Prologue, a reminder of what feedback I expected, and my document titling instructions. I sent this to all people at once, using a Google group. If you’re using Gmail, you can go into Google > Contacts > Groups > New Group and import all your beta contact information. This is helpful in the future if you have to send another email out to all betas at once.
Then, so my beta’s privacy is protected, I always blind carbon copy, or BCC, all of them. This way, they only ever see the email that was sent to them, and don’t see a list of my other 14 beta’s private emails.
I’ve only sent a few emails to all at once, though, so most communication is done with the individual.
I always do the following: when I get a response from a beta, I don’t “read” that email until I can download the file. If I view it on my phone, I mark it as “unread” until I get to my computer. I open the file, download and save it to the appropriate chapter folder, and then make a note of the date they responded in my spreadsheet.
Any time I’ve deviated from this, I’ve lapsed in sending new chapters out on time, and their feedback might get lost.
Optional: I also have a to-do list notebook I use for my writing life, and make a line to incorporate each beta’s feedback. This is redundant and just because I love marking things completed on my lists 🙂
After that first email, my betas respond on their own time. I have some betas halfway through the book, and others just a few chapters in.
An issue I knew I had to solve before starting the beta process, was how to organize all of their feedback, since I’m receiving them at different times.
Here’s how I did it.
Or you could do this electronically. I haven’t tried going to paperless route, just because I was afraid my Word document would look far too intimidating.
Plus, there’s just something so satisfying about handwriting edits into your chapters. It makes me feel like I’m doing something really productive, for some reason.
Originally, I toyed with the idea of using a different color for each of my betas, but that was going to get out of hand with 15 betas. It would be far more confusing than helpful.
I settled on using two colors for all of the feedback.
I ruled out red immediately. It’s a negative color and I hate it. Going through beta feedback requires a balanced state-of-mind, and there’s nothing like a bunch of red markings to light up my anxiety fire.
I use a fluorescent pink pen and a regular blue colored pen. I don’t usually like pink, but it was the brightest color I had.
Any changes the betas suggest, I hand write them into my printed chapter in blue. I do this whether or not I agree with their critique. Why? So that if four betas say the same thing, I know it. If I ignore all four and don’t make a note of it, I won’t realize that my betas were agreeing on something I was blind to.
I make note of any positive comments in the pink pen. I’m super girl and will underline the text they liked and draw a tiny heart before adding in a note of what they said. Why note the good comments? Because if six betas love one sentence, but one beta hates it, I know what the majority rule is.
All of my betas have unique initials, so that’s how I differentiate all of their feedback from one another. Every note I make in my manuscript has the beta’s initials next to it.
At the end of each document, I write their last names and summarize their responses to the questions I had sent to them.
Yes, hand-writing all of this is tedious, and not the fastest method, but it works for now!
Utilize your end-of-chapter notes on your master sheet to discuss the beta’s feedback when sending them the next chapter. Let them know how much you appreciate their feedback, request clarification on something (if needed), or tell them when a comment really strikes home.
If your beta isn’t responding how you would like them to, gently remind them not to be nervous about being honest. Every comment they give you is a chance for you to better your novel. Tell them what to look for, perhaps basing this off what other betas have said about a chapter.
As soon as you attach the next chapter to your email, make a note of it in your spreadsheet, then click send. This safeguards against any later confusion.
As a bonus, I like to chat with my betas if I have the chance. You’re working closely together, so it’s fun to get to know them if you can. I think this also helps with receiving criticism as well. If you’ve connected with the beta on a personal level, you’re less likely to get defensive at their comments.
Ignoring valuable feedback won’t benefit your novel!
For those that only use excel for basic equations and graphing (me until a week ago), I’m going to go over how to use and expand this spreadsheet to your liking.
Again, download that spreadsheet >>>here<<<.
This might be fast, so hang onto your horses and feel free to pause and rewind as needed. If you’d rather see pictures than watch me do it, head on over to my website post, linked below!
Step 1: Download the spreadsheet, renaming it if you like.
Step 2: Open. Yay! This is fun!
Step 3: Use it.
Woohoo! I should write instructions on the back of food boxes because I’m obviously a genius at this.
Now that you have the program open, let’s see what it can do.
As I’ve previously discussed, it’s difficult to keep track of what you need to do as the author. I have a column for when the chapter was sent to the beta reader, followed by a column for when the beta reader responds with their feedback.
With the handy dandy conditional formatting, when I load the date that the beta reader responds, the “Incorporated” column changes color. This allows me to see, at a glance, what feedback I need to go through.
Once I incorporate that feedback, I type YES in that column, and the next cell highlights, letting me know I need to send the next chapter to that beta. Once I’ve done that, and add the date to that cell, the colors disappear, letting me know that my job is done for now.