Beta readers and confidants are key in your bid to create a great book. But first, get coachable.
“My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.” —Michael Jordan
Did you actually read that quote above? Ha! Did I catch you? Go back and read it if you didn’t… It’s seriously one of the most impactful strings of words you may ever read.
Learn from others…
It’s the best life skill you can learn.
Coachability sets the scrubs from the doctors, the winners from the losers, the ketchups from the mustards. It’s the one attribute anyone can possess. It’s also my superpower, and I can’t wait to bequeath it over to you.
Want to know a secret? I’m not really all that super, and I know it. Humility is the key that unlocks your access to coachability. Needing correction for just about anything I’ve ever tried isn’t fun. I’ve been blessed with the annoying ability to suck at things, and then eventually get better.
The unbelievably talented aside, the first time we do anything, we suck. The first time I played the trumpet, I’m sure the music teacher almost cried (unhappy tears, not the feel-good ones).
The first time I went to the gym to lose weight I did thirty minutes on the bike and called it good. I could barely get out of bed the next day, but it was a small step at least. And to be on the nose a bit, the first time I wrote a book was just kind of sad. It wasn’t all that interesting or well written, even though it did help a lot of people.
In this post you’ll:
- Learn how to access your coachability superpower
- Get a few close confidants on your side
- Discover the magic of beta readers
Getting feedback at this stage in your book writing process is supposed to be constructive and helpful. Confidants are your go-to people who look to get out the best in your work. Beta readers are people who recognize that your book is indraft form, and offer insightful feedback and what’s working and what isn’t.
They are not the people who are going to rip it apart and send you spiraling downward and drowning in a bucket of your own tears. If you get this kind of feedback on your first draft, ignore it. Please, don’t let it get to you. Obviously this is much easier said than done, but it shouldn’t mess you up. You are doing a good thing in getting your book out into the world, and don’t deserve to be thrashed around.
Before you ask even one person to take a peek at your week, ask yourself; am I ready for this? Am I ready to have my work seen by another human being? Am I ready to be exposed? If so, read on. If not… think long and hard about whether or not you want to be a creative.
Access Your Coachability Superpower
There’s nothing stopping you from improving; all you need to do is ask.
Persistence and consistency are often lauded as the attributes every writer should aim for. To accomplish your authorship goals you must:
“Write every day!
“Keep working at it, and you’ll eventually get there!”
Remove all distractions, and do nothing else except for write!
All true, but not enough on their own.
It’s true, the mark of any brilliant creator is persistence. Some people will tell you all you need to do is just keep trying over time and you will eventually succeed. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this isn’t true.
Persistent effort is a great boon to reach any worthwhile achievement, but there’s something missing. Consistency is necessary, but if you just keep writing crappy words and never share these words with anyone else, you won’t get anywhere.
Coachability completes the triad, and you must access it to improve as a writer.
Beating your head against a wall to knock it down will give you a concussion. If you listened to the guy who told you to use a mallet and not your head, the wall would be down by now and you wouldn’t have to mop blood off the floor. Mix persistence and consistency with coachability, and you’ve added another potion to your alchemic stores.
You have to share your book to the world eventually, but you can ease your way into it. If you’re a sensitive writer like me, and don’t want to lose your heart in the process, you must become coachable. Feedback at every stage is tough. It never feels comfortable to have someone critique your work, even the most well-meaning and friendly people.
“This has potential, but it still needs work…” feels like a knife in the heart, even when it’s exactly what you need to hear. You must take every positive, helpful, negative or constructive piece of feedback (within reason) and use it to become better than you were before.
And if you’re not sensitive, that’s great too. However, you still need to unlock this superpower, even if it’s getting past the part of you that says you don’t need advice or help. If it’s easy for you to shrug off feedback and think that you know better, guess what? Readers will come down hard and blast your work. The feedback may not bother you, but your book’s declining sales surely will.
Let me test your humility and coachability right here:
You probably suck at writing books.
Ouch! I feel bad saying it.
If you’ve never written a book before, you won’t be great at it. Even people who’ve written several books, may, in fact, suck at parts of writing. I sometimes sit at my computer for an hour, write a bunch of words that look like a dooky salad, and then end up deleting them all. I started the draft of this blog post talking about book reviews before I realized it’s not what I was talking about at all.
Not being good at something right away is why some people quit. This fear of looking bad or failing stops us before we even get our feet wet. As kids, we don’t care about this. We’ll try anything as long as it’s fun. As adults, we hate the uncomfortableness of looking foolish. We prefer to not even start if starting might hurt.
This fear cripples us!
It keeps us from living out our very best. You can’t let the fear of negative feedback get to you, especially in this friendly feedback stage.
Not trying new things keeps us in the safe zone (which is actually perfectly okay too, for a time), but if we aren’t careful, this safe zone becomes a zap fence that keeps us cemented in sameness.
It’s normal to suck at something when starting. You’ll accidentally swear in the new language you’re learning, you’ll hit the ball out of the court by accident, or you’ll stumble and fall in the street and look like an idiot doing so.
The utter joy from finally hitting a breakthrough is worth every scrape, laugh, and stare.
My proudest moment in middle school baseball was winning the coach’s choice award. In retrospect, it’s kind of a silly thing to be proud of. I like to think I earned the trophy because I listened well and had a positive attitude, but it’s probably because I rode the bench with aplomb and never complained.
But at the end of the season, I came off the bench for our last game. I stepped up to the plate and crushed a line-drive home run to the opposite field. I put together all that I had learned and hit the team’s one and only homer for the season.
My coachability has stuck with me ever since. In fact, it’s been a core value I hold dearly. I live by this life motto: If someone smarter and better at something tells me how to improve at that thing I listen intently, take notes, and work hard to improve.
When my padel coach tells me to change my technique, I follow her advice. She thinks it’s super cool that I take notes and send her a writeup after our session. She might actually be making fun of me when she tells other people at the club about this, but I’m proud nonetheless. A desire for improvement should never be something we’re ashamed of.
If a confidant or beta-reader makes a good suggestion, I listen. When I receive feedback from a well-meaning source like this, I take it to heart. Coachability means embracing humility and killing your pride.
Practice your reception to feedback by:
- Listening intently (i.e. leave your ego at the door).
- Taking notes.
- Working hard to improve.
This coachable attitude not only sets your coach/mentor/teacher/confidant/beta-reader at ease, but if you embrace it, you’ll motivate them to work harder for you and put even more of their own effort into their coaching of you. People love it when you take their advice and act on it.
Your writing will get better and your book will be that much closer to becoming great as you improve your ability to not only take feedback, but act on it.
Find One or Two Writing Confidants You Trust
Finding confidants (sometimes called alpha readers) is a delicate task. Ask the right person and your writing soars. Ask the wrong person and you may have to deal with deconstructive feedback meant to help you with some tough love. Identify and engage with trusted advisors who will provide valuable, kind-hearted feedback on your writing.
Think about the people within your existing network. Friends, family members, and colleagues who are avid readers are potentially invaluable confidants. Consider those who have shown interest in your writing or have a history of giving you balanced and honest feedback.
Confidants are typically good listeners, empathetic, honest without being hurtful, and genuinely interested in your growth. They should be people who appreciate the creative process. My wife is my confidant, and reads everything I write. My younger brother Jameson is another fantastic support for reading through my words and inspiring me to keep going.
Not everyone has a confidant right within their own home or immediate family. Don’t feel bad about looking for confidants in a local or online writing group, a writing workshop, or even from a writing class.
These communities often have seasoned authors who are willing to share their insights and offer constructive feedback. You may be surprised at how good it feels to connect with your tribe of people who love writing just as much as you do.
Once you’ve identified one or two potential confidants, ask if they wouldn’t mind reading small pieces of your writing so you can gauge their reaction and feedback style. This will help you see if the person’s feedback is constructive and if they are committed to helping you improve.
Ask for general feedback at first, just to make sure they’re a good fit. Then, as the relationship blossoms, get more specific with your questions.
Nurture the relationship with a willingness to offer something in return. This could be offering feedback on their work if they are also a writer, or perhaps helping them in another area.
My brother isn’t a writer, but I help him with feedback on his Etsy shop and we bounce ideas off each other for how he can improve his offerings.
Always approach with respect and gratitude. Acknowledge the effort your confidants are putting into helping you with your work. Your confidants play an important role in your writing process so let them know you value their input.
Finding the right confidants is a mix of being observant, patient, and sometimes a bit lucky. It’s about forging a genuine reciprocal connection rather than merely seeking a service.
With time and effort, you’ll discover your confidant, and you may even become a major part of someone else’s creative journey too.
Discover the Magic of Beta Readers
Moving beyond confidants to beta readers might feel like a giant leap forward, but it’s not. You’re not sending your book out to a nasty and unfriendly publisher looking to slam your work. Not yet. The ideal beta-reader is interested in your niche, friendly, and communicates areas of growth and improvement.
If you’re ready to be coachable and take feedback well, this stage is invaluable. It’s not about receiving 100% positive affirmation and filling your head with lies about how good of a writer you are, but it’s also not about getting blasted so bad you want to quit.
Feedback is much more valuable in stages, and you, as the author, should influence these stages. If you don’t, reviewers may have every right to throw your book in the metaphorical fire. So, you don’t have to don your full platemail armor yet, but be ready to improve based on qualitative feedback.
Compile a list of potential beta readers who have a connection to the genre or subject matter of your book. They don’t necessarily have to be experts, but their interest in the topic may provide relevant insights.
For instance, if you’ve penned a treatise on Christianity, your church community is an excellent starting point. Likewise, for a book on public speaking, fellow Toastmasters would be ideal candidates. If you’re all about surfing, and you are writing the book about getting into the sport, text your surfing bros and/or gals and invite them to catch a wave as you tell them about your book idea.
While friends, acquaintances, and other community members make for excellent beta readers, there’s also a case for engaging with paid professionals, especially if your short list is making you feel like you don’t have any friends. These individuals provide detailed, objective feedback that can be incredibly valuable, offering fresh perspectives or catching oversights that can slip past more familiar eyes.
The investment in a paid beta reader should match the value they bring, so choose wisely. Going this route depends on your comfort level, your budget, and how many people you’ve been able to add to your “free” list.
The next step? Ask each person on your list. Here is a simple script you can copy:
Jordan here. How are you today?
You probably saw on LinkedIn, but I’m looking for people to read a draft version of my new book, Nonfiction Alchemy, and I thought of you. The book takes the reader on a journey of writing from idea to first draft with a specific aim to get people thinking about their reason for writing.
I’ve been following your work on LinkedIn for a while now, and I especially love your posts on tips for becoming a better writer.
Would you like to take a peek at the book?
I don’t expect you to read the whole book, but if you want to take a look at the introduction and chapter 1, I’d love to get your feedback in two areas:
1) Is the hook strong enough?
2) Is the intention of the book clear from the get go?
I’d love your expert opinion.
Let me know what you think and thanks for your time,
Send an email/text/message like the above out to anyone on your list. Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is, “You suck, don’t write your book. Contact me again and I’ll sue you. I hate you and your stupid face.” If they don’t want to read your book, they will probably just say they don’t have time.
The art of the simple ask may seem overly simplistic, but the act of reaching out is an essential step to increasing confidence as you learn how to be okay with other people reading what you wrote. More people will say yes than you realize.
Two important reminders for beta readers:
- Be specific: When reaching out to potential beta readers, make sure you give them a specific task that’s not open ended. Don’t ask them to, “Tell you what they think of the book”. This is too big of an ask and will turn some people off because they may not have time in their busy schedule to read an entire book. Keep it specific by asking them to read a chapter or two, and ask one or two specific questions.
- Be clear: Ensure your beta readers understand their role—it’s about content feedback, you’re not asking them to proofread. Provide them with clear instructions on what you’re looking for and how they can best help you.
Beyond the feedback on your manuscript, beta readers help you build the confidence to share your work with the world. They’re the first real audience beyond your confidants to experience your story, and their reactions are a litmus test for how your book will be received upon publication.
As you move forward, take note of the insights gained from this beta reading phase and use what you’ve learned to continually improve. This will not only enhance your current book but also inform your future writing endeavors.
Your Book, Your Choice
As the feedback rolls in and your heart leaps into your throat, remember this important truth: it’s your book. You don’t have to accept what people say as gold. Yes, they might have brilliant ideas of content you should add to your book, they may hate a certain section, or they might have a better way to say certain things, but in the end, it’s your book. I say this for those not yet confident in their writing and for those without a filter for bad feedback.
It’s easy to assume other people know best or their feedback is spot on. However, this isn’t always the case. No one knows your content like you do. Develop this important mindset now before you go deeper into the editing process. You do not have to take any feedback if it doesn’t jive with your book.
Unless it’s simple proofreading errors, every change suggested by a confidant, beta reader, or editor is ultimately your choice.
I designed this post to to make you feel more confident in your writing. Its pee wee football prepping you to get slammed later by editors, critics, and potential publishers.
These 400-pound behemoths will knock you low unless you’ve already started developing resilience. Move safely from the comfort of friends who may lie to you, all the way to tougher skin when a reader emails you and says you should never write again.
Write it down: Who is my confidant? Who are five people I can ask to beta-read my book?
Take a bold step: Send a message to a close friend now. Even if you haven’t started your book, tell them you are thinking about writing one and are looking for someone to journey with you.
Thanks for reading!
Need help writing ideating your book, outlining, or writing? Connect with me here.