The Beta-Reader Experiment

Several weeks ago, I put out a call for book “beta-readers” for my manuscript of All the Money in the World. In the software industry, beta-testers (usually not internal to a company) use a product for a while, giving their feedback. The industry does this because the understanding is that software is supposed to be useful, and things often function differently in the real world than they do in an engineer’s mind.

I tend to think it’s the same thing with books. I have this vision in my head of what I am trying to convey, and I have written a manuscript that I hope conveys it. But have I succeeded in doing that? This is where the beta-readers come in, and tell me what they think.

I’ve now heard back from the vast majority of folks who volunteered to read the book, and I am so glad I did this experiment. In general, the verdict is that the book is readable and interesting, though perhaps only 80% there in terms of a coherent argument. This is not surprising, in that I didn’t get a title confirmed until late April. Fortunately, we have a chance with this next round of revisions to get the rest of the way there (or most of the way — no book will ever be perfect. Even Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has flaws, and let’s face it, I’m not James Joyce). A few other useful bits of advice:

  • I am writing a book, not a blog post, and not even a newspaper column or magazine article. Words like “recently” aren’t going to work, and I need to write more timelessly, giving book prose the respect it deserves.
  • If the book is about “what the happiest people know about getting and spending” than I need more profiles of happy people. I am a happy person too, but for a variety of reasons, I am going to be a character in this narrative, not the main one.
  • Don’t assume the reader has read or even heard of 168 Hours. I’ve been living with that book for 2.5 years now, but of course the readers haven’t. So I don’t need to worry too much about noting that I mentioned something in that book previously.
  • Be more useful. I’m trying to get people to think broadly, but as people question various conventional monetary bits of wisdom, it helps to give people some useful tips for their lives. This is a hard line to walk. One of my key selling points is that this is a book of no budgets, no tips on saving money at the grocery store (because I don’t think that’s a great place to save money), no explanation of FICO scores, etc. But I can think along the lines of book group discussion questions.
  • Meet the reader where he is. No judgments. No blame — we make our choices for a reason. I don’t think there’s too much preachy in here but there are certainly some controversial ideas. Some of my beta-readers disagreed with me vociferously on some points. Their counter-arguments will make the book stronger, and I really appreciate that.

So those are the broad goals for this next (and hopefully last!) round of revisions. If you’re a book author, I highly recommend getting your manuscript in front of lots of people prior to publication. It really does help a lot.

In other news:

  • New blogs for you to be reading! Check out the Doing Too Much blog, which recently profiled 168 Hours. Also, the WAHM Diaries is aimed at, as the title suggests, moms who work at home. The difference from many other WAHM sites is that, philosophically, this is going to be aimed at those of us who take the “work” part of that equation very seriously. I keep getting spam emails about “make $2000+ per week working at home!” Someday I will write a blog post about what it really takes to make big bucks working out of a home office, but that seems to be what Camille is going for with her blog.


3 thoughts on “The Beta-Reader Experiment

  1. Advice taken: if ever i write a book, will surely take this advice.

    Advice for your blog: please give links to things like WAHM blog or Doing Too Much blog so that it is easier to visit them on a click.

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