25+ Details About Your Manuscript To Share With Your Beta Reader & Developmental Editor

Before we get into this post properly, I just want to tell you that you’re probably going to see a lot of options you might not have considered, and if you’re wondering if it’s slightly overkill, my answer is no.

As an editor and a beta reader who has worked with lots of authors, I’ll tell you for a fact that I always appreciate it when I have as much information about a manuscript as possible.

Usually, I acknowledge receipt of that information, but then I just file it at the back of my head and consider it with the story after I’ve read it the first time so that it doesn’t influence my opinions.

But it is still super important, no matter how I look at it, because at the end of the day, your editor or your beta reader wants you to tell the story that you want to tell.

And there’s literally no way they can figure out your intention in this respect if you haven’t provided it to them while the critique is underway.

Of course, you may not have all the information at the point when you bring on an editor or a beta reader, but aside from the fact that it makes the entire editing process seamless, it also will help you learn more about your story.

Now, don’t be mistaken; I don’t think you must have information on every single thing in this post before you can approach a beta reader because that couldn’t be far from the truth. But it’s always much more helpful to your beta reader or your editor if you’re able to supply some information right off the bat.

As for beta readers, they probably do not need this depth of information because while a professional beta reader is definitely going to critique your story, it won’t be at the level that a developmental editor would.

Whenever I undertake developmental editing on a manuscript, I send over an expanded questionnaire to the author where I ask for all the important information and request all the details that will help me in my critique, and everything listed below is more or less what I include in this questionnaire.

At the end of the day, what matters is whatever arrangement you have with your editor or your beta reader, so of course, that should be your first point of call, and it’s always preferable that you simply ask them what they require from you.

1. Genre and theme

It’s always better to have an idea of the genre you’re trying to write in because, as I have explained in the past, every genre has obligatory conventions that need to be met. If your book is supposed to be in a particular genre but doesn’t meet those conventions, you definitely want your reader or editor to point that out.

The theme is also an important piece of information that should be provided. Perhaps there are certain underlying themes or plot lines that you’d like to come through in the story, and you want your reader or editor to evaluate your execution and provide suggestions for improvement. In a situation where any such theme or plotline isn’t easily discernible, your editor or beta reader would probably not mention it. 

2. Synopsis

This might be a little controversial, but I prefer to dive into a book without knowing how it ends. Simply knowing the genre, word count, and theme is adequate information at the story level, but some readers do need a synopsis.

Remember that we are still in the pre-publication stage, so your synopsis doesn’t have to be perfect. But it should provide an overview of the plot, introduce the main characters, reference the primary conflict, any significant events, and also consider the overarching question of the entire book.

I have had some authors who plan to work with traditional publishers simply send me their query letter, which breaks down every single element of the story in a digestible format that is easily understandable. If you have that, it’s also something that you might want to send to your reader or editor as a high-level summary of the story.

Related: Top 40+ Essential Questions For Beta Readers About Character Development In A Story

3. Goals

As I said earlier, your reader and editor want the best for your story, and ‘best’ is something that you have to define for yourself during the writing process.

When you decide to work with a reader and editor, you need to let them know your intentions with the story. 

Basically, what do you want to achieve, and what story are you trying to tell? This will inform the type of feedback you receive and narrow down their focus so that they can walk in the direction you want.

4. Pain points in the story

What areas or specific aspects in your story are you unsure about and would like to get feedback on?

Your beta reader or editor will do their best to highlight any areas that need development, but while writing, you might have noticed a particular weakness – whether it’s inputting conflict, maintaining the storylines of the side characters, or even threading the primary plot line through the story. 

This is something that you want to bring up to your beta readers or editors so that they know it’s a concern they must focus on in their reports.

5. Target audience

Another helpful piece of information that you can share with your beta reader or editor while they are critiquing your story is your intended audience.

Remember what I said earlier about some authors submitting their query letters instead of a book blurb? Usually, the query letter references their intended audience but sometimes you might not have a query letter at hand. 

In a situation like this, you simply want to draw on your thoughts and your intentions for the story and determine for yourself what an ideal audience looks like.

Perhaps you are a middle-grade book and your intention is that it should be for children of that age. You want to make sure you mention that because it could be that you might be writing a young adult book and you’ve got it all mixed up. 

6. Tone and style

It’s also important that your beta reader or editor knows the tone and style you’ve tried to convey in your work because this will also help them while critiquing your book. 

For example, you might intend for a particular scene to be funny, but then it comes across as more gory and sad. Your editor will highlight this and hopefully make some suggestions as to how to input levity in the situation. 

In fact, I once worked with an author who sent me a manuscript with detailed comments on specific things and what they hoped to convey with certain paragraphs. 

It was immensely helpful because I was able to have that information in hand while reading the text itself to see the level to which their intention came through.

7. Information on world-building

Another piece of information that beta readers and editors appreciate, especially from fantasy authors, is information on world-building and any particular rules that we should have in hand to better understand the world that has been created. 

It helps to quantify the consistency of the author’s execution with the information provided in any such appendix, and it also deepens the complexity of the book, which will make it all the more exciting to read.

8. Inspirations and source material (if applicable)

This may sound a little out of the ordinary, but it’s always helpful if your beta reader or editor knows that you have been inspired by something, and they’re able to refer to that thing. 

If it’s a real-life event, other works, or a particular author who influenced your writing style, your editor would want to know this because it might help them when it comes to discovering comp titles and fact-checking your work. 

It also has the added benefit of giving them an idea of your intention with the story. In such a situation, your editor or beta reader can then properly measure up your execution. 

You May Also Like: How To Be The Best Beta Reader: 20 Essential Dos & Don’ts

9. Trigger warnings

I know there is a lot of debate surrounding the inclusion of trigger warnings in text meant for adults, but I am firmly on the side that you need to properly state any triggers that are in a work. 

The truth of the matter is that you cannot know everyone’s history, the degree of what a person has been through, or how a person perseveres on a daily basis, and intentionally excluding information from your book that could inadvertently put them in the way of emotional harm is one of the cruelest things you could ever do. 

Personally, I cannot read a book that deals with bullying matters, and that’s because of some issues in the past, so I highly recommend that you mention it if your book contains any sensitive or potentially triggering content so that your reader or your editor is informed before diving in.

10. Revision history

As an editor who has also dabbled in writing, I know that the revision process or the revision stage of writing is always the most brutal, and a lot of things get left behind, which is good because more times than not, you’re cutting out the extraneous matter. 

However, sometimes in your rush to perfection, you might end up cutting out some gems that would have helped bolster the story. Letting your editor know what significant changes you’ve made to the manuscript will help them chart a better course of revision for you. 

I always let authors I work with know that I am 100% ready to be a sounding board for them and their ideas, and so many times discussing previous plans for a book has led to many plot-related breakthroughs.

11. Project turnaround time 

Usually, a beta reader or editor will let an author know their turnaround time, but it could be that you are on a short deadline and need quicker feedback, so it’s best if you let your beta reader or your editor know this in advance.

After getting feedback and incorporating their suggestions, undertaking the revisions is definitely going to take a lot of time. So, before simply agreeing to any suggested timeline, make sure you consider your own schedule as well instead of hounding them later on. 

12. Openness to feedback

The more experienced an editor, the less likely they are to shy away from giving feedback, but sometimes an editor or a beta reader may get the vibe that you’re being slightly passive-aggressive or entirely too reserved, which may prevent them from giving feedback freely.

On this note, you want to make sure you let them know that you are open to any honest and constructive feedback that will help you improve your story, but also set clear boundaries, even though any editor worth their coin would never simply insult your work.

13. Communication

You also want to make sure you let your beta reader and your editor know that you are always available to talk about your story and answer any questions they may have.

Editing is a collaborative effort between the author and the beta reader or the editor, so you need to walk hand in hand, and there’s no way you can do that if you aren’t communicating.

14. Previous feedback 

If you have already worked with a beta reader or an editor in the past and received feedback that led you to revise a significant aspect of your work, it’s also helpful if you provide them with the feedback you received. 

This way, your new editor or your new beta reader will be able to assess whatever corrections you have made concerning the previous version of your book. 

15. Specific questions

As I mentioned earlier, you want to highlight your pain points and primary areas of concern in the story for your beta readers to consider while they are critiquing your story. And, it’s also helpful if you compile a list of questions.

This questionnaire could contain questions on character development, the plot, the ending, the writing, or whatever, but they should be questions that relate to your story at a fundamental level and will help you receive the level of feedback that you want.

Usually, beta readers and editors have their worksheets that contain queries related to the many primary elements of a story, but you are the only one who knows your story best, and there are particular things you may like to get feedback on.

16. Formatting

Formatting isn’t discussed much when we talk about information provided to a beta reader, but I feel like it should be one of the most important things because every editor has a workflow that is dependent on a particular format.

For example, some editors and beta readers do not work with PDFs, while some swear by Google Docs. So what’s important is that you discuss this with your editor so that they know what format your manuscript is in.

What we’re doing at this stage is making sure that we balance your preferences with theirs so that they can give feedback in a format that is easier for them while making sure that you can understand the feedback easily.

17. Cultural sensitivity

In a situation where your book contains themes or characters from cultures other than your own and you aren’t sure of your representation, you want to bring it up to your beta reader so that they can give their opinion about it.

If you ask me, I would say it’s better if you go all out and get a proper sensitivity read from a person in the demographic you’re writing about because that will give you a more authentic analysis of your execution.

Also See: 10 Expert Tips To Protect Your Unpublished Drafts From Thieves

18. Expectations from your beta reader or editor

One of the things that causes misunderstanding between authors and editors or beta readers is when one party feels that they have been slighted because their expectations haven’t been met.

For one, you want to make sure you let your beta reader or your editor know what stage of the writing process your manuscript is in – has it been self-edited, or has it been edited by another person in the past, and what type of service are you looking for? 

Especially for new authors, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the different types of editors, so it could be that they are looking for a particular service and they are simply unaware of it. So, when you tell your beta reader or your editor your expectations, they will let you know if they can fulfill them or if that is beyond their scope.

I almost had an online scuffle with a disgruntled author last year because I made a mistake in that I didn’t adequately lay out my service sheet, so they assumed I was going to correct grammar; that is, perform the role of a line editor. You can imagine how that turned out.

An editor or a beta reader who knows what they are doing would send over a service sheet where they have listed the scope of their work, and this is something I make a preliminary step in my workflow because it will help both sides manage expectations.

19. Communication parameters

I know I talked earlier about the importance of keeping an open line of communication, but as I said, setting boundaries is also very important. Thus, you want to make sure that your beta reader or your editor knows how best to reach you and when.

It’s never a nice feeling to be flooded with emails, especially when one can’t respond immediately, so making sure you discuss all this with your beta reader will save you both from any ill feelings.

20. Preferences for receiving feedback

This is something you should discuss with your beta reader or editor in the preliminary stage before moving ahead with contract signing because, ultimately, you are paying for a service and need to be satisfied.

Let your beta reader or editor know your preferred way of receiving feedback. Perhaps you prefer reports, annotated manuscripts, or a questionnaire as I mentioned earlier. 

Some beta readers offer all three options, but it’s important to communicate your preference based on what you’ve found helpful in the past.

21. Post-feedback plans

Some authors like to hash out feedback after receiving it and having some time to sit with their feelings. This is something I offer to everyone I’ve worked with, but not every editor or beta reader is open to it, so discuss it before moving ahead, especially if it’s important to you.

Let your beta reader know kindly and professionally why you would like to have a post-feedback meeting. If they agree or disagree, it’s up to you to decide whether to move ahead with the contract.

22. Provide information on any legal issues

There are instances where you might have lifted excerpts from other published works, with or without permission, so make sure to inform your beta reader about the legal measures you’ve considered while writing your book.

Not every beta reader or editor is well-versed in this area, so if it’s a concern, make sure to tell them so they can determine if it’s something they can help with, and you can decide whether to continue the collaboration based on their answer. 

23. Publication Goals

Authors have different goals and these goals usually determine the nature and structure of the books they write and pitch. Traditional publishers have specific criteria for books they consider (like word count, character profiles, and a host of other things).  

This is something your beta reader should know because it will inform the feedback they provide, which would help you reach your publication goals faster and save money in the long run (since you won’t have to hire multiple people). 

24. Type of beta Reader you’re looking for

Most importantly, make sure to screen any beta reader or editor to ensure they are the right person to work on your story. Ideally, any editor or beta reader trusted with a project should have enough knowledge and a sufficient reading history of books in that genre, because that’s when they’ll be able to assess your execution accurately.

For example, if your book is a slash horror and your beta reader loves and only reads romance books, their review may not be what you’re looking for because those are two very different genres. 

25. Any other important information

This could include various things, such as the logic behind the titles you’ve given the chapters or the books you referenced for researching while world-building. 

Essentially, you might want to consider providing your readers with as much information as possible, since this will help them fully engage with the story on every level. 

Working with a beta reader or editor might appear a bit tricky at first because, let’s face it, you are sharing a manuscript you have worked so hard on with a total stranger, but trust me, you’ll be better for it at the end of the process.

As I always say, what matters is that the expectations are clearly laid out and the most important thing of all is whatever agreements you and your beta reader or editor have made.

I’ve written several other posts on how best to work with a beta reader, so make sure you check those out and don’t forget to drop a comment if you have any particular questions.

Preye http://therookiejurist.com

Hi! I'm Preye ("pre" as in "prepare" and "ye" as in "Kanye"), and I am a lifelong book lover who enjoys talking about books and sharing bits and pieces of all the fascinating things I come across. I love books so much that I decided to become a developmental editor, and right now, I work with authors to help them tell their stories better. On this blog, I share everything from book recommendations to book reviews and writing tips, so feel free to stop by anytime you like!

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