Should Authors “Taste Test” Their Books

No, all you book smellers I’m not talking about actually tasting books. I’m basically talking about expanding the beta reading process.

I just read an article about authors not doing this. And publishers not doing this. And how they should. But I think otherwise.

This article talks about having readers from the book’s target audience advance read the book for the purposes of editing and rewriting. Not for the purposes of promotion. You’re talking untrained eyes having a hand in the decision-making process. These readers might know what they like, but that doesn’t mean they know what REALLY makes a book great. It’s ridiculous.

And sure there are publishers and Amazon doing things like this, but we still don’t know how successful they’ve been. At least I haven’t heard anything.

What do you think of authors “taste-tasting” their books?

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20 thoughts on “Should Authors “Taste Test” Their Books

  1. Yes, readers know what THEY like. Yes, they are “untrained”. But, isn’t what readers like what makes (or breaks) a book? So getting reader input isn’t a bad thing. Even so-called “trained” eyes let things pass that outrage the audience, and “untrained” eyes can offer valuable input. What I find ridiculous is the presumption that some arbitrary “training” makes one person and one person’s judgement somehow superior or of greater merit than another “untrained” person’s.
    I think getting input from a broad range of people (“trained” and “untrained” alike) is very wise, but as with everything taking it all with a grain of salt. You are the ultimate judge of what you want with your book, and you should make the final calls. Also, the people you have a greater respect/trust for should have more influence in your decisions. How you go about getting your input is up to you. I don’t really care how an author gets their input, but I do strongly object to the popular notion that college or any other kind of training makes someone “more qualified” than someone who maybe self-taught from library books or something. To the idea that a piece of paper makes one person better than another.
    All that said, I don’t think anyone should presume to tell an author how to do this or that with their book. Let them do it how it works for them. So, article-John-was-reading, you can stick that in your pipe and smoke it. 😜

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  2. I’ve been doing beta work for Fanfiction for going on three years now and I started with published Indie authors in the last year or so.
    I can’t say I agree with you.
    What I do as a beta is go through the work and check for grammar, spelling and consistency.
    Nothing chaps me more than those three. Especially when they’re such common errors that you would think they would know better by now (there, their, they’re for instance).
    As for consistency, it’s not generally an issue in single works, it is in a series though.
    I’ll give you a real life example of what happens when a published, non Indie, author doesn’t use a beta or some such animal.
    Charlainne Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries.
    She was inconsistent throughout, not remembering what one character turned into from one book to the next and her plot suffered for it near the end.
    If you want further clarification I can do that in an hour or so when I get home.

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    • It sounds like your beta reading is too simple. I’d say beta readers shouldn’t be worried about grammar or spelling unless it’s beyond terrible. Then you’re wasting time on things that SHOULD be corrected and not on the actual story. But it’s not like I know anything.

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      • I do multi-task :). Depending on what the author is asking for I’ll offer suggestions, give feedback on a character’s traits, favorite character, least favorite, how the story flows and a bunch of other stuff.
        Plus I’m OCD about spelling and grammar, I can’t NOT fix something like a missing apostrophe or word when I have the power to do so.

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  3. I had 8 test readers for my book. One of them was also my editor, and I sent each of my test readers each chapter as it was written, as I am doing for the sequel. I have found their feedback IMMENSELY helpful.

    My test readers are from all walks of life: I have one who is an atheist computer geek, that hardly ever reads for fun, I have a Christian Fantasy fan, I have a machinist who is also a fantasy fan. I have a woman with a bachelor’s in psychology that has been quite helpful too.

    A test reader may not be a professional, literary critic, but I seem to notice how most of those self-proclaimed literary “experts” hate 50 Shades of Gray? That book has made MILLIONS of dollars. Probably far more money than any of those “experts” will ever see in their life.

    One of the most valuable insights came from one little phrase I always watched and listened for: “I’m not sure what’s going on here”. A literary expert may understand, but I am more concerned with how my work is going to be received by the more average consumer because they are the ones that are going to be buying it.

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  4. I think there are two ideas currently being discussed (and correct me if I’m wrong): “Beta readers” and “a large random group of beta readers”.

    The former is likely comprised of people who have some sort of investment in either the work (or works in case of a series), the author, or the success of the book. These people are often friends, family, fans who’ve become close to the author and have been chosen for their insight, editors, and other writers. When it comes to beta readers, I find them to be useful. Really, the feedback one gets from a beta reader is all part of the editing process. It’s Robert Louis Stevenson who threw his first draft of “Jekyll and Hyde” into the fireplace to burn because his wife wisely told him that the story had a pacing problem. Because of her input, we have the literary classic that we do today. So, yes, beta readers get an emphatic thumbs up from me.

    The latter is like a writing class peer review: You’re likely to get a few people who know the ins-and-outs of writing, but the vast majority may be business majors or football players who need the writing credit to graduate. Though the saying goes that one should never underestimate their readers’ intelligence because they, at the least, know enough to be able to read, this doesn’t mean that everyone who reads the work will have something useful to offer in the way of suggestions. In fact, some of those suggestions might be catastrophically terrible. We’ve all had that one friend who thinks that every single character on earth should fight Goku at least once, or who thought the ending of the Sorpranos should have involved massive body counts and explosions (though the series never once displayed the qualities of an action movie in any way, shape, or form). These people know what they like, why they like it, but don’t really…”get” it.

    What the hell am I really saying? Beta readers are good–but like all good things, they should be used in moderation. A mass beta reading should be done sparingly, perhaps as an experimental exercise…but sifting through a ton of feedback (possibly in the thousands, if one is Stephen King) would be a logistical nightmare, and at the end the best advice might come from the same group of beta readers as always, anyway.

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  5. If I had the opportunity to do this, I 100% would. The more data you have, the more you can accurately analyze consensus, trends, etc. Collecting feedback is like collecting any other kind of data, really – the more you have, the better a representation of reality you’re going to have. That random friend who thinks your book needs a dinosaur battle becomes an outlier, and the 85% of people saying your protagonist sucks becomes the trend. I only had six betas for my first round, but I was still able to develop the skills to sort through “what is just an opinion?” and “what is something I should actually be worried about?”

    However, I don’t really see WHY a big publisher would do this with an author. If it’s a proven author, their books are going to sell regardless. If it’s a new author, why not give them a chance to find their audience before having an audience make demands? I fear this would lead to the type of studio intervention and “test audiences” that ruin otherwise good movies because they thought “oh, that first ending didn’t ~sell~ well. Neither do female protagonists.” Movies are becoming more of a product, where I like to think that books are still more of an art form (and I say that as a person who will defend the validity of popcorn movies til I croak). So, I don’t think a large group of betas is a bad thing, but I think what the publisher could DO with that information could be terrible.

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  6. I had eight beta readers, seven for style and feeling, one for line edits. I can’t imagine opening that up to say 100. Just correlating those eight responses, deciding if they were applicable, making changes, fixing any continuity issues they caused, getting the new material reline edited….ugh. enough to drive me insane. I want to shrink my beta pool, if anything. LOL

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  7. I trust very few people with my writing, and I currently have two to four beta readers. When/if I get an agent and a publisher and an editor, that list will increase to 6-7. To me, that is sufficient information to correct any mistakes, fix continuity issues, and squelch any ignorance on my part in my writing. Anything more than that is excessive and unneeded. As someone mentioned above, there is such a thing as information overload. When you think about the outliers – people who hated the book and people who adored it for no reason – the rest would be too much to handle. I’d probably give up reading all the feedback. Small groups are best. The rest is up to market forces and the personality of the reader.

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