Sunday, December 05, 2004

Testing your Story's Popularity Potential

 14 Cats in a square box by StuffedKittie

Testing your Story's Popularity Potential!
Legal Cheating: Test Readers
AKA: Beta-Readers

So, you wanna know if your story has what it takes to thrill and interest your readers? Believe it or not, this is easier to do than you might think.

BEFORE the publisher gets their hot little hands on your glorious tale, get your hands on a few Readers and have then Test-Read your stuff.

Who do you get?

Not proof-readers and NOT line editors!
I have a hard-core line editor and he only gets the book when it's COMPLETED. I never do typo or grammar checking until the very end. Stopping for grammar kills my creative momentum. As it is, I rewrite so much, that by the time they tell me I have a typo or repeated something, I've probably already corrected it or moved it.

Spouses are either too critical or not critical enough.

AVOID Critique Groups. (Unless you KNOW the people involved.)
They are your Direct Competition and it is in Their best interest to cut you down and discourage you. Especially if you're good. Make darn sure that the people critiquing your work are worthy of your TRUST!

You want Fans.
People who already like your stuff. Fans will be gentle in their disparaging remarks and quick to praise.

Your best test audience is SIX bodies: three female, three male.

Guys like ACTION ~ Girls like EMOTION
Everybody likes a Smart-Ass, so practice your witty repartee!

You want to know if they Liked it, if it Worked, if they enjoyed the world you created... You want an Audience Opinion, not a Critic's opinion, not an Editor's opinion, but a Potential BUYER's opinion. What you need from your Readers is a taste-test

Have you hugged your
Beta Reader today?
Anyone who writes with the intent to be read by the public, from the brand-name published authors to the fan-fiction scribbler, will tell you that a good Beta Reader is worth their weight in GOLD. 

So, what is a Beta Reader really for

Most Beta Readers look for obvious grammar boo-boos and glaring spelling errors, but the really good ones look at your story as a whole and tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are so you can adjust them. 

These are what I ask MY Beta Readers to check.

The Reader's Taste-Test
Popularity Potential Questionnaire
Whether you’re a Writer looking to check your work or a Beta Reader who wants to point out a few things to your favorite writer, feel free to borrow, spindle, and mutilate this list of questions to your heart’s desire.
Is it BORING? 
  • Does any part of the story Drag?
  • Are their parts that you skipped to get to ‘the good part’?
  • Do I over-inform (info-dump) anywhere?
Fan-Fiction Writers:
  • If someone unfamiliar with this Fandom read this, have I explained enough for them to understand everything that's happening in that scene?  
Did you GET IT?
  • Did you understand every phrase / term I used?
  • Did I forget to mention that someone was demon-possessed, half angelic, or had mystical powers?
Did it WORK?
  • Did it make you laugh?
  • Did it make you cry?
  • Did it scare you where it was supposed to scare you?
Love Scenes?
  • Do any of the love scenes seem overly cliché? (Or overly sappy?)
  • Were the love scenes too fast, too slow, or too frequent? 
  • Did you have to reread any part of the love scenes to understand who was doing what?
  • Did any action in the love scene make you cringe? 
  • Did it make you hot? 
Do the scenes FLOW?
  • Does one scene lead logically into the next?
  • Do the scenes flow smoothly from one action sequence to the next, or did they jump as though something was skipped? 
  • Is there enough downtime between intense scenes to allow it to build to the next?
  • Were the Flashbacks smoothly integrated to fit onto the current scene, or did they seem plopped in, like a chapter that was in the wrong place?  
  • Is there enough down-time between intense scenes to allow it to build to the next?
  • Does any part of it make you cringe in a Bad way?
  • Have I crossed the Comfort-Zone line?
Is anything VISUALLY Confusing?
  • Can you SEE every action clearly?
  • If you went there in real life, would you recognize the locations?
  • Did you have to reread any part of the action sequences to understand who was doing what? 
  • Could you SEE what the characters looked like clearly? 
  • Did I forget to describe their Clothes, their Hair, their Eyes, or any other distinctive feature?
  • Was I smart enough NOT to use grade student descriptions such as: "She was five-foot, seven with double-D breasts"?
Fan-Fiction Writers:
  • Could someone who was Not familiar with the fandom SEE what the characters looked like clearly?
During DIALOGUE scenes…
  • Does the Dialogue sound realistic for the individual characters?
  • Could you SEE what the characters were DOING while talking?
  • Could you SEE where the characters WERE while talking? 
Did the Characters WORK?
  • Do their actions & reactions seem logical & realistic?
  • Could you feel the Emotions between the characters?
  • Does the story stay focused on my Main Character?
  • Is the villain actually Villainous?
  • Were any of my female characters too much of a b!tch or a bimbo?
  • Were any of my male characters whiny, wimpy, or overly dramatic?
  • Who did you like best and WHY?
  • Who did you hate and WHY?
  • Who got on your nerves and WHY?
  • Do any of the characters get in the way of the STORY?
Fan-Fiction Writers:
  • Did the characters seem In Character? 
  • Would Original characters have worked better for this story?
The answers to these BURNING questions will keep your fiction crisp, focused and Popular. If your test readers liked it then loads of other people will too. 

(I still think that if George Lucas had used a few fans for test readers - the scenes with Aniken as a child would have been much shorter - and made more sense, Jar Jar Binks would never have appeared, the romance would have been well, a Romance, and the clone war would have been well, a Clone War. But that just MY opinion... )

Morgan Hawke


  1. You have gained a not so humble student.

    I got a chuckle having stumbled on this today.

    I’ve recently refused to join critique groups and have caught a lot of flack from it but honestly I've tried before and the attempt to keep up with my own work as well as ploughing through posted material, leaving meaningful feedback for five to ten people got to be counter-productive. I spent more time on other people's stuff than my own.

    I also got a lot of "You're such a talented writer. Why waste it on such meaningless dribble?" (Erotica, SciFi, Fantasy and Horror.) My response "Because that’s way my brain works, you vanilla shmuck?"

    I mean honestly. I never once arched a brow at another wirter’s damsel in distress managing to remain a virgin from Chapter one to the Epilogue, while in the company of ‘her dashing rogue’ of a pirate kidnapper who eats virgins for as snack food yet cannot bring himself to soil her virtue unless he give up his wicked ways, becomes a Christian and then marries her.

    Okay so I did arch a brow. But only while no one was looking.

    So I decided this time on a more selfish approach. To create a group test beta-ing my own writing ... I thought I might be insane until I read your suggestion here today. Kinda like having a sign from heaven. Ha-ha.

    And I have a request?

    Wondered if I could borrow your The Reader's Taste-Test
    Popularity Potential Questionairre as questionnaire for my own readers ...

    Claudia G

  2. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I find this very informative and I too would like to use your questionairre for potential readers, if that's ok with you, let me know. I'm now a 'fan'!