Kids as Beta Readers? huh.

So after a year of nagging, I broke down and wrote something my kids would enjoy. I read them the first draft, because let's face it, they're a little different then the audience I've targeted for the past fifteen or so years.

It wasn't my intention to turn them into Beta readers, they were just naturals. They gave me very honest feedback. Since I know their body language well-- perhaps too honest. All the shifts of boredom and rolling eyes sent me back to the drawing board with new energy. Plus, they know me very well, and were able to tell me how much it sucked without making me cry. Yay!

I came back and tried again.

Now, I'd like to say don't try this at home, because I almost feel like I should warn the writing world. Kids are blunt, and they will blurt out things that will leave you wondering whose children these are. But in the end, the benefits were too much! If you write for this audience try this at home-- go for it! If you don't have children, send your MS my way, I will pass it by my very honest children for you.

So what brilliant comments did they leave me with? These two were my favs, so I share them with you, even if they have no benefits whatsoever. You just can't make stuff like this up; (Keep in mind they're 11 and 6.)

"That's not where I'm getting my tattoo."     
"Why not? It's where I'm getting mine."

"Can I play Boysenberry when this is a movie?"
"Hey, I want to be the guy with the tattoos. No wait. I want to be the guy who flies."
"That is the guy with the tattoos. Pay attention or you won't get a part."

Ok, so I can't use those comments, but there were many I could use. They were quick to point out if things were unclear, repeated, boring, without action, or involved too much thinking... Yeah. They were very helpful in all the ways my usual Beta readers are. 

How did I go about it?
  • I read out loud, they raised their hand to interrupt. (So politely! This was their idea, mine was to leave them speechless-- no such luck.)
  • I recorded it to catch the chuckles, the gasps, the things I couldn't mark on the text.
  • We did this at draft one and five, and I plan to do it once more at draft 8 (what will hopefully be IT!) See me grin :)) They are excited about this final read. me too.
  • I had my notebook open and made changes as I read and as they gave me their suggestions. They got to see the magic in action. They liked that-- it made them feel like part of the process. They were impressed with the changes from draft one to five. Very impressed, but they made me change one thing back, and they were very firm about this so I agreed to it. So far, their change back has been a hit, so yay!

Have you ever had kids Beta read your work and how did that work out for you? Any tips?

20 comments:

Trisha said...

Well, that's just awesome! :D Your kids are cool. I'd be curious to see what they think of my "MG" novel because I've been told it's more adult than MG...but it's about a mouse detective and his rat colleague, and a big turkey, etc. lol. So yeah...when I'm ready to send it out to ANYONE, do you mind if I send it your way?? hehe

I don't have any kids but I do have a friend's kid I could "tap" I guess...

Richard said...

Does my wife count as a kid?

Tanya Reimer said...

Trisha, let us know when you're ready and they'll let you know. They love mice stories (HUGE Stilton fans!!)

Richard, lol, lol, HAHAHAHA. ok. I'm calm now. If she's young at heart, I guess she counts. LMAO. Where does she want her tattoo when she grows up?

Gina said...

If you want honesty, kids are your best bet! Just the fact that they mentioned playing a part in "the movie" means they can see it being one... which is good news for you!
Too cute.

brookerousseau said...

My son is reading my current wip (a chapter book), but he reads it alone, a couple of chapters at a time, and then tells me he hasn't read anything funny yet. He's completely killing my ego!

vbtremper said...

I tried your way with one of my MG mss, but I didn't get as much out of my son as you got from your kids. He kept wanting to read, night after night, but he gave away nothing. Getting any feedback was like pulling teeth. What's your secret?

Tanya Reimer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tanya Reimer said...

Gee Gina, you're right, that is a good sign I missed.

Brooke, you need to watch him closely, because he might not be on the floor laughing it up, but those little smirks... bingo!

Vicki, Vicki... you have to offer them a part in the movie and a tattoo. hehe. apparently.

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Do kids at heart count? ;-)

CherylAnne Ham said...

I love this post.

I read my son (he's 8) my query letter and he said, "It's good, but not like a real book." Well...okay, then. ROFL.

Autumn Shelley said...

No kids in my house. I always thought 'children' were some kind of life-sucking virus that I worked very hard at preventing!
With that being said, it sounds like you have two great little critiquers-in-training. I know other people read their stuff out loud. Reckon my dog would give me feedback?? ;)

Tanya Reimer said...

Oh Samantha, you know they do! See Richard on that one. hehe

CheryAnne, I just read mine the dedication I made to them, and it apparently wasn't good enough. huh. They're a tough bunch to please, eh?

Autumn, my St Bernard just gives me deep sighs that assume means "give up this writing gig and take me for a walk." so I quit turning to her for advice. Plus, when I'd pace in front of my notes, she'd think it was walk time, and her tail would get them all flying, and then! she'd drool all over them. Help I didn't need. hehe. But, hey... let me know how that works out for ya. hehe

Margo Berendsen said...

I need to try this, but it's going to take some courage! Recording it was a really good idea - I wouldn't have thought of that!

Rose Transpose said...

Sounds like a good process to me! I'm always hoping to find more people to read my works, especially when they're in my target audience.
- Cholisose

Philip Verghese'Ariel' said...

Very interesting piece, thanks for sharing this experience
Best regards
philip

Angela Ackerman said...

Oh my gosh, SO AWESOME. "Pay attention or you won't get the part!" ROTF on that one.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

cherie said...

Your kids are sooo cute! Wish my kids were old enough to be my beta readers. :)

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

What a cool thing to do with your kids. You've probably given them the writing bug! For one last revision you should read it to a class. Then you'll get a really diverse response typical of the target age group. I did that for a book, and it was really helpful.

J.L. Campbell said...

Tanya,

Your kids sound a lot more patient and polite that the one I have. I tried out the first chapter of a YA novel on my 10 y/o and couldn't get him to read it a second time. Not even if I begged. Maybe if I'd offered to read it to him. :) It's a great way to test your work. You have a ready made audience in your kids.

Jenny said...

I write for YA so naturally, I had my 16 year old son read my YA fantasy novel. He ripped it apart. I hugged him, went back to the drawing board and re-wrote it...4 times. :-)

When he came back saying how much he liked it, I asked if he had any friends his age that ready YA fantasy. I got up a little reading group of teens and let them have at it. Went back to the drawing board two more times. It's now with a publisher who came back with questions of clarification. (not a rejection - thank goodness).

Would I pass my novel off to more teens for reviews? You betcha and I plan to. Who else but your target audience to be your beta readers. I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.