I like to involve Tweens in my writing process. One of my favorite ways to do this is to recruit a handful as beta readers. Not my only beta readers, mind you. I still want seasoned adult writers to take a look and make sure my story is well constructed. Then my editor is my final line of defense. But Tweens provide a unique point of view. After all, they are my target audience.
How do I find them? Easy! There is a school with several hundred Tweens just down the road. I march inside and start asking teachers if they have any students who might be interested in reading an ARC and offering feedback before the book hits Amazon. The answer has always been a resounding YES! You could try asking teachers online, too. There are a thousand ways to make connections through social media.
So what specific things do I ask of Tweens when they beta read for me? I have them look for the basics: typos, spelling, homophones, etc. More importantly, I ask them to make sure everything works. Were there any jokes you didn’t get? Did the characters strike you as authentic or too stereotypical? Were there any questions left unanswered? Could I make any better vocab choices? I welcome all such comments and suggestions.
I have done this several times now, and the feedback has been terrific. It’s a unique opportunity for kids to experience the writing process with a real live author. And it’s a great way for teachers to help kids get excited about reading and writing.
So, what works and doesn’t work? Here are some tips based on my experience:
- Don’t engage an entire class unless you want to wade through 25-30 responses. A whole class broken into small groups works okay, but it’s still nicer to engage with only 5 or 6 kids. Ask for high readers who might like a special project.
- Make sure everyone involved gets a copy. This does get expensive if you engage a whole class, but in the one case where a teacher wanted everyone involved, I made paperbacks available at cost.
- This does not work as well with sequels. I tried it with my second Taylor Davis book. I had to supply book one, and we lost momentum while the kids read through it. Try asking your original beta readers if you can email them when the next book is ready.
- Do ask for reviews, but don’t expect them. In my case, the teachers have never followed through on this. They simply have too much to do.
There have been a few drawbacks, but for the most part, engaging Tweens as beta readers has been a wonderful experience. Who better to supply feedback than the audience for whom the book is intended? Fellow writers, you might want to consider such a venture when you plan your next book. And teachers, don’t be afraid to approach authors. The ones I know would be thrilled with such a suggestion. It really is a win-win situation.
Michelle Isenhoff writes adventures for kids up to age 79 (so far). She’s the author of the popular Divided Decade Trilogy and the humorous Taylor Davis series. Her newest book, number two of the critically acclaimed Mountain Trilogy, releases soon!