Exploring the World of Beta and Sensitivity Reading with Julie Taylor from The Spun Yarn

Exploring the World of Beta and Sensitivity Reading with Julie Taylor from The Spun Yarn

You’ve finished your draft and now you want to work with beta readers to get some feedback on your story, but where do you find them? 

In this episode of the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast, I’m sitting down with the COO of The Spun Yarn, Julie Taylor, to talk about their beta reading and sensitivity reading services for authors. 

You’re going to hear more about the specific services they offer throughout this episode, but I want to give a little spoiler first—the feedback report The Spun Yarn provides when you use their beta reading service is AMAZING! You can view a sample of their feedback report on their website, and I highly encourage you to go check it out. 

You might even want to take a glance at it as Julie and I talk through how the report works because we literally go through it page by page and talk about the kinds of questions readers are asking at different points in a manuscript. 

Now, without further ado, here’s the transcript of my conversation with Julie Taylor where we discuss The Spun Yarn’s beta reading and sensitivity reading services.


Transcript: Exploring the World of Beta and Sensitivity Reading with Julie Taylor from The Spun Yarn

SAVANNAH: Hi, Julie! Thank you so much for coming on the show today—I'm super excited to talk about The Spun Yarn and the services you offer, so thank you so much for being here. 

JULIE:  Thanks, Savannah! I'm really excited. I'm so glad we were able to connect!

SAVANNAH: Sure and like I mentioned in the intro, julie was one of the very first beta readers that worked at The Spun Yarn years and years ago, and now she's the COO of the company, which is amazing, congratulations! But I want to let you introduce yourself in your own words too, Julie, so tell us a little bit about you and kind of how you came into this world of beta reading and working for The Spun Yarn. 

JULIE: Sure, I've always loved to read. That was just my thing, and in the back of my mind as a kid I was like… “oh, I'd love to get paid to read for people!” You know? Because I would go through and think of things even at a young age that could be done differently, or just ideas I had. And one of my friends actually said, “You know, my stepmom is working for this brand new company called The Spun Yarn and it's beta reading…” So I put in an application and then I heard back pretty quick. I was looking at my email the other day and it was from Sean and Jay and it said, “We're starting this new pilot program…” So it was so exciting to be in on the ground floor kind of thing. And from there I just, you know, kept in contact with them. I would ask, “What else can I do to help?” I really want to see this company succeed because it's fantastic. It's a fantastic resource for so many authors out there. And so eventually I became the reader coordinator, where I hired the readers. Then I started working with the authors more, and that's how I came to be in this position. I also work with not really marketing, but kind of getting in touch with people and letting them know what we offer. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, I feel like you kind of do a little bit of all the things right? You have your hand in everything. 

JULIE: Yeah!

SAVANNAH: That's awesome! And I was going to say that there's not a lot of services out there like this. It's like you kind of find… if you're looking for a beta reader, it's like you're either going to Facebook groups or you're like scouring the internet for things and then who knows what you'll come up with. Or you're asking like mom, dad, brother, sister, neighbor, whatever, to read your book. So, it's a very cool service and I'm very excited to introduce my audience to it today. 

JULIE: Awesome. Yeah, I was talking to my editor the other day and she was saying that there's like a few other companies but they don't offer the extent of what we do with our long reports and our quick turnaround time and things like that. So, we've had authors come to us and say, “You guys are the first ones to offer this extensive kind of service that we need!”

SAVANNAH: Right! And so, speaking of that… Tell me, for anyone who's not familiar with The Spun Yarn, tell them a little bit about what The Spun Yarn is, what they do, and things like that. I mean, we kind of hinted at it, right?

JULIE: So, we're a beta reading company and what we do is, when an author puts in a report, I will handpick three readers based on what the author has said in their survey. It could be very specific or they could just want women's fiction readers, they might want people from different parts of the country. So, I have a database of readers that I've personally hired and I know them all pretty well. So, we do that and then the author just gives us their manuscript. We send it to the readers. They have three weeks unless it's a special report to put in their feedback, and then the report goes to our editor and she curates it along with some tips and other notes you know what she's gathered from reading and then sends it back to the author within 30 days. 

SAVANNAH: That's so cool. And so you said you have a database of readers and I have had a behind the scenes look at some of this stuff, in the sense that a lot of the writers I work with have used The Spun Yarn services, so I'm going to ask a question about that. You have readers in your database that are like… “I went to school and majored in 18th century European pottery,” right? Things like that?

JULIE: Yes, yeah, we in our application process we ask them for any of their lived experiences, any of their jobs, whether they're an ally, all kinds of questions. It's a pretty extensive application and sometimes I ask other questions as well. Like, we've had an author who really wanted someone in the foster care system, either as a judge, a foster parent or someone who went through the system, and I was able to get that information just from some of the questions that people would ask. And sometimes I will put out an email to all my readers saying, “Hey, we want someone who's lived in Zimbabwe and worked as a teacher,” and a lot of times we get back that answer, “That was me!” Or, “I lived in Nigeria, would that help?” That kind of thing. So, the process is pretty thorough. And it's really fun finding all these different things about the readers as well. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I'm imagining that if I'm a writer… Let's say I'm writing a story and my protagonist is in the military, or if they're a cop or you know they speak Russian, you might have people in your database that have insight into those various things. 

JULIE: Exactly. A lot of times we'll have a military spouse or someone that was retired from the military, because we have readers as young as 10 all the way up to their 70s, and so we have quite a wide range of readers. And sometimes an author will contact me if it's pretty specific, like to the T, and you know I'll say give me a little bit of time and I'll see what I can come up with. And then, if I don't have that exact thing, I can say, well, this is what we have... And a lot of times they're like okay, I just wanted someone who has been in Iran for some sort of timeframe. They don't have to have been in there in the 20s, for example. So we work with the authors in that fashion.

SAVANNAH: That's awesome. And a writer can say that they’re looking for somebody who is an ally or a sensitivity reader in this or that regard when they fill out the application, right?

JULIE: Right, they can put that in there. In their survey we ask them what type of readers they're looking for and, like I said, sometimes they just want science fiction readers. Sometimes they'll say I definitely want one man and at least two women. Or I want women between this age and this age. And then, if it's a sensitivity report, usually they'll send me an email as an initial inquiry. Because there are sensitivity reports we charge a bit more for because we have those readers really hone in on certain things. For example, we had an author who wrote a story from a Native American point of view and they were not Native American and they wanted to make sure they were sensitive to the culture and to what was actually going on in that time. So I was able to work with them in that way as well. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, that's really cool. So it's a little more expensive because it takes a little more time to match and there's a little more specialty that goes into specialty and attention that goes into the report.

JULIE: Right. Like they will still answer our basic report, but then if it's an ally, for example they'll say can you please concentrate on chapter this, this and this? Or they might even have additional questions for that reader. Sometimes they want every reader to be that way, sometimes they only want one or two, and then other people just fill out the report as just a reader. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and not to get too far ahead, because I'm gonna ask you about this later but I know that readers can, or writers can, also pay for additional questions. So if let's say it's like I'm signing up to work with you and then there's six specific questions I wanna ask my beta readers, I can add that to my report, which is awesome.

JULIE: Absolutely. Yeah, it comes with two questions, but there's an option to purchase additional questions. 

SAVANNAH: Right, and so I've, like I said earlier, I've seen kind of behind the scenes where one of the writers I work with, she didn’t really know who to ask for, so I'm just gonna put in my information and see who they match me with. And she was so happy! She's like, “Oh my gosh, they picked perfect readers for me! I feel so good about this!” You know the matchup when she was not even specific. So I think you guys do a great job of matching readers with writers.

JULIE: I love to hear that! And yeah, sometimes, if it's pretty vague, I'll reach out to the author and say, “Would you like them to be all the same age? Or different parts of the country?” Because sometimes, like you said, they don't know, and then asking them the questions they might be like, “You know what, this does take place in the desert. Do you have anyone in Arizona or near Joshua Tree?” And things like that.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, it's good that you guys are so conscious about that, because I was just talking to somebody yesterday about how they put their book on NetGalley and they had a bunch of random readers respond. So this person writes sci-fi and she was like, “Yeah, I had people that don't even read sci-fi that were volunteering to read my book and then giving me bad reviews because it's sci-fi.” So it's great that you guys, you know, specify and kind of get into that perfect matching system, cause otherwise the feedback could not be helpful.

JULIE: Absolutely. We have one reader who specifically does not want to read westerns at all, even if it's a woman's fiction, western. So I have on there, “No Westerns!” You know, some readers have certain triggers and we're always respectful of that. I don't like to read science fiction and fantasy because I find the word building and all the different places a little confusing to me, so I'm not the best reader for those stories. That’s not one of the things I do, but we have a tremendous amount of people who love that sort of genre, so we're never short on readers for that. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and that's usually the majority of the writers I work with too, so I know you guys have no shortage, cause we have all found matches. But yeah, it's the same thing with editors. I always tell people, especially when you're writing something that you know like horror, if you have something super scary, you might have a hard time—in a good way and a bad way—finding an editor or a beta reader, cause you really do want that person who's interested. But that could or could not limit who you get on the opposite side of that. So it's kind of fun how that's like similar and different. And we're going to talk about beta readers and developmental editors in a second. But can you give us kind of a quick overview of the different services you guys offer? 

JULIE: Yes, so we have several different services. We have a standard report, which is the complete manuscript report, which is a 30 page report with a 30 day turnaround time. You can also have that same report, but a rush job. We have specific readers who can read it in 10 days and it's more expensive because of the quick turnaround. We have sensitivity reports, which we spoke about earlier, and we also have a smart start, which is the first 25,000 words of a manuscript. A lot of times, an author's just like, “I don't even know if I'm going in the right direction. So, before I finish and pour my life into this, let me give you this first bit to get some feedback.” And so the questions are a little different. One of the big questions we ask with that is, “Would you keep reading this?” And I've had some readers be like, “Please, please, pick me when they finish this book!” And that really boosts the author a lot, I love it. Sometimes it's like it needs a lot of work, and we also have done short stories and screenplays. We've also done some reports with parent and child—we had a little program for that. And so, even if it's not specifically listed, Lauren and I are constantly working on new ways to reach authors who might not be writing just specifically 300 pages of fiction.

SAVANNAH: Right. And you mentioned, I think, in one of our emails or on our notes, that you have people in your database who just do screenplays, right? 

JULIE: Yes, so, they have experience. They do other things, but their experience is with screenplays. They’ve gone to college for it. They are screenwriters themselves. We did that a couple of years ago because we had gotten some interest from some writers so we went ahead and put it out there to our readers and they were like, “Oh, I would love to read it because I actually write them myself. I actually took these courses in college.” So, yes, we do have that. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and it's so funny because I haven't looked into this but I get a lot of requests about screenplays as well, and it's not something I specialize in, but I tell people, “The only thing I can do is give you feedback on the story and those types of things, but it's not necessarily screenplay specific.” So I'm always sending people your way like, “Hey, they have people that can do that for you!” Which is great. Okay. So we're gonna get into a lot more detail about those different services, kind of as we go. But I think one of the big questions people will have is… When do I need this? Why is it different from an editor? Do I need both? Why can't I just use my friends and family? What are your thoughts on all that? 

JULIE: We've had people come to us saying I've had my friends read it, but I really want someone who's not biased. So what we're offering is it's not just your friend reading it and a lot of times they'll just be like, “It was okay. It was great!” They don't want to hurt your feelings and they don't give you the kind of feedback I feel that we do. Like, our report asks specific questions to get to an author’s blind spot and their best qualities, you know? And so when you're talking about using just friends and family, you're just getting a basic oh, you know, when you show your friend a picture, all that artwork is nice. You're not getting a true critique of what should be used to improve and so forth. And developmental editors, same thing. I think like we're the step before that kind of thing. So we're the people where that person would pick up your book from the shelf and read it. It doesn't matter if a publisher or developmental editor thinks it's fantastic. If you're not reaching the public with your storyline, with your protagonist, with your character arcs, then it's just going to sit on the shelf. It can be written fantastically. So I think having us in advance before you take it there and that's also something you can say to a publisher. It's scored like this in my beta reading report this, that and the other. Are there other things I need to improve? 

SAVANNAH: Yeah. So, going back to the friends and family, you said either you get like usually you get a glowing review of like oh yeah, cool, great, good job for you. You wrote a book. I've seen it go like that. I've also seen it kind of go the negative side, where people are like this doesn't work, like I don't like this, you should maybe get a real job or whatever they're going to say, but either way that's not helpful because it's too vague, too general, right. And most people, if they're not in the writing or reading space, they don't know how to say why something doesn't work. So if you're especially sensitive to feedback, you hear something like yeah, I didn't like it. And then you're like I can't be a writer, I give up. You know where it's like no, you just need... Maybe it's like one thing that didn't work and the person doesn't know how to tell you that. So that's why I'm kind of in the same boat as you. I don't recommend ever using friends and family unless there's someone who's also in your world writing a book with the same cares and all that. And so, speaking from the developmental editor side of it, I actually send people either to you guys before or after we work together. And it kind of depends on what their manuscript is like. So let's say, because I also coach writers from zero to finished draft. So let's say in that scenario we've kind of gone through a pressure tested outline, the first draft is written, we feel good about it, but we know there are some things to work out before diving into the next round. We might say let's go work with The Spun Yarn, see what they say. Then we'll take their feedback, what we already know we want to change as well and give it another go so that then that draft, that second draft, can be even stronger. And sometimes I don't know if you've seen this on your end, but I always tell the authors I'm like just put in there like it's a first draft, or we know there are issues and they'll be fine with it. 

JULIE: We do have that. Sometimes. I have been asked you know, “Does this need to be ready to publish?” Yeah, and our only thing is, if you've gone over it and you're writing over the top of it with red pen and some of your stuff is in blue and right and it's written like your very first thoughts, where we can't even decipher, with some of the misspellings and stuff, then we can't give the feedback on the content as we could. So a first draft is totally fine and we only tell our readers not to concentrate on the punctuation and the grammar and the sentence structures. We have one question at the very end about that. So, unless it is so distracting, like if each person's name is spelled five different ways every time, it makes it hard for them to give the feedback. And I wanted to go back real quick with the difference between maybe other beta reading companies and with having friends and family… We have specific questions to ask and answer at each quarter that really gets them thinking about specific things they like or don't like. Questions that are unanswered and so forth. So I think that's also a difference when you have someone just read it and say, “What do you think?” That’s different than a specific question like when you were saying the authors can ask their own questions. For example, “Is Sally's character arc complete enough, or what can I do to complete her arc a bit better in the story?”

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so I think that's a good point too. It's interesting what you said about not having blue and red ink on the draft… Don’t give us this thing that’s not complete. So it's kind of like you're going to get the quality of feedback that you give the quality of the draft it's going to match. So if your readers can't read through it, there's only so much they can do. But the thing that I always tell people is like we don't just want to send The Spun Yarn a mess of words. We want it to be as far as you can take it, or as far as we can take it, even if we know there's things that are going to change. It's just like we want to know: does this work? Is it interesting? Because otherwise we need to fix the foundation before we go and do too many other things—and we've always been able to get that answer from your services, which is great. The other thing I wanted to point out because as a developmental editor, I know I hear this a lot that not everybody can afford to work with a developmental editor right away, and also there's a real thing about wait time. So like I have a wait list, right now I'm not even taking people. It's September. I'm not even opening that until 2024. So you guys don't have that. You're a lower cost, which is really great for a lot of people. Do you find that to be the case? I mean, I'm sure people are so excited. They're like look at these prices! These are amazing. We can afford this!

JULIE: Right. Sometimes we have writers who are on a really tight budget and we do offer your podcast listeners a discount and so forth. But that’s why the smart start is a really good thing. If it's a brand new writer who has no idea, you know, it's a very reasonable price. I mean, they all are, but this is really just if they're getting their feet wet. And the other thing, when you're saying we don't have a long wait time because of our pool of readers. Now there was an author who we've worked with for years and she wanted specific readers for that she's had before, for her sequel, and she only wanted those readers. And I was like, I just want to let you know two out of three of them are currently finishing a manuscript, so it's going to be about two weeks. You know, that kind of thing isn't unheard of and you know, especially if there's a sensitivity read for, let's say, a Native American or an indigenous person, and that person or people are all reading, then I just let them know. But as it is now, that's only happened like once. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and in general, like you said, it's 30 days. You can pay for anything to be quicker, but I did want to point that out. So you said the smart start is how many pages?

JULIE: I believe it's 16 pages, and our turnaround with that is three weeks. The readers have two weeks to read the manuscript.

SAVANNAH: And so I just want to at the time of this recording that's $199, right?

JULIE: Correct, yeah.

SAVANNAH: I like to say at the time of this recording, because who knows that could change in the future, but at this time it's $199, which is a great deal for that type of service. And then just going up to the complete manuscript report. So this is how many words is that up to, or what's the average? 

JULIE: It's up to 99,000. And then after that they can get a supersize report, which is a little bit more. Most manuscripts are between 70,000-80,000 words I would say.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, so that's the complete manuscript report. And at the time of the recording that one's at $499. So again, an amazing deal for that. I was telling Julie before we started recording that I've had many writers go through the complete manuscript report process for the $499 and not one of them have ever been like, “ooh, I wasn't sure about what I got for the price.” Every single one of them was like, “That was amazing! I would have paid more for it!” Everybody has been so happy with the feedback and I want to get into that a little bit right now so we can talk about, kind of, you know, what could these writers expect? So you said we don't have to be finished with a, I mean, totally polished draft to send through. We can send through things that have spelling issues, as long as it's not crazy, I mean, even if it is right, it's okay. We want to send a draft, not an outline. 

JULIE: Yes, we don't want your very first thoughts, because that's not really a story.

SAVANNAH: I was saying earlier I send some writers your way when we've kind of gone through the coaching process. So when I say that for anyone that's listening, we've heavily vetted their outline. So the draft they're producing is more like a second or third draft even if there are inconsistencies and spelling errors, the logic of the story is usually there. So that's kind of, I think, more what you're saying you want... You want something that at least you have tried to make into a story, right?

JULIE: Yes. And honestly we've done hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts, and maybe one time I think an author had had some parts in a different color and a couple of the readers said it was a little distracting. Yeah, but I honestly believe they just forgot and they just sent it in. We haven't ever had one when it was just like we have no idea what we're reading. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I'll say the same thing, because I know so many people are worried about this, whether it's beta readers or editors that they're working with a developmental editor. I should say what we're looking for again is like: does this work? So no matter if you're working with The Spun Yarn or with me or another developmental editor, we just want to help you make it work. So don't feel like you have to wait eight months to copy edit it and, like you know, seriously proof it through Grammarly or the Hemingway App or anything like that.

JULIE: Right.

SAVANNAH: So that's kind of the requirements for sending it through. For the complete manuscript or the supersize one, it should be done, or done enough, like a complete story. For the smart start, it can be just the beginning pages. Ad so let's just zoom in on the complete manuscript report, because you said that's the one that most people go for, right?

JULIE: Correct.

SAVANNAH: Okay, so I listeners won't be able to see this, but if you guys want, as you're listening, you can go to The Spun Yarns website. I'll put the link in the show notes and you can pull up a sample, because they have that on their website and you can kind of follow along if you want, because we're just going to talk through kind of the categories. So, on the first couple pages, it's just like here's what to expect, here are the three readers that we've matched with you. We get some information like their age, where they're from, their gender or how they identify, and then the genres they like to read. Right, anything to add here? Julie? 

JULIE: We do give them an alias just to protect everyone and we take the author's name off of any information they get because I have found that there are people—authors and things—who could actually be my neighbors, you know? So, we give them an alias. The only time they get their complete name is… Sometimes authors want to thank them when they publish their book or they want to send them a copy of the book, and then I make sure it's okay with the readers and then they'll get their full names. But for right now I make up an alias, but their gender identification, their age, their genre, I mean they'll usually put down five or six genres and then you know we pick their top three and their location are all true. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and this I wanted to call this part out because it's kind of important just to see where some of the stuff is coming from. So, for example, I was working with a writer recently and we had gone through this process and we were going over the feedback. She sent the draft to you guys, you were working on it. She went back and did a read through of her own draft, taking notes, and then, once we got all the stuff back, we met and we're like okay, now what do we want to do? And we were walking through the feedback and this writer had written a story in the… It was the 50s, 60s and 70s and we noticed in the feedback, it was really interesting because one of the younger readers had issues with some things that were more time period sensitive, and so we were like… You know, in a way you might look at that and be like, oh my gosh, they just don't get it because they're so young! They were in their 30s, I think. So grain of salt there, but you know, but it was also really cool because we're like but we do want people in their 30s and their 20s to read this. So it was great that that made us aware of, you know, had we not had that information, we might have said like, oh, this person just didn't really like it or maybe they didn't really get it, right? But it was really cool to be able to identify, like, why they might have felt the way they did or why they didn't understand some things. 

JULIE: I think that's a really good point. And sometimes certain readers like contemporary stories, but they also really love history, so in a timeline they might be like… I've seen readers say the Rubik's Cube wasn't invented until 10 years later. So if you're trying to be really accurate, like little things like that and as I was saying before, we have very young readers for when certain writers ask for young readers and they tend to really hone in exactly on the story. They're not really concerned about the plot and the dialogue, like they just want the meat. So when we have young readers with older readers, it's really interesting getting this wide range and if they're trying to market to very young readers, that's what they need. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so I think it's really cool to see, like no matter, I guess, no matter what type of story you're writing it's, I always like to pause here and go OK, let's see who this pool of three readers are and let's like get to know them a little bit, even though we don't have their real names, that's fine. So anyway, I love to geek out on that. That's the first kind of dip into this report. And then there's a nice little note that just says here's what to expect, here's what we've done. And then we get into part one, which is titled Flash Feedback, and this is kind of at those big moments in time in the story. What are readers thinking, what are they questioning? Things like that, right?

JULIE: I was going to say we have that for the first three quarters, we ask the same four questions because it really gets them thinking about the base of the story. Are you understanding what's going on? What are you loving? What are you not loving? Is there something you really don't like? And if all three readers say, “This character really needs a little bit of work,” which does happen, then you know. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and it's really funny because sometimes writers will ask me, like I've been working with you, why do I need beta readers? And I'm like, because at some point I can't see things in your story either if we've been working together for a year and a half. So I love these check-ins because it's kind of like… Oh yeah, we didn't even think of that, you know? And that's what the beta readers highlight. 

JULIE: And also, to that point, having three different readers... Like I was saying, we could have them from all over the country, all different ages. And, before I forget, it's a little off topic, but we also have something called an expert reader report that we haven't put on our website yet. After someone goes through a beta reader, they might want one specific reader to go through and do what I was saying before just take notes. Not even really answer questions, just take notes. But that's an aside. 

SAVANNAH: That's cool!

JULIE: So, I think having the three different readers is different than having a developmental editor or copy editor because you're only one person. And one person doesn't like every single genre, right? So getting different viewpoints is also important. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and from my perspective too, if I'm working with a writer, let's say, like me and this writer might love a side character…. And this did happen in real life recently… We loved this side character. And then we had the book go to beta readers and all three of them were like… This girl's coming off really harsh and we don't love her. So, we had to sit back and say, ok, well, what's going on? Because we love her, you guys don't love her. And we realized that we understood who she was meant to be, but that wasn't on the page. So they couldn't see that. And we were like, all right, we need to blend what we want her to be and who she is a little better. So sometimes even editors have what I call that “burden of knowledge.” We know about your story because we've been working with you and it's hard to see what other people would pick up. So that's why I am a big fan. Ok, so I'm just going to read through these questions very quickly. Remember, Julie said this is at every quarter of your book. So a quarter way through, halfway through and three quarters of the way through. So readers get asked, What's your impression of the book so far? What's one thing you really like about the book so far? And what's one thing you don't like about it so far? And then do you have any unanswered questions?I think these questions are cool because you can tell like I'm just thinking of the most recent report I've read from a client you can tell when they're asking questions they're supposed to be asking, which is good, and then when they're asking questions because they don't get something. Or they're like I don't like this, and you're like, ooh, we didn't want that to happen. So it's a great thing to have a check in at the first three quarters. And I’m looking at this sample report now, sometimes there are no unanswered questions besides the ones mentioned and expected ones. 

JULIE: Yes. I mean, obviously we want to know whodunnit in a mystery, right? But that's you know, they don't want to know that right away, so it's just an unanswered question. But another one on here says, I don't know why this character is in this place. Like, I need to know. Maybe we'll find out later, but right now I don't know. And a lot of times in the next quarters it's like oh, now I figured it out or it's me that didn’t understand something. But if it's not made clear all the way to the end, they're like I still don't understand the character's motivation for being in that, and ideally, because I've seen a few of these now ideally it's like we want there to be a lot of questions in the beginning that are supposed to be there and then, as the story goes, we either want them to be asking new questions or kind of a mix of new and the core question. So it's really, really fun to see how the reader is progressing through your story and it's not like they're reading the whole thing and then coming back and answering these. They're answering them in real time. 

SAVANNAH: Right. Which is awesome, okay. So that's kind of the first part and, like Julie said, we do that at the halfway point, we do it at the three quarter of the way point, and then we talk about the ending specifically. And so the questions here are kind of similar. What did you think at the end? What did you like? What didn’t you like? And then how could the author improve the ending? Which is great. So similar questions, but different because they're focused on kind of wrapping things up.

JULIE: Exactly. 

SAVANNAH: So that's part one, which I literally will geek out over this so much when a writer sends this to me. And then part two is more of the qualitative feedback. So part one was we call it quantitative or flash feedback, and then we have qualitative feedback. So tell me a little bit about this section. 

JULIE: That's going to go more into things like… What are the author's greatest strengths? What are the blind spots? It's really getting into the real nitty gritty. What parts need the most improvement? So, like you said, we're wrapping it up, we're getting real specific, like, hey, the author is able to take a setting and bring it to life. There's been some books I've read where I was there, I could smell everything, I could see everything and I could even feel the weather and another thing it might be like, but their character development was a little bit… I didn't understand their motivations, kind of thing, right? So when we get into that part, it's really getting into... This is how I felt about the whole thing and this is where it might need to go from there. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I like this part for two reasons. One is that when people think they're going to get feedback, sometimes they think it's all going to be negative, and that's not true. Whether you're working with a quality beta reader or a quality editor you should be getting feedback on what you're also doing well. And I tell people it's kind of like you're doing this well, so you don't really need to worry about it, just keep doing what you're doing. And so that's what this part also does, is it says, hey, this is working, you're doing this well. This is the stuff I still have questions about, or I don't understand. 

JULIE: Right and we train our readers. We send them lots of information when they get hired. We want to give honest feedback, but we need to give kind, actionable feedback. Yes, you can be honest while still being kind, and you also need to give suggestions on, you know, maybe you need to get these two characters together earlier in the book so we understand their motivations. That kind of thing. Not just like… This book isn't good. It doesn't help anybody. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I've told people too, like, even if let's say you're beta reading for somebody else and you give feedback that's like this isn't working, here's why I think it's not working… It's okay to not be right in what you're saying. It’s just like… This is what I don't understand, and this is the only assumption I can come up with, which still tells us a lot, right? 

JULIE: So I do say at the end that you know you take what you want from this report. This doesn't mean you have to do this, or it's never going to sell, or anything like that. These are different opinions and we really try to highlight the fact that if every reader is saying the same thing, that's probably the thing you need to look at the most. If every reader loves the setting, don't change it. Don't change a thing about it. That kind of thing. It's so funny because I'll see little themes through certain readers' feedback where I'm like, oh, this person might just not be a cat person, you know? Or something very random like that, where I'm like, all right, that's a grain of salt thing. But otherwise they've offered amazing feedback. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, you can definitely tell that you guys have trained these readers to give actionable feedback, which, again, is not what writers will get from friends and family ever. I shouldn't say ever, but 99% of the time. So this part is also where we can have our specific questions answered. So in the example report I have up that we're looking at… Again, that listeners can't see. But the question this author wanted to know was: What about this book would make you purchase it? So it was kind of like what draws you to this book? That was her specific question, and she also asked what would you like to see more or less of which you know it's nice to ask these open ended questions, and these are two that she specifically wanted answers to. So this is also where those questions come in. And then after that we have part three, which, like all of these, are my favorite parts. I'm going to say that about everything, but I like looking at this because it comes with little pie charts and this is the quantitative feedback. So talk to me about this. 

JULIE: So in this section we have things like plot structure, polish, dialogue, characters. So we ask, for example, for the plot structure, is this book consistent? Is it cohesive? Can you follow along with what's happening? Our wonderful editor, Lauren does the pie charts and we just have the readers fill in the scale of one to 10, 10 being hey, it's ready to publish, and 1 meaning this really needs a lot of work. We rarely get 1’s, but we'll have them give their score and then a sentence or two of why they picked that score. And a lot of times, they'll give an example within that sentence or two. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so I'm just looking at this example we have up, which, again, you can't see, but you can follow along in the sample report on The Spun Yarn’s website. But I love this part at the bottom right where it says action steps and analysis. So this is where you said Lauren, who's your editor that oversees things, she takes the feedback and kind of gives her analysis on it. So it says, you know, for this particular manuscript it says, you know, at the quarter way mark, all readers are engaged. They had questions about this and then also their engagement grew because they enjoyed this about your story, things like that. So it's like a high level… Someone coming in collecting and saying this is what you need to pay attention to and take action on it. And it makes it very nice and actionable. And then I like this because you get a.. I know some people might not like this part because it's stressful, but I like seeing the rating because I'm like, hey, if we're over five out of 10, we're in really good shape right now, right. For example, this one we're looking at, this writer got an 8 out of 10 in plot and structure. So when I look at this with a writer, I'm kind of like, okay, we're doing something right here. There's other spots… Like let's find her lowest, so purpose and meaning. In this example I have up, she got a 6.7 out of 10. So this was one of her lower scores and I remember this conversation, we talked about it... We're like oh my gosh, we're totally missing somehow. They're missing this big, huge message that you know you have. So it was great to see this feedback where it's like my best guess is this book is saying something about XYZ but I don't really know. And this was huge for us because we're like… Wow, you have something to say. We've talked about this endlessly, it's just not coming across. So I don't know. It's just I love seeing this, just because you can kind of get a high level look. So at the end of these I'm just going to read the sections. There's plot and structure, characters, setting and mood, dialogue and craft, stickiness, and recommendability. So explain that for anyone who doesn't know what that means. 

JULIE: So that would be, Are you thinking about the story in between reading? Some people read it all in one sitting. Sometimes when I've been a reader I've had to put it down, but I've actually been dreaming about the book and it’s one o'clock in the morning, I can't read anymore, but I couldn't wait to read it the next day. Is there something unusual about it that makes you want to recommend it? I mean, there's some books that are wonderful beach reads, and then you'd be like I just read this great beach reach. But then some have the most unusual plot or storyline that you've never thought of before, and you know you're going to recommend it to someone who enjoys a kind of unique, brand new, fresh story. And I believe that the authors want to hear that. Yes, I would definitely recommend this story to a friend. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and it's kind of, in my opinion, my boyfriend's not a big reader and so I'm like, if I want to tell him about this, that's a sticky book. You know? It's really recommendable. So that's kind of what that means. And then after that it's believability and authenticity, purpose and meaning, and then copy editing and polish, which I'd say most people can expect the score to be lower because we know it's like first draft or you know, the first couple drafts. So those are kind of the categories you'll get these pie chart ratings on and these, you know, there's the action steps and analysis, which I love, and then there's like a roundup after that where it says five or fewer quick fixes and trends among readers and I'm guessing this is Lauren. 

JULIE: Yeah, she takes all the feedback that she's read and I also read the feedback because I do some of the initial editing. And she's like okay, for example, it's not going to be the same. Each of the five or fewer are going to be different, because this one has the premise but it also has the main character's backstory. It has some of the other characters and some of the world building which I believe this is the science fiction, so it's going to have different things, depending. If it's a memoir, there's going to be totally different five or fewer, right? And so that's where she's going to give recommendations, pretty much based on what she's read from the feedback and you know you can see the trends throughout the report. But this kind of puts it into a neat little package of definite things that stuck out. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and this particular one we're looking at is really cool because the number one thing, like Julie said, is this writer's premise and it's actually good feedback. So it's like here's one of the things that you're doing really well and you don't have to really fix anything about this. It's just like this is really working. And then, like she said, the second one is the main character's backstory. So then it gets into some context about… This is maybe not quite all the way working and here's the trends in the feedback I saw to help you fix it. So I always tell people like, if you're going to look at one page to take action on, it's this one. You know, if you only have a certain amount of time to do it, this is the page to come to. And then after that there's a page where it just says like here are the final thoughts. It's like a one, two sentence blurb from each of the readers about how they felt about the book and that kind of wraps up the complete manuscript report right?

JULIE: Correct. And after that goes out, about a week later, after the authors have time to digest it, and if they have any questions, Lauren reaches out to them. And then you know if they want any additional information, if they want to even do a different type of report, a more specific thing, or if they have wanted to ask other questions and things like that, that's where that can come in. There’s also a survey to ask, how did you feel? Because we want to know if there's things that aren't working. You know we've changed it throughout the years with little tweaks here and there and this is for the authors, this is for your audience, so we want it to be something that is of value to them. Yes, so we welcome, you know, feedback from all. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and feel free to ask questions is what I'm hearing. Okay, so that's great. And then earlier I mentioned that there's kind of two ways I will send people your way, and so one of them is like… We've gone through the coaching and we have a draft and now we just want to see what the feedback is. The other one is, let's say, we could have done that. Or maybe someone's coming to me with a complete draft and they want a developmental edit. So sometimes we'll do that and then I'll send people your way and it's basically the same result, just two different time periods. So in the beginning it's like does this work or is there something fundamentally wrong with it that we need to fix before redrafting? Or like, okay, the developmental editor gave them a green light to like saying I think this works, I think you're good, let's go get some feedback, and then maybe you can start querying or self publishing. And a lot of the writers I work with will come to you guys at both of those stages. So I think it's neat that it's like the same structure of feedback and the same approach of getting your book in front of readers can help you, no matter where you're at. It's always a good idea. 

JULIE: Exactly and we can tell too. We just had a book come through and it was almost all 10’s across the board. And some of the readers that we had are pretty… Some are a little more critical than others. But the reader that was giving 10’s across the board was like, why isn't this published? And also, as you noted, we've had authors come back and say I fixed these parts and I would like two of the same readers, and they'll specify the readers because I really like their feedback. They were the ones that got me thinking about what needs to change. And then a new reader with totally fresh eyes, right? And we actually get that quite a bit and they obviously find that it's a valuable resource if they're coming back and saying look, I changed the things… And so many times, the readers are like I'm so happy to be able to read this again! And also, fantastic job! You took the suggestions and the story was already good, but it's so much better now. 

SAVANNAH: And I think at that point it's really fun, because this is kind of what I experienced too on the editing side is like once I've read something, once I can kind of understand what you're trying to do, and so then I end up rooting for you. I'm like, let's get it to where you want to be! And that's, I can tell, that's how your readers approach it too. On the second read, sometimes it's like okay, we've seen this and you've done such a good job, and now we're excited, go publish it. 

JULIE: I'll tell you we love our authors and we just are standing behind them and cheering for them. And one thing I didn't mention that I just thought of is we also offer free promotions, like if you're getting your book published, we'll have giveaways within our company. We'll have some readers do Amazon or Goodreads you know little things and I'll even do interviews with some of the authors and help them on Instagram and things like that. So it's just a little service we were happy to offer because you know we're celebrating with them. 

SAVANNAH: That's right. Yeah, you guys have been part of it too, and that's really cool. So, yeah, I think the other thing I want to bring up is like… I want to get into this a little bit, but you said earlier, you guys train your writers, you have sensitivity readers.... One of the biggest vibes I get from you, is that it's just a safe space. Like you guys offer a safe space to come to get feedback. I've never seen anything like judgmental on the page. I've never seen anything negative other than critical feedback. Which I think is so important. Do you want to say anything about that? 

JULIE: I mean, that's really our point. That's our goal is to help. Sean, who was one of the ones who started the company, he's an author himself. So this is a service that helps him. We want to see books out there. Obviously, everyone at the company and everyone we hire absolutely loves books, loves to read, can't wait to see new things out there, and so they have the honor of reading something that has not been read by maybe anyone else, maybe some friends, maybe a developmental editor. So we take that really seriously. We're honored that you're trusting us and I believe it even says that in some of our literature, because it is a big deal. You know, this is your heart and soul that you put into it, and you don't want someone saying, oh, this is their stupid. Or, oh, it was great, without telling you what they liked about it or what they didn't like, and so we find it a privilege. So if we're not doing our job, if we're not offering kind, actionable feedback, then we need to know and then I need to train better, and that hasn't happened. So we make sure and I always the first couple of books that my readers do I'm really cognizant of paying attention to how their feedback is, and sometimes I'll go in and say, actually, in this portion, just stick to asking questions, like if you do have any questions at this point, don't give suggestions. Just ask right there. What are you thinking? If you have questions and you're giving suggestions to understand, just say I don't understand this character's motivation. And we'll work on the rest of that later, but you know so we constantly train readers, even if they've been working with us for a while. We're constantly reaching out to them and I mean, yeah, readers, and giving them the support they need. 

SAVANNAH: And just so everyone listening knows, Julie and I meeting… And The Spun Yarn kind of coming into my world… It was a total accident. I have no affiliation with them and I will just shout their name from the rooftops because it is such a safe space, it's such a great service. I fully recommend it to all the writers I work with. So you guys are doing a great job making it a safe space and making it just a joy to kind of be in your world. The one thing I wanted to ask you, speaking of safety, so many writers worry about getting their ideas stolen, and that's even as an editor… That's like one of the number one questions like, how can I trust that you're not going to steal my idea? What do you do? Do you have some kind of contract? So I'm sure everyone listening is wondering, so do you want to chat about that? 

JULIE: That's what I was going to bring up when you were saying about safety. We have our readers sign NDAs and within that NDA we have several portions and one states ownership of work product. So it says the applicant will have full and exclusive rights to any work product. That applicant provides for a given manuscript during the application process, but we do not intend for any contributions to any work to be considered contributions as a joint product. So the author retains sole ownership of their content. It's just like how copyrights work. You don't actually have to go get something copyrighted because if you're the first person who wrote it down, then I actually have a friend who's a copyright lawyer and I've been to her about it already copyrighted so and that literally never been an issue. We do sign the NDA, they do sign the NDAs and they understand. And also a little bit about not having the author's name is also another part in protection. I get this question too, actually from authors, and we reassure them. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, so it's great. This is another great thing about the professional service you guys offer. As opposed to someone in a Facebook group. You know you can do things to protect yourself if you work with someone you meet on the internet, but this is kind of just that layer of protection for people. Also, I always say when people ask me, I'm like, hey, I have my own stories I want to write. Like I'm going to love yours, but I also have my own thing going on. So that's something to remember too for anyone listening. Of course, there are people out there who will do weird stuff, but The Spun Yarn is not one of them. So you know you've got that protection of the NDA and things like that. So I think I have this vision in my head where we're going to have to have you back to do another episode about how writers can become The Spun Yarn beta readers because it goes hand in hand. A lot of the writers I know that have applied to be beta readers and they’re now beta readers and they just love it. And I know I just want to bring it up because people can go on your website now to learn more about that if they're interested. 

JULIE: At the bottom of the website, there’s just a click to apply to be a The Spun Yarn reader and that application goes right to me. 

SAVANNAH: So yeah, anyone listening who applies will get to chat with Julie, which is fun. Ok, well, anything else, like anything else you want people to know about the service, or any last minute thoughts for listeners. 

JULIE: I'm trying to think. I think your questions were really thorough. One thing I did misspeak, and the SuperThies report is 90,000 words and above. So if above 90,000, I just I said 99 and I didn't want that on the record since. I don't want to make sure that that I was correct on that, but I think I think with all the questions in our talk we pretty much went through everything, and authors are welcome to contact me. There's a contact email on the website. It'll come right to me and I'm happy to answer any questions. And some authors are like here's my report, just talk to me in a month, and some others have questions throughout the process and a lot of questions before the process, and that's what I'm here for, so I'm happy to help!

SAVANNAH: Great, and so then if you're interested, there's a ton of great information on the website, which I will link to in the show notes. Again, you can also check out all the pricing, all the details of each of the services and an example feedback report, which is everyone's favorite thing when they go to your website, just to let you know. There are some FAQs, testimonials, and all that stuff on there too. So I will link to all that. But, Julie, thank you so much for coming on and chatting with me today. I think readers or listeners are going to love this!

JULIE: Thank you, Savannah. It's been such a pleasure and I look forward to talking to you again!

Final Thoughts

What I appreciate most about The Spun Yarn is that they offer a safe space to receive high quality feedback on your story. Their readers not only point out what needs work, but also what you’re already doing well—which is huge!

To learn more about The Spun Yarn, you can check out their website here. Make sure to take a look at the sample feedback report that’s linked at the top of their homepage, too.

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →