As the author of a book, you know all the answers. Why does the main character do this? And why does the antagonist do that? You can become “blinded by love” and usually miss spelling out some important details for the readers. Enlisting beta readers to help you could give your book that extra edge to being a better published version of itself.
What are beta readers?
According to Google’s online dictionary, we define a beta reader as:
“a person who reads a work of fiction before it is published in order to mark errors and suggest improvements, typically without receiving payment.”
Who needs beta readers?
Everyone can benefit from a beta reader. They offer fresh eyes to something you have been working on and staring at for months, sometimes years. They can catch little things you didn’t notice such as a car suddenly changing to a truck in the next scene, or big plot holes you know the answer to but didn’t address in the novel itself.
In the above definition it says “works of fiction” but nonfiction writers can have beta readers too if they have someone interested in and an expert on their field of study.
However helpful beta readers are, they don’t replace hiring a professional editor. Editors are trained to catch very specific problems where beta readers are seeing it with a reader's mind. This does not mean to skip beta readers either. If you give your “okay” work to an editor, they may be able to make it “great.” But if you use beta readers to make your work “great” and give that to an editor they may be able to make it “amazing!”
Where do I find beta readers?
The Internet, of course!
As a writer, unpublished or published, you should have an established presence on the internet: website, social medias, etc. Social medias are a great way to make connections with other writers and learn the ins and outs to the industry. It’s also the best place to find beta readers!
I recently made a post on my Twitter where I asked if anyone would be interested in beta reading my fantasy novel. I received about 50 offers and I added them to a Twitter List. This way, when I am finished revising, I can easily find them and send them messages with more details on the project. Also, the list can grow as I request and gain more beta readers in future projects.
Another place to search would be Facebook groups. There are a lot of groups of other writers/beta readers looking to exchange manuscripts for beta reading.
And one more great website is Scribophile.com which is another online writing community where you can have your work critiqued by hundreds of other writers. The only catch is you have to be willing to give solid, constructive critiques as well. This is a great way to help you look critically at your own writing if you get the hang of it.
How many beta readers should I have?
This question really depends on how much critique you can handle at once, as well as how big your author platform is. With my 50+ offers, I only picked 5 readers because that’s 5 rereads of my manuscript I will have to do which will be worth it, but time consuming.
Also, some people choose to do waves of beta readers before sending their work to a professional editor. This means they will send it to a few, do the revisions, then send it to a few more. Don’t send to the same beta readers twice. They have already given their initial reaction and you’ll get similar feedback.
The reason for choosing multiple beta readers as opposed to just one is to get a wider range of opinions. I may read a book and not like the love triangle and wish it was gone but 10 others may read the same book and think it wouldn’t be as good without the love triangle. If you just went with my one opinion, you’d lose a lot of readers.
Get to know your beta readers
So you’re gotten some offers from people who might beta read for you. That’s great! Now you should spend a couple messages or emails getting to know them. You’re about to be working with them on your book baby after all!
- Ask them questions like:
- Have you beta read before?
- What genres have you beta read?
- What genres do you typically read?
- What genres do you write?
- What’s your turnaround time?
- What do you enjoy about beta reading?
- What’s your typical method for beta reading? (Example: critiquing one chapter at a time or sending back the entire manuscript when finished.)
- Do you focus more on grammar, character development, or plot?
The list can go on. Ask questions that help you decide if this person is a good fit for you and your book. These questions can help narrow the list down when you get many offers. Be aware that most beta readers are also writers and often offer to swap manuscripts with you so that theirs can be beta read as well. If you’re not comfortable beta reading yet, or ever, this person may not be a fit for you. Don’t offer to beta read only to give half-hearted “I liked this part” feedback in order to get them to beta read for you.
Be up front with your beta readers
So now you have selected the readers you would like to critique your book. Before sending them your manuscript in the fashion that they choose, you should make sure several things are clear:
- The genre and the story description
- Word count
- What you expect of them (example, if you just want them to focus on grammar)
- If there are any sensitive or graphic scenes such as abuse, sex scenes, or suicide
- An approximate deadline (be realistic)
- Method in which critique will be given (examples, email, skype, social media messages)
When should I send my manuscript to beta readers?
Your manuscript should be a revised and polished copy. Don’t send a first draft full of typos and plot holes to your beta reader. Beta readers at any point have the right to decline reading your manuscript, and a sloppy copy will most likely be that turn off for them.
After you write “The end” for the first time, reread your work with a critiquing eye, fixing typos and anything that doesn’t slide well with the overall story. Revise until you don’t think you can anymore. There will, of course, be more rounds of revision after beta reader critique and editor critique.
How do I know beta readers will answer the questions I want them to?
If there’s specific questions you have such as if the romantic subplot seems like a dud, or if a certain scene sparks the desired emotion, then you can prepare those questions ahead of time. Depending on how you and your beta reader decide to handle critique you can send a list of questions with the manuscript, or ask them directly after each chapter has been read.
If your beta reader gives a vague comment about a certain scene and you want to know more of what they think then ask questions to help them expand on it. Just don’t be pushy.
What if a beta reader doesn’t like my novel?
This is honestly to be expected at some point. Not every person likes every book. Sometimes it's just not for them. That’s okay. That is why you should have multiple readers in the chance one drops out.
Prepare yourself for some negative feedback. I know this book is your baby, but beta readers are designed to help you improve it and sometimes some tough love is involved. There may be parts they want you to cut in order for the story to flow better and it's ultimately your decision, but it's a hard one either way. Some beta readers may read your first chapter and decide your book is not for them and even though you know there’s exciting stuff coming, you have to respect their decision with no hard feelings. Don’t try to force or talk your beta reader into continuing if they have declined and don’t continue to send your chapters to them. Be kind.
Can I trust beta readers not to steal my novel?
This is a big fear of many writers and often causes hesitation in enlisting the help of beta readers. To give you some peace of mind, according to:
“When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
This basically means the moment you type up your manuscript, it is safe under copyright laws for you. If you are still hesitant, you can add a paragraph to the end of the email with your manuscript explaining the legal ramifications of stealing your story.
Do I have to pay beta readers?
Generally speaking, no. Beta readers are peers who offer an early critique as a favor to help their fellow writers. Often times they may just ask to exchange manuscripts as “payment,” and just as they have the right to decline your manuscript, you have the right to decline theirs if that’s not your thing.
Another great way to thank your beta readers that is becoming more popular is the promise of a free hard copy of your book (often signed) once it is published. This is just a nice gesture to let your beta readers know that you appreciated their help and that they were a part of getting you to this success!
My goal as a writer is to share everything I learn along my author journey. If you sign up to join my mailing list you will stay in the loop for these articles plus receive even more writing tips and research strategies! AshleyNicoleWrites.com