What exactly is a beta reader? Simply put, it’s an average joe reader who gives feedback for an unpublished manuscript.
(It’s a betta fish…get it?! …I thought it was funny…)
Betas give feedback and offer suggestions for “suspension of disbelief”/believability, continuity and general flow of the story, any possible plot holes, characterization, etc. Betas who are not writers themselves can make some of the best beta readers, as they tend to not over analyze every minute detail of the story like writers. They can take in the story as a whole and get a better view of the big picture.
Should you consider looking for beta readers? Yes! After working on a manuscript for what seems like an eternity, it’s hard to look at our own work objectively. Betas can read your work with fresh eyes and a completely new, unbiased take on it.
There are some important things to remember when working with beta readers:
- Be up front and clear about what you are and are not looking for. What kind of feedback are you looking for? Characterization? Plot holes? Descriptions? Voice? Flow? Recurring grammar faux pas like dangling modifiers?
- Know your target audience. If possible, find beta readers within your target audience. Is your story intended for young adults? 18+ adults only? Businessmen? Stay-at-home moms who need a break from the kids? You’ll get the most useful feedback from betas roughly within your target audience and, in turn, gauge what kind of revisions you may need to make. Avoid having family and friends beta read for you. As much as they insist that they can give you helpful feedback, the fact that they know you personally can influence how they see the story.
- Edit your manuscript to the best of your abilities. Yes, it’s still an unpublished manuscript, but it’s important to give your betas the most polished writing you can give. Even if it hasn’t been to a professional editor yet, revise and edit as much as you can. Take your time with edits, and don’t rush. Remember, some of these beta readers may end up recommending your upcoming novel to people they know — or worse, telling them to steer clear.
- Have several file options available. Some authors think it’s all about them, when in reality, it’s about the readers. Make it as easy as possible for them to read your work. Ask your betas if they have a preference for file type and, inversely, let them know what types you’re able to provide, such as .pdf, .mobi, .docx.
- Be considerate of their time. This goes both ways. Authors, remember that betas are taking time out of their day to read your work. Don’t expect them to read and have their comments/notes written within 24 hours. Also, refrain from asking someone to beta for you until you’re absolutely ready for beta readers.
Readers, remember that authors may have a timeline they’re working on. Don’t dilly dally or put off reading the manuscript for weeks at a time.
- Get some thick skin. It sounds harsh, but remember to not take feedback personally. Be prepared for both positive and negative feedback. Never lash out or defend yourself against something a beta reader says. Even if you don’t agree with their critique right off the bat, give yourself some time to consider their suggestions. Again, don’t become defensive. Just be gracious for their time and remember to thank them.
There are many places to find beta readers — even sites like the Goodreads forums and Tumblr. I also offer more in-depth editing services such as developmental and substantive editing. You can check out pricing info here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.