When editing a manuscript, it can get easy to get lost in your own work. You’re so intimately familiar with your story, characters, and major plot details that it can be hard to separate yourself from the process. This makes it difficult when you’re trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. You’re so close to the development that you lose the ability to be objective.
That’s where beta readers come in. They’re a valuable part of the book writing process and they will ultimately help you become a much stronger writer.
What are beta readers and why are they important?
When writing a book, a beta reader is someone you ask to read your manuscript to provide substantive criticism. This is different from an editor – a beta reader is evaluating your story, content, and characters to make sure your book makes narrative sense.
They’re not concerned with technical edits as much as providing a high-level critique of big-picture issues. In fact, you shouldn’t send your book to a beta reader until after it’s been edited for spelling and grammar.
Beta readers are important because they allow you to identify your book’s weak points before you hit the publishing stage. Consider a beta reader’s notes as acting as a book review before the book is available.
How to get the most out of beta readers
There are a number of different approaches you can take to working with a beta reader. Every writer is different, and there are some elements that should be present in your working relationship no matter how you work together.
For example, it will behoove most writers to work with multiple readers rather than one. By having a multitude of opinions on your work, you can see which elements are recurring in the various sets of feedback you receive.
Below are some other best practices on how to get the most out of beta readers:
Have a set of questions prepared
Your beta reader isn’t a mind reader. Once they’ve read your manuscript, they may have specific feedback for you. But to get the most value out of them, it helps to come to them with a set of pre-written questions. This will prove helpful if they don’t have any specific points to hit. Leading them with questions helps coax the answers out of them, and also helps you address any issues that may exist within your work.
Be open to feedback
This is easier said than done.
When you turn your manuscript over to your beta reader, ask them to be completely honest in their review of your work. This means not sugarcoating their responses or providing you with a “compliment sandwich” designed to protect your feelings. It means they have to give their unabashed, unvarnished opinion about what worked and what didn’t work.
This is going to be difficult, but you must insist on it. It’s never easy to process criticism, but remind yourself that it will ultimately make your manuscript stronger. That’s why you’re enlisting the help of beta readers: to strengthen your writing. If all they do is give you positive feedback, it may feel good in the short-term but does little to improve your work.
Be ready to hear constructive criticism and approach it with an open mind.
Understanding what your beta readers like and who your ideal audience is
When choosing a beta reader, you should do so for a specific reason. Perhaps they’re an author in your genre. Or maybe they’re a subject matter expert on the topic you’re writing about. In either case, your beta readers should have some sort of “inside edge” when it comes to your topic or genre. The more they understand about your format or subject matter, the easier time they’ll have in giving you feedback.
You should also know what audience you’re trying to reach with your book when you submit it to your beta reader. That way, the beta reader can better gauge how effective they think the work is at potentially reaching that audience.
Ensuring the beta readers have no previous bias
When selecting a beta reader, avoid anyone you have a previous relationship with outside the professional realm. Don’t hand your work over to friends and family. They may feel pressure to mask their true feelings about the book. Or they may legitimately not have any criticism to offer, but their opinion is tinged with bias due to your existing relationship.
Beta readers should be someone unaffected by a bias towards you. This increases the likelihood your beta reader will give you an honest opinion. Certainly, you can re-use a beta reader you’ve previously worked with, but only after they’ve proven they can give you valuable, unbiased criticism.
Remember: your goal in using a beta reader is to expose your book’s flaws and weaknesses before it becomes a final product. Using beta readers with no skin in the game gives you the best possible chance to do that.
Or, put another way: better to receive criticism from a beta reader prior to release than a bad review after.
Where to find beta resources
Joining the Bookboro community allows you to upload your work as a writer for others to read and provide commentary on. One of the major advantages of joining Bookboro is that its readers have signed up specifically to assist writers by providing notes on their work. It’s a built-in system for collaborative feedback.
Facebook groups for authors, writers, and others who love books can put you in touch with likeminded individuals looking to provide feedback as beta readers or looking for feedback on their own work.
Reddit has an entire subreddit – r/BetaReaders – specifically set aside for beta readers.
The forum not only allows Reddit users to request beta readers while giving a description of their book’s genre and wordcount, but also encourages users to post helpful links and resources for finding and evaluating beta readers.
Despite being organized differently than either Facebook or Reddit, you can also use Twitter to find beta readers. Using the hashtag #betareaders or using Twitter’s search function can put you in touch with people looking to help
For more on what Bookboro can offer, contact us today.