Even though getting other people to read your words is the ultimate goal, it doesn’t make it any less scary. That’s why the editing process has a built-in safety net that allows you to dip your toes into the pool of public opinion without taking the full plunge: beta readers.
What are Beta Readers?
Beta readers are like early reviewers. Much like how beta testers in the tech world provide feedback on products before they go live, beta readers act as your first wave of an audience, so you can get a sense of how your work will be perceived—and what changes you can make to ensure it resonates with its intended audience.
The best time to bring on beta readers is after you’ve done a few rounds of work with a development editor but before you’ve moved on to line or copyediting. You want to give your beta readers a relatively polished draft, but you also want to have enough time for potential revisions to major elements like plotlines or characters.
How to Work With Beta Readers
Like anything else, getting the most out of beta readers requires a plan of action. Here’s how to make the most of their feedback.
Tip #1: Go Beyond Friends and Family
It may feel more comfortable handing your manuscript over to a familiar face rather than a total stranger. But can you trust that familiar face to give you an unbiased opinion? Probably not.
Unless you’re deep into the publishing world and have a network of professional authors or friends you can count on to give critical, high-level feedback, look beyond your inner circle for beta readers. Local writing groups, online forums, and even social media platforms can be great resources for finding a wide range of qualified readers who are eager to help.
And make sure you gather enough people to get a broad range of perspectives. Try to build a team of at least six to eight beta readers with diverse backgrounds and writing styles.
Tip #2: Leverage Your Target Audience
Match up your manuscript with readers who are a part of your target audience. If you’re writing romance, look for beta readers who have read similar books in that genre; if it’s a work of nonfiction on a specific topic, reach out to people in that field and gauge their interest. If you’re writing your book for a specific kind of reader, it only makes sense to utilize their advice and expertise.
Tip #3: Look for Commonalities
Pay attention to patterns in their feedback. If multiple readers are reporting the same issue, that’s a big red flag that something needs to be changed. Conversely, if readers are echoing the same praise or highlighting a certain part they especially enjoyed, you may have struck a chord! Brainstorm ways to expand on the elements readers seem to be responding positively to.
Tip #4: Don’t Give Them Your First Draft
A lot can change between the first draft and the final product. While your beta readers know they’re not getting the manuscript that’ll be on the shelves, you still want to give them something that is relatively free of typos, has been edited from a structural standpoint, and doesn’t contain too many plot holes. You want their feedback to focus on content rather than syntax.
And remember, you don’t necessarily have to send them the book in its entirety. Some authors send a couple of chapters at a time rather than a full draft.
Tip #5: Be Upfront About the Kind of Feedback You Want
Don’t leave your readers in the dark; let them know what kind of feedback you’re looking for. If you’re mainly interested in plot development, let them know. Or, if you need help fine-tuning characters and dialogues, make sure to mention that.
Be as specific as possible with your requests; the more information they have, the more useful their feedback will be.
Tip #6: Compile a List of Questions
Take it a step further and prepare a list of questions to send your beta readers for them to answer after they’ve read the manuscript. Guiding their feedback with specific questions can make it easier for you to identify problem areas and help you get to the root of any issues more quickly.
Tip #7: Don’t Take Feedback Personally
The whole point of bringing on beta readers is to receive feedback, so be prepared for criticism. As much as it’s important to take into account their constructive criticism, don’t be discouraged if they don’t “get” your book. It’s impossible for everyone to love it, and that’s okay.
Remember, the feedback you receive is meant to help make your work better, not attack who you are as a writer. Listen objectively rather than taking it all to heart.
Etiquette for Beta Readers
In the same way that you should treat your beta readers with respect and gratitude, they should also show you the same courtesy. While it may take some trial and error to develop a solid group of beta readers, here are some traits to look for when building a team that will provide quality feedback:
- Respectful of deadlines
- A willingness to be honest and considerate with their feedback
- Genuinely interested in your work
- Identifies with your vision
- Open to questions and discussions about their thoughts
Looking for Your Next Beta Reader?
At the end of the day, beta readers are a vital part of perfecting your book before its release. While it may feel daunting to open up your work to someone else’s opinion, doing so is essential for taking your book from good to great. When you have a team of trusted beta readers by your side, you can rest confident that their feedback is helping you create the best version of your book possible.
If you’re looking for a professional beta reader to review your book, PDHines offers reader-level impressions for both fiction and nonfiction authors. I’ll read your work for any confusing, unfocused, or unconvincing scenes and provide you with a one-to-two-page summary of the most important takeaways.
Ready to give your book the beta reader treatment? Click here to learn more.