Why Beta Reading?
No great novel is truly created alone. There are dozens—sometimes hundreds—of people who help shape a story. Between the souls who inspired your protagonist to the team of marketers who tell the world about your words, every great author has more than a few people to thank when they finally hold their book in their hands.
But before you can worry about publishing and promotion, you have to make sure your content is up to par. There’s only so much revision and refining a single author can do on their own. Even though it’s nerve-wracking, getting more eyes on your manuscript is the best way to make sure it’s ready for an audience.
So what can you do? Enter beta readers.
What is Beta Reading?
Beta reading is an editing process for authors to receive outside feedback on their book well before they’re ready for the public. It serves as both a way to spot any glaring errors (like plot holes) and as a layer of testing to gauge how readers will respond to the content.
A beta reader is someone who reads your book while it’s still in the drafting stage and provides unbiased feedback. They usually have no prior knowledge of the book, so their assessment is fresh and open-minded. It’s a great way to get some honest advice from people who are not as emotionally invested in your story as you are.
Beta readers look for things like:
- Character development
- Plot holes
- The tone of the writing
- Clarity of plot points and scenes
- Overall enjoyment
Beta Readers versus Alpha Readers
Despite the hierarchy that usually comes with the terms alpha and beta, one is not better than the other. Rather, those identifiers just refer to the order in which a person has read your work.
Alpha readers are the very first people you get to read your book. So it’s crucial that you use someone you trust implicitly. Sharing your creative work is vulnerable, so it’s important to have someone who can give you constructive feedback without making you feel defeated.
Beta readers, on the other hand, come after the alpha reader. They’re typically brought into the editing and revision process after you’ve made changes from your initial alpha reading. Like alpha readers, they should have no prior knowledge of your work to ensure a fresh perspective.
Where to Find Beta Readers
Sure, you could ask your mom or your book club to read your work. But opting for a professional assessment from someone who is familiar with the ins and outs of the publishing process can be an invaluable asset. Lucky for you, there are plenty of amazing beta readers out there who can provide high-quality feedback.
Freelance markets like Fiverr are great places to start. You can find readers who specialize in different genres and even on specific topics. On Fiverr, you can find readers who are editors, have experience as authors, or even offer a combination of services.
Writer and editor networks are also great places to look for beta readers. Sites like Writerful Books and Reedsy provide a platform for authors to connect with freelance readers who are experienced in giving actionable feedback. If you want to skip the whole search process and hire someone you know and trust, we offer professional beta reading services at PDHines.
Beta Readers: Dos & Don’ts
No matter where you look, it’s important to do your due diligence when hiring a beta reader. Here are some tips to make sure you get the most out of your experience.
Do Share Your Manuscript With Multiple Readers
Just like you wouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, don’t rely on just one beta reader to give you feedback. Having multiple readers review your manuscript gives you a good mix of honest opinions. Each person will bring a unique and valuable perspective that can help you improve your work. And if you notice multiple people bringing up the same issue, it’s probably an indication that you need to make a change.
Give Them Clear Guidelines
Feedback from beta readers can breathe new life into your manuscript especially if you use them to identify problem areas. To accomplish this, tell your beta readers what you want them to focus on. Their perspectives are most helpful when the share their reactions rather than telling you what to correct.
Clear instructions not only streatmline the feedback process, but also enable you to focus on areas that can truly elevate the manuscript. The feedback you request may vary for different revision stages. You are in the diver’s seat.
These are some of my favorite initial reader directions:
- Show me where you got confused.
- Comment on things you did not believe.
- Indicate where your attention waned.
- Highlight the things you loved.
When engaging with beta readers, emphasize the significance of identifying passages that struck them as confusing. These moments serve as signposts for potential areas that require further clarity and refinement.
In addition, encouraging readers to share passages they didn’t quite believe in allows authors to gauge the authenticity of their storytelling and strengthen the specificity and clarity of the writing including highlighting what it means to a character for a more immersive experience.
Grabbing and holding a reader’s attention is the heartbeat of any gripping narrative, and beta readers can play a pivotal role in detecting sections where their engagement waned. Such insights equip authors with the opportunity to fine-tune pacing and maintain a seamless flow throughout the story.
In addition to pointing out areas of improvement, beta readers should be urged to highlight passages that resonated deeply with them. These moments of admiration serve as powerful indicators of the manuscript’s strengths and can guide authors in accentuating the novel’s most poignant and memorable aspects. (An extra bonus may be that you don’t accidentally delete these gems.
Don’t Rely on Them to Catch Typos
Beta readers are not editors. They’re there to give you an overall opinion of the story, not to point out spelling and grammar mistakes. That comes later. It’s important to remember that beta readers are not the final step in your revision process. It’s up to you to hire a professional editor to line-edit your work after you’re done making major content changes.
Do Look for Your Target Audience
If you’re writing a sci-fi horror novel, romance fanatics probably won’t be the best beta readers for your project. Make sure you’re looking for people who like the genre you write in. After all, you’re not just looking for character development feedback—you’re also testing your target audience’s engagement with the story.
Don’t Apply All Their Feedback
Just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean you need to act on it. When it comes to creative work, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You don’t have to take every piece of advice you receive from a beta reader, and it’s okay to disagree with someone’s opinion. But if a bunch of readers are saying the same thing, it’s definitely worth paying attention to.
Need a Beta Reader?
Beta reading is an essential part of the editing process. It’s your chance to get honest and unbiased feedback from the people who you’re writing for.
If you’re looking for someone to read your manuscript, PDHines is here for you. We offer professional beta reading services to help authors get feedback to make their stories more engaging.