A beta reader is an important person on your team. Beta readers can be an essential part of the revision and editing process for many authors, and I realize that not everyone knows what they are and what they do. They can be your manuscript’s best friend, and I’ve got some tips on how to build a relationship with your beta readers. First, let’s answer a basic question:
What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads your finished draft and someone you trust to provide suggestions about your story before it’s published. I’d say that beta readers sit somewhere between your friends and family and professional editors in terms of the type of feedback you’ll receive. They read a lot of manuscripts and can offer insight into what’s working and what’s not working in your story.
Where to find beta readers
Let me start by saying that beta readers are most likely not your friends and family. Your loved ones love you. Unfortunately, that probably disqualifies them. Keep in mind that great beta readers don’t have to be writers. So, where can you find them?
- Writing Groups (Online or In Person). Are you a member of a writing community like NaNoWriMo? You can offer to trade reading with members of your group. (Looking for a writing group? Here are my tips on how to find the best group for you.)
- Writing Courses. I teach writing workshops and classes, and many of my students reach out to each other to set up beta readings.
- Conferences. Are you planning to attend a writing festival or conference? Make connections with fellow writers and don’t be shy about asking for a beta reader.
- Web Sites. It’s possible to hire beta readers on sites like Upwork and Fiverr, but some folks listed as readers are actually selling editing or proofreading services. The point of a beta reader is to provide another set of eyes on a messy draft before spending money on a professional editor. Be aware before you dive in here.
What to look for in a beta reader
- Honesty. You’re looking for straightforward, truthful feedback about your manuscript. (This is one reason why your family and friends may not be the best choice for this process.) You don’t want a reader who holds back. However honesty does have its limits. You don’t want a reader who will tell you how to “fix” your story but one who will point our areas that aren’t working for them.
- Familiarity with your genre. Your beta reader should be well-read in the genre of your manuscript. If you’re writing romance, a reader who doesn’t read romance probably won’t understand the tropes or give you the most insight with your target audience.
How to work with a beta reader
- Give your reader a deadline. You don’t want to just hand over your manuscript and ask for it back “whenever they get a chance” while you’re biting your fingernails. Set a date that is realistic for both of you.
- Give your reader guidance. Just as with the deadline, you don’t want to tell the reader to “let me know what you think.” This is especially true of a reader who is new to you. Set everyone up for success with a list of questions. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Were the setting and locations clear? Throughout the book, did you always know where you were?
- Was the timeline clear? Did you always know roughly when you were?
- Did you feel like the main characters grew and changed from the beginning to the end?
- Were you bored at any point? Were any plot points predictable?
- Did the end feel satisfying or unfinished?
- Did any of the characters, even the secondary ones, seem cliched?
- Were there too many points of view, or did you wish I included another character’s point of view.
- Did the dialogue sound natural?
- What scenes were the most memorable?
- You don’t have to agree with every comment a beta reader makes. When you get their notes, make sure that any changes you make align with your vision for the story. But be open minded. Sit with the comments for a few days before outright discarding it.