If you’ve ever encountered a beta website, chances are you’ve run into a kink while using it. The term beta means something is in test mode. In the case of beta readers, it’s your manuscript being tested, not the readers themselves.
What Is a Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone who enjoys reading and is willing to give honest feedback on an unpublished manuscript. Beta readers are not book reviewers. While it would be nice if your beta readers left a review for you after you publish, it’s not part of their job description. Beta readers are not professional editors, either.
Who Makes a Good Beta Reader (and Who Does Not)?
Family members are the worst beta readers. Too often they either offer meaningless feedback (I love it. You’re so talented.) because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or they cut you to the quick with their jealousy (This was the worst drivel I’ve ever read. What makes you think you’re a writer?).
Critique partners can fall on either side of the fence. Because critique partners are also writers, they understand nuances of story construction or character development that are lost on a casual reader. They can give you meaningful advice that will improve your manuscript. Sometimes, though, writers have a hard time not imposing their writing style and ideas on others’ work. Proceed with caution if asking a critique partner to beta read your full manuscript.
The best betas are readers in your target audience. If you don’t know who your target audience is, figure that out ASAP.
How Do You Find the Best Beta Readers?
Shoot to work with three to five beta readers.
Use networking connections to find content experts if you’re writing nonfiction. If you’re writing a middle grade novel, ask a teacher or a librarian if they can introduce you to students who would read your book and tell you what they think (get parental permission, of course).
Look for people that enjoy reading, know something about writing, and/or won’t be afraid to give you constructive feedback. If you are really struggling to find quality beta readers in your circles, you can hire beta readers.
Best Practices When Working with a Beta Reader?
- Be clear about your genre, description, and manuscript length.
- Set a reasonable deadline. Gently nudge the reader if they miss the deadline. (Side note: if they keep putting you off, chances are they couldn’t get into your book and don’t intend to read it. If you suspect this to be the case, asking directly may be your best bet.)
- Give your beta reader(s) guiding questions to think about while reading. This will help ensure you get feedback that you can use. Explain that you want feedback on content, not on word level edits (spelling mistakes and the like).
- Be gracious. If you haven’t paid for this service, be sure to send a thank you note. You may even want to include a small gift card or other treat if their feedback was especially helpful.
What Do You Do with the Feedback?
Wait until you’ve received feedback from all your beta readers before you make any decisions about revisions. Read through their feedback and then sit with it for a period of time to digest it. Take note of areas that your beta readers agree need revision. But maybe ignore the suggestion that doesn’t resonate. Then get busy incorporating changes.
Beta readers are a valuable part of the publishing process. Take the time to utilize them and improve your manuscript. It’s worth it.