Beta Readers are an important resource for writers that can help strengthen your WIP. So I thought I would go over some points regarding getting some beta readers.
NB: Thanks for all the comments, faves, followers and reblogs – sorry I’ve not been replying. I have no internet in my new house yet. (All these posts are scheduled.) I’ll reply to you all as soon as I can!
What Are Beta Readers?
Beta readers are people you recruit to read your unpublished work in order to suggest improvements, catch errors, and give you a “reader” perspective.
Writers are too close to their work and no matter how many edits you put your work through (and it should be several!) you will always need another pair (or several pairs) of eyes to check over it.
Beta Readers are typically avid readers of your specific genre and do this as a voluntary (ie unpaid) task to help the writer.
What’s The Difference Between Beta Readers & Critique Partners?
Beta Readers are usually specifically readers so they will read your manuscript as a reader.
A Critique Partner is normally a writer so will read your manuscript as a writer as well as a reader.
This different perspective can be helpful for catching deeper issues that a reader might not notice or might not realise how to fix.
A Beta Reader can be a writer and just do a “Beta Read” rather than a deeper “Critique” on the story.
Why Do You Need Beta Readers?
Beta readers are invaluable as they can give you insights into your story that you may have missed.
As writers, we know an extensive amount of backstory, history, and detail about our characters, plot, worlds… so there may be times we “assume” our readers know something that we’ve not been clear about.
Beta readers are fresh eyes on our WIPs, they will catch where the story stumbles, where the dialogue is stilted, where a plot hole is gaping. Their purpose is to spot significant flaws in your work.
They are also great for giving you a clearer idea of just how well your book will be received.
This is especially important if you are aiming for a specific age group like Middle school or YA.
Also, if you are self-publishing, you will need to pay for a professional editor. If these people can catch issues before you send to an editor, it will save you some money. Please note, Betas are NOT a substitute for a professional editor.
How Many Beta Readers Should You Have?
I would personally recommend at a minimum of 3 to 5 beta readers. The more beta readers you have the clearer issues can be located. If several of your betas pull up the same problems, you can see it’s a major issue that needs to be addressed.
Obviously, you don’t want so many that you struggle to keep up with all their recommendations as you will need to get details from each of them.
Go for quality over quantity, you want good, honest, genuine beta readers and it’s better to have just 4 or 5 of them than 20 betas who won’t give you a good critique.
When Should You Recruit Beta Readers?
Beta readers should be recruited, in my opinion, no earlier than after your fourth edit. They are NOT Alpha Readers so they should not be receiving a rough draft of your work.
They should be reading a pretty clean draft, catching the odd spelling error, and making suggestions about details. Not doing a full edit for you.
However, Beta readers should also be brought in BEFORE the professional editor. The last thing you want is to spend money on a professional editor who catches silly mistakes a beta could have spotted.
What is the process for Beta Readers?
Be very clear and specific on your genre. I was once asked to beta read a science fiction WIP. However, when I received it, the story was definitely designed for children so I was not the target audience and couldn’t complete it.
So pare down in your genre. For example, when looking for betas for my Dark Hart WIP, I will make sure they know it’s a Preternatural (contains things beyond natural eg monsters, magic etc), Urban (modern day) Fantasy.
Confirm your targeted age range. For example, Children, Middle School, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult. Many adults read YA and many teenagers read Adult, but you need to make sure your betas know what age range your book is aimed at.
Every author is different in what they want from a beta reader. Some want their betas to only focus on larger issues, such as continuity, dialogue, character and plot development.
Others want them to catch anything they see so that would be the bigger stuff as per above as well as smaller things such as spelling and grammar issues, incorrect punctuation etc.
Let your betas know ahead of time what you want from them. Be specific.
Things you may want your betas to consider:
- The pacing of the story
- Strength of descriptions
- Personality of characters
- Action and conflict
- Areas that are unclear or that left them feeling confused
- What they loved
- What they hated
- Whether the world was detailed enough
These are just a few things you might want to ask them to think about.
Not every beta will automatically consider pacing or point of view, so if these are areas you want to check on, tell them.
Let them know if you will be asking them questions/sending them questions.
Encourage positive and negative
The point of betas is to pinpoint issues in your writing that need to be addressed. However, don’t be afraid to ask them to mark up areas they really enjoyed, whether that was a strong piece of description or a shocking action scene or funny character interaction.
Firstly, it helps to know where your strengths are and secondly, it’s not easy to read a lot of notes stating issues with your work. Having it broken up with some positive comments can make all the difference.
Also, don’t freak out or get defensive if they do say negative things (as long as it’s constructive and they aren’t just being dicks!). You want to cultivate a relationship with your betas, especially really good ones.
Decide on Format
Be clear on how you want their notes. Do you want them to read a chapter and then write a detailed notes section about what they thought? Do you want them to mark up with comments at the specific areas what they recommend?
Figure out what works for you.
The way I beta read is, I have the chapters sent separately and in PDF form, I then insert highlighted comments on the areas as they appear.
I include questions if I feel something seems wrong or doesn’t fit right. Other times I may make a suggestion on how to include say, a different sense in description or highlight a repetitive work.
Organise a time frame
Beta reading takes time. It’s not just reading, it’s analysing and making notes so it takes longer than it would to just “read” a novel.
Give your betas a good time frame to work on and check with them beforehand to see what sort of time they have.
I like getting WIPs in blocks of 3 chapters so I don’t feel overwhelmed and usually don’t take on a beta read that has a deadline of under a month.
Where To Find Beta Readers?
I would personally recommend choosing betas from people you know – I’m not talking friends and family unless they are actually your target audience and will be honest.
I mean people you know in the writing community. Don’t know anyone in the writing community? Then make an effort to join. Connect with people for a while before asking anyone to beta.
You are letting people into a very personal part of your life so you want people you can trust, people who really want to help and support you.
There are groups on Facebook where betas can be found, and you can always set up a message on your social media asking for betas.
Remember, don’t just accept anyone as a beta – connect with people for a while, ask them questions, get to know them a little before you accept them as betas. Don’t just give your WIP to anyone who asks to be a beta.
Finally, Additional Things To Consider
Beta reads can pull up larger issues you may not have realised that might mean a big overhaul of the plot or a lot of rewriting. This is not a reason to skip the beta read phase but should be something you’re aware of in your time frame.
Not all betas may be helpful to you. There will be some who may want to please you or who feel uncomfortable being honest and will not give you the critique you need.
There will be some that may offer no real critique and instead just say things like “boring” or “don’t like this character” or “I hate the name Jeff” etc. Vague comments or subjective opinions aren’t helpful.
In these situations, you either need to confirm the beta is aware of the guidelines and what you need from them, or you need to let them go as they aren’t serving your needs.
There is a risk when you send your WIP to others, there have been reports of unscrupulous people who have shared writers’ work online.
There are things you can do to reduce the risk – the first is, as I mentioned, why you need to connect and know your betas before you share your work with them.
Give only a few chapters at a time rather than sending the whole WIP.
You can change a single thing in each copy. For example, if you have a secondary character, you change the name so that each beta receives a WIP that has a different name for that character. Then if someone does share your WIP, you can easily identify who did it.
If the idea really bothers you, you could always get your betas to sign an NDA (Non-disclosure agreement) confirming they will not share your WIP. Though you shouldn’t need to go to such a level if you take the time to get to know your betas beforehand.
What has your experience been with beta readers?