Welcome back to a little extra post I have been long anticipating to have on my blog. With scheduling everything ahead all the time it can be too hard not to let you all know whats coming up! I've had this post for a while (I'm so sorry Liz) and finally you now get to see it. So I shall let the beautiful Liz take it away and blow your mind with all the wonderful tips about Beta Readers.
I’m currently in the process of getting my first full-length (over 75K) book ready for publication this winter. After spending months writing it, the time to revise rolled in. Anyone who has written and published a book, be it traditionally or independently, knows that the revision stage takes a long time, and in many ways it can be harder than writing the book itself. You’re basically taking your beautiful book baby and shaping it so that your target audience will enjoy it. Because that’s the point of publishing, right? You want to tell a story, but you also want readers to enjoy it.
For those of you new to the process, please, please, please don’t publish your first draft. You’ll need a whole team of people to get your book from draft copy to published copy, including a cover designer, a content editor, and a proofreader—just to name a few. You will also need beta readers.
Now, what are beta readers? Good ol’ Wikipedia defines them as the following:
“An alpha reader or beta reader (also spelled alphareader / betareader, or shortened to alpha / beta), also pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption.”
Beta readers are regular readers who will read and provide feedback on your draft during the revision process.
They are not reviewers, though some may offer to do so if they really enjoyed your piece. They shouldn’t be your only editors, because many do the work for free and they are, as Wikipedia says, non-professionals. It isn’t fair to ask someone doing free work to edit your book as well. Editing is very time-consuming and requires a lot of work. Beta readers are not here to be your editor.
I choose my beta readers with a lot of specifics in mind, but they are primarily people who enjoy the genre I want to publish in. With The King, my upcoming release, I posted an ad for a few paid beta readers (because I wanted deadlines adhered to) asking specifically if they read in my genre and if they liked a slow-burn romance or insta-love. The King is a slow-burn kind of romance. Readers who like insta-love aren’t my ideal target audience, so their feedback might not be applicable to my manuscript.
“But what if they steal my book? I don’t want anyone to read it before it’s published!” you cry. And hey, I get it. Sharing your work is scary. But you need beta readers. You may not think you do, but you absolutely, 10000%, do.
But why do I need beta readers?
You need them because you can’t edit your own book. You just can’t. You make assumptions that people will understand things. You miss errors in plot, characterization, and setting because this is your baby—you know it inside and out. It’s hard to distance yourself enough, unless you come back to a draft way in the future, to see your mistakes. Beta readers can help with that. They go in not knowing a thing.
Plus, you need to know what your audience will think before you publish. The main character in The King is a bit of a mess, and I personally needed to know if readers could tolerate her. And you know what? Some could. Some couldn’t. It gave me a picture of what my reviews might look like if I just threw draft #2 out to the world. So I took the feedback, decided what worked best with the story, and made changes accordingly.
You need to do that too. You need to feel comfortable sharing your work with people because you need the outside perspective before you publish. It’s the only way your work is going to get stronger.
Also, You Need Multiple Beta Readers
Once you get over the fear of sharing your work, it’s time to decide how many beta readers you’ll need. It’s tempting to just get one person to read it, especially if they already love your work, or have given fabulous feedback in the past. But don’t do it. Get at least five. Many readers are happy to beta read for free, so you won’t ruin your budget adding more betas to your team.
More beta readers gives you the chance to get diverse feedback. You can’t please everyone, no matter how great a story you write, but more readers will give you a general trend in how well your target audience has received your book.
You may run into a situation where one beta absolutely hates your book. They shred it back to front, up and down, and then set it on fire. Getting feedback from that kind of beta reader is devastating. Your book is an extension of you, and it’s always hard to see it ripped apart. But if you have more beta readers who actually like your book than the one who despised it, you can decide what feedback to accept and what to reject. Maybe the issues that one reader had are totally irrelevant to your other beta readers. Not only will that soften the blow, but it will help steer you to what you need to revise and what you can leave alone.
Take Time to Digest
Not every bit of beta reader feedback will work for you. Sometimes their suggestions conflict with what will happen in a sequel. Sometimes they want your character to do something that is totally out-of-character.
Remember: you are not required to accept all feedback. You can reject it all. You can reject half. In the end, it’s still your book. Feedback is there to help and give you perspective from the point-of-view of potential readers. Don’t feel pressured to implement every suggested change, because not every suggested change will work for the final product.
I also say take time to digest because I feel our gut reaction when someone criticizes our work is to become defensive and figure out why they’re wrong. Step back. Take a breather. Implement the changes you want another day when the sting of someone’s critique has faded.
Don’t Choose Your Mom
Friends and family are awesome supporters, but they probably shouldn’t be your only beta readers. You need people who don’t have an emotional connection to you because you want them to be honest. And let me tell you, if beta readers don’t like your book, they’ll let you know. The good ones will even tell
you why and offer suggestions for improvement. Friends and family may fear hurting your feelings. Tread carefully if you work with them.
What if they steal my work?!
I’m not going to tell you it will never, ever happen, but I think the likelihood of it happening is much smaller than you think. If you find beta readers somewhere reputable, or if you pay them a small fee, you generally won’t run into problems. Knock wood. It’s always scary to think about, but you have to put your trust out there sometime if you want to get better.
You can also create a written contract that your beta readers sign. I usually write something along the lines of “if you’re reading and offering feedback, you agree not to distribute, copy, or claim my work as your own”, just as a little disclaimer.
I’m sure there are beta reader horror stories out there, and it’s my sincerest hope that it never happens to you, or me, or anyone, really.
Where can I find beta readers?
I usually find them on Goodreads, as I’m part of a beta reader group. You can join writing critique groups and use other members as sounding board with the promise you’ll do the same for them. You can also hire them for a fee that fits in your budget. You don’t need to pay betas hundreds of dollars. You’ll pay editors that, but beta readers are just reading your book and providing a bit of feedback. No need to break the bank if you’re paying them.
So, how are we all feeling? Will you be adding beta readers to your publishing squad?
PS: For those of you who agree to be beta readers, please refer to this tweet before you start giving feedback.