Beta Readers – The Unsung Heroes
You’ve finished your manuscript, edited it, and now you think you’re ready to let it loose into the wide world of publishing. Wrong! Back up a step. Did you let anyone read it? I’m not talking about friends and family who will tell you what you want to hear. I’m talking about Beta Readers; the unsung heroes in the writing world.
What is a Beta Reader you ask? The short answer is someone who evaluates your story. Long answer; they give you feedback on your story. They are like beta testers for software, looking for bugs and problems. A good beta reader points out holes in your plot, point of view problems, and chronology problems. They point out confusing areas and let you know if you’re describing things too much. They let you know when something just doesn’t make sense in the story. When they finish reading your book, the good ones include their comments either in the document or in a separate document. My beta reader made her notes at the end of each chapter.
With the problems they point out, readers would find the same if you released the book as it is. This could lead to bad reviews and few book sales. Pay attention to the problems they mention and fix them. Even if this means cutting scenes or rewriting an entire chapter. You want to publish the best work you can and beta readers are a must-have to accomplish this.
Now you’re thinking where do you find a beta reader or three? Facebook is a good place to start. There are several groups on FB for beta readers. You can also cultivate a circle of writers, let them know you’d be willing to beta read their work. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back kind of deal. You can make a post asking for Beta Readers. Explain the genre, length in words, not pages, and a brief summary of the book. How many beta readers do you need? I’ve been told get as many as you can find. Some only use one or two.
When dealing with beta readers you need patience. Remember, they are taking their free time to read and comment on something you wrote. Beta readers have lives of their own and the responsibilities that go with their life. Don’t pester them, asking how far along they are or when they expect to finish.
What about paying for a beta reader? Is that a good idea? Well, if you have the money your best bet is do a search in Google and LinkedIn. Use the term ‘manuscript critique’. If you go the paying route, ask the potential beta reader for the names of authors they have beta read for, then contact the authors, and ask about the beta reader in question.
While you wait for your beta readers to finish, you should still be going through your story, checking your point of views and make sure you do more ‘showing’ than ‘telling’. Don’t be afraid to make changes before you hear back from your beta readers.
Once you hear back from your beta readers, the first thing you should do is thank them for taking the time to read and comment on your book. Either send an email or message them. Next read through the comments they made, make notes to yourself as you read. If you printed out your book, go through the print out and mark the places where the reader made comments. After you’ve made the corrections based on the comments of your beta readers, you can do one of two things: send it back out again or move on to your next step towards publishing. When I heard back from my beta reader, I took all her comments and placed them into a separate document and printed it out. Then I went through the print out of my book, marking the problem areas. I’m currently addressing the issues she pointed out.
When you finally publish your book make sure you acknowledge your Beta Readers by name. Thank them for the wonderful work they did.
May the words ever flow!