How to Be Successful With Beta Readers

If you are an author who has recently finished your manuscript, then you have probably come across the term beta reader during your research about what to do next. If you’re not familiar with the term, then let us offer a short description from Wikipedia:

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.[1] Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.

Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.

It is this last sentence that most authors are interested in when working with beta readers because it gives them important feedback about the general readability of their story and helps ensure that it is ready to be published or sent to a professional editor. Unfortunately, beta readers sometimes get a bad reputation, which can be due to a number of factors, including miscommunication, a genre mismatch, or choosing the wrong readers. If you’re thinking of working with beta readers, here are some tips to ensure a smoother process that benefits both you and the reader and leaves you with a positive experience.

 

Be a beta reader

The best way to learn something is to do it, so offer to be a beta reader for an author that you know. This way you can learn two things: First, you can see what expectations the author sets so that you can determine whether it is specific enough. Second, it gives you the opportunity to read a book through the eyes of a beta reader and intuit what obstacles they may face so that you can avoid them, such as inconsistent tenses or secondary characters who disappear without explanation.

 

Choose the right beta reader

Finding a beta reader is more a more comprehensive process than just asking readers to become one – it’s easy to give your book away for free, but you’ll want to give them away to the right people. This means spending some time in relevant online communities and asking your local writing group for recommendations. It also means approaching readers who already read your genre and understand the differences between sub-genres, such as literary fiction versus historical fiction. After all, it’s hard to get feedback on a horror novel from someone who doesn’t enjoy the genre, but that doesn’t mean someone who reads it infrequently can’t provide quality feedback.  In short, take your time and get to know your potential readers before asking them to become a beta reader.

It’s also important to understand what exactly a beta reader is and what you can expect from them. For example, while a beta reader gives feedback, they are not expected to do any rewriting for you, nor are you expected to implement every change they suggest. The point of the feedback is to raise awareness and offer pointers about where the writing can be stronger. There are beta readers who go above and beyond this, and that is great, but you shouldn’t expect them to do so.

 

Make your goals clear

Miscommunication causes problems in almost every area of life, so it is extremely important that you are clear on what your goals are. Do you need help with fact checking? Plot holes? Is one specific character in need of more development? These are questions to honestly ask yourself before sending your book to a beta reader because they will be included in your instructions. For example, if you know ahead of time that one character may appear a little shaky and needs some additional development but don’t know how to do it, then communicate this to the beta reader. Remember, beta readers offer feedback – they are not editors. If you find that you’re asking for a lot of feedback related to editing, then you may need to take a step back and decide whether your book is ready for the beta reader process.

 

Be clear in your instructions

As the previous tip mentioned, miscommunication can cause major problems. This is why it’s important to be specific in your instructions and requests. One way to do break your book down into categories (plot, character development, continuity, etc.) and asking specific questions while leaving plenty of room for freeform feedback. That way, the beta reader understands what you are asking and is able to answer appropriately.

 

Set realistic deadlines

Beta readers are typically given a deadline and it’s important for you to be realistic about when you expect to receive feedback. People read at different paces and you should ask the reader what the expected turnaround time is. If you push for a shorter deadline, it’s possible that the feedback will be subpar simply because the beta reader does not have the time to give it 100% (or they may be more negative as a result of the unpleasant exchange). Either way, having unrealistic expectations doesn’t help you or your book. If you do need a quick response, it is better to find a reader who can effectively deliver on that timeframe rather than to push an unprepared reader into doing it.

If you follow these tips, your experience with beta readers will be much more pleasant. It should also go without saying that it’s important to respond to questions in a timely manner and to send a heartfelt thank you when the project is completed. Now it’s your turn! Have you used or been a beta reader? What was your experience?

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