In today’s article I’m going to talk about beta readers.
A beta reader is someone who reads your manuscript before it’s sent off for editing. Most likely after you’re happy with the structural and developmental edits but before you go for the final copy/line edits and certainly before you start submitting to agents or publishers.
The idea is they’ll provide feedback from a reader’s point of view on the plot, pacing, and consistency of your manuscript.
They are not proofreaders or editors although some of these professionals will offer this service from a critique partner point of view, so don’t expect them to pick up, or even look for, any mishaps in terms of grammar, punctuation, or spelling.
Beta readers are an excellent resource to authors and when they are used properly, can provide invaluable feedback to strengthen and improve your manuscript.
But what makes a good beta reader? And where do you find them?
The best place to start is your author friends. If you’re on social media, there are groups on Facebook where you will find people willing to help out, but before you start sourcing them make sure you know what you’re looking for:
- They should be in your target audience. This way they will know what works – and more importantly, what doesn’t – within that genre and can then apply that knowledge to your manuscript.
- If they aren’t in your target demographic, they should be experienced in the publishing world and be able to appreciate decent work that doesn’t perhaps appeal to them. They will recognise what creates suspense and what entices the reader to read until the end. They will understand characterisation, plot development, and structure. They will also appreciate that at this stage, a few typos do not a bad first draft make! I’ve heard of manuscripts being torn to pieces by beta readers who didn’t quite understand that this isn’t the final stage of the process and who haven’t appreciated that this is still a work in progress.
- They should know how to provide constructive feedback. The last thing you need is someone killing your dreams with their harsh words. Constructive criticism allows you to see the areas needing improvement while giving you the hope that it can be fixed.
- They shouldn’t be too close to you so they are unable to say things you might not want to hear. You may have a best friend who doesn’t hold back on honesty, but others who may shy away from potentially upsetting you and not give their honest opinion.
- They should be regular readers. There’s no point asking someone who doesn’t enjoy reading.
This is a short list of the ideal characteristics you need to look for and not everyone you select will fall into each category, but that’s fine.
Now let’s look at what you want from them.
What happens if you send your manuscript to ten people with no clear instructions on your expectations? You’ll most likely end up with ten different reports and no idea how to implement all the suggested changes as they’ll probably conflict with each other.
And how do you qualify what each one says?
Perhaps you think a character or sub-plot needs attention but none of the feedback mentions it specifically.
Vague responses can be a nightmare to dissect too.
‘I loved Joe Bloggs.’
‘I hated Jane Doe.’
These might be the reactions you wanted for those characters, but they don’t tell you why or what you’ve done to create those emotions.
Making sure each beta reader has the same ‘instructions’ to guide them is imperative. Outlining your expectations of the feedback isn’t going to be a problem for anyone willing to beta read for you.
Using this Beta Reader Questionnaire, or one similar, will help ensure you’re getting quality and quantifiable feedback that you can make informed decisions about when it comes to editing. If all your betas come back saying the same thing about an element of the manuscript, then you know it’s most likely true; if only one does, then you can put that down to personal preference.
When you do get your feedback, try not to take it to heart if it’s less than complimentary at this stage. This is your opportunity to make your work the best it can be and it’s better to get it perfect now rather than when you’ve re-mortgaged the house to get stock of your paperback into every bookshop in the country!
Let me know what you think in the comments.
How did you choose your team of beta readers? Where did you find them? What else would you add to the questionnaire? Share your tips so other authors have the best chance of getting meaningful feedback.
Have a wonderful day and happy writing x