Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Beta Readers: Who, What, Where, Why & How
For some reason, the term beta reader confuses a lot of writers. They are not sure what they are, or why they need them. Even experienced writers often don’t know how to use these readers effectively to improve their work.
For a well-constructed book, beta readers are the last stop before the proof editor. And for a poorly-constructed manuscript, they are the last safeguard against wasting time and money editing or pitching a manuscript that’s not ready.
Beta readers are not: – close friends and/or family. – proofreaders or editors. – writers, although they can be in the right situation.
– members of your critique group.
Beta readers are: people who will read your manuscript and give you honest feedback, even if that information stings your pride. That’s why friends and family often make rotten betas. They don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with you by admitting your book is awful! You need someone who cares more about the story than they do about your feelings.
Do not go looking for any beta readers until you are ready to hear some negative feedback on your work! The goal of a beta reader is not to rip your work to shreds, but this can happen. And it should happen if the story isn’t working and the beta readers are confused and disappointed. Getting defensive about your writing or angry with the beta readers for pointing out some flaws just wastes their time and gives you no benefit from the experience.
Before looking for a beta reader: If you want to get the most out of a beta reader, polish your manuscript to a pristine condition first. The only exception to this rule is if you and your beta have agreed to a modification. Some betas will agree to read a partial, or even early draft. But that is something to clear with them in advance.
Who makes the best betas?
There are lots of qualities that make a good beta reader. First and foremost, they are people who love to read. And they should love to read in your genre. It’s hard for a person who only reads thrillers to say if your romance manuscript is fabulous. Also if they know your genre they can help catch overused or missing tropes. They will also tell you if the story reminds them too much of some other popular book or character. This is valuable data for any genre writer.
Second, find people who are in your book’s market demographic. If you write children’s books your betas should be children and their parents. All the adult readers in the world telling you the book is fantastic are pretty much worthless. If you don’t know any kids, reach out to librarians and teachers. They know what kids like to read.
Third, it helps if you can find beta readers with analytical minds, and can think logically about the big picture. Good betas can find plot flaws and problems other readers might miss. Critique partners are often too close to the story to see these issues.
Fourth, they are reliable; you can count on them to read the story cover to cover. Or they are people who tell you why they couldn’t finish your manuscript.
Lastly, betas with great memories for details are able to catch those tiny story slip-ups we all make, like when a character wearing a watch asks for the time. Detailed-oriented readers are worth their weight in gold when it comes to betas.
How to find betas.
– You will need at least 3 readers, and finding them is not always easy.
– Almost anyone is a potential source for a referral, but friends of family and friends are a good place to start.
– Talk to other writers in your genre and see if they have any betas to recommend.
– You can also try online writer groups. Many forums have threads for writers looking for beta readers. Goodreads has a user group where authors can make connections by pitching their book to potential readers. This step is tricky; a beta shouldn’t know too much about your plot in advance.
Don’t send your work to strangers!
– I would like to believe everyone in the world is honest, but it’s not realistic.
– Don’t work with betas or reader services that expect to be paid. There are plenty of scams out there; don’t get sucked into one.
– Interview your prospective betas and get to know them.
– Ask them about their favorite books and authors.
– Learn what experience they have as a reader.
– If they have read for another author, see if that author found the reader’s feedback helpful.
– Find out how much time the reader needs to finish your project.
– Figure out what format works best for them and try to be accommodating.
– Start out slowly. You may want to send an untested beta only one or two chapters. See if you and the beta are a good fit before you commit to sending them your full manuscript. This step should also help you decide if the other person is reliable.
Beta readers are doing you a huge favor, so act accordingly.
– They took time from their lives to read your work. Listen to what they say with respect.
– Request the kind of feedback you want, but always remember your manners. Say please, and thank you every time!
– Reward their support. Offer to send them a signed copy when the project is published. Or offer to read some of their work and give them feedback.
– Make an effort to treat talented beta readers with special care. They are a great writer’s secret weapon.
Betas are meant to represent the neutral reader. They are a fresh pair of eyes to read and report back with their honest opinions. That’s pretty much all betas are expected to do. Some betas can do more, and that’s very helpful to an author, but you shouldn’t expect a beta to do anything extra. If you want to make your story better, get some knowledgeable betas and listen careful to what they have to say. This does not mean change everything they didn’t like. It means think about everything the mention objectively and make changes to tighten up as needed. If you just want someone to tell you the book is destined for greatness, have your mom read it.
If you have experience with beta readers, please share your insight in the comments.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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