For fiction authors, beta readers are an important part of your team.
Beta readers are non-professional readers who “test” your book before it’s ready to hit the market. They might point out plot holes, confusing character motives and issues with believability in your story.
Usually beta reading takes place after you self-edit but before a professional edit. That way you can iron out the kinks before putting the finishing touches on your book.
Preparing to work with beta readers? Consider these five tips.
1. Work in batches
One strategy to help strengthen your stories is to work with beta readers in batches.
You might send your first beta reader draft to two or three people. Then you’ll implement their feedback and send the next draft out to the following group two or three people. Do this a few times depending on how much work the book needs.
The reason I don’t recommend sending out your manuscript to all your beta readers at once is because even after the first batch of feedback comes through, there might still be kinks to catch.
Also, let’s say you rearrange scenes, add an epilogue or rewrite some parts of the book. You’ll want to get feedback on the new version, too.
2. Send your beta readers a list of questions
Since beta readers aren’t professionals, they don’t always know what to look for in your manuscript. Ask them questions to help guide their experience.
Those who have beta read before — either for you or another author — will have a good idea, but if they’re new to beta reading, asking smart questions helps to give them some guidance.
Some generic questions you might ask include:
- Did the opening scene capture your attention? Why or why not?
- Did you notice any inconsistencies in setting, timeline or characters? If so, where?
- Did you ever feel confused or frustrated with the story? If so, at which parts?
- Was the ending satisfying and believable?
If you have specific concerns about your story, be sure to ask about that, too.
I suggest keeping your list of questions short (about 15 or less). Too many questions might turn some people off.
3. Ask your beta readers to take notes
Another way to maximize the impact of feedback is to ask beta readers to take notes while reading.
It helps you pinpoint where changes need to be made and gives you a feel for how they reacted while reading.
Remember, your readers are doing this for free. I never require anyone to answer my questions or take notes, but making the suggestion helps guide them and improves the type of feedback you receive.
4. Send a thank-you gift
It’s not customary to pay your beta readers. They are non-professional volunteers, so it’s different than paying for a professional editor.
However, a thank-you gift is a nice gesture.
I’ve found that all the beta readers I’ve worked with have been more than happy to simply receive a book for free, even if that means they have to leave feedback on it. Most are surprised and excited when I tell them they’ll also be receiving a print copy of the book when it’s finalized.
I send gifts because it’s really the least I can do in exchange for them helping me out.
You don’t have to send out print books, but do make sure your beta readers feel appreciated for the time they put into helping you.
5. Work with new people
Avoid working with the same people for every book.
As beta readers become more familiar and comfortable with your writing, it can be difficult for them to see the flaws.
Try to add a few new people to your team each time, preferably one or two who have never read your work before so you get fresh eyes on your work. You can connect with new people by asking your current beta readers for suggestions. They probably know a friend or two who’s willing to help out.
For people you stop working with in the beta reader stage, consider moving them to your Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) team. They’ll still get a free copy of your book, but it will be closer to finished, and won’t need the same in-depth feedback. Instead, your ARC readers will help you gather reviews for release day.
The beta reading stage can be long and sometimes difficult if you don’t already have a team in place. That said, it’s definitely worth it, and your beta readers can do wonders for your story.
What’s your beta reader process like? Share with us in the comments!