How To: Beta Readers

What are they?

People who read your polished manuscript (do not send them your shitty first draft) and give you feedback. Ideally they should be readers, NOT other writers, though that can be harder to come by.

How many do you need?

Depends on where you are in your writer journey. If you’re a newbie, you’re going to need more, and likely several different rounds. Make sure you’re using critique partners first to get your errors under control.

Where to find them:

A call for betas should always include the genre, word count, and a hook/blurb. Use this as an opportunity to work on your ad copy. You want betas? You better have an interesting hook and blurb, especially if they aren’t writers. If you’re using Betareader.io, a mock cover (which you can make free on Canva) will help draw the eye.

If you’re looking in writer groups, it’s easier to find people willing to swap. You read theirs and they’ll read yours.

Always do a test chapter. This is to see if you’re a good fit. Sometimes they’ll never get back to you. Sometimes they’re just not giving you the kind of feedback you need. You don’t need to be sending your entire MS to every rando on the internet who asks. Test chapter first!

Finding betas that will read through the entire manuscript is the hardest part. Most will flake. Accept it. Also take it as a learning experience. If your story isn’t gripping them, especially if everyone quits reading at a certain point, that’s a red flag.

Also look for critique partners. Ideally you would do this prior to betas, but I’ve found that some critique partners, especially those who aren’t good at prose or grammar, are outstanding with emotion and story structure, making them great betas.

Working with Betas

This really depends on your style. If you’re not very good at self-organization, I recommend using a service like BetaReader.io or BetaBooks.co. You absolutely don’t need to use either of these, but they do help collate all the information you receive.

If you’re working with other writers, Google docs is the way to go. You post your chapters and they comment (this is also how I work with critique partners). This way even if they don’t finish, you’ll see what progress they’ve made until that point. If you’re emailing them Word docs, you may never know where you lost them.

I try to keep my betas separate, because I don’t want one reader’s opinion to influence another’s. This means separate document files for each beta. Is it more work? Hell yes, but that’s how I roll.

If they’re readers, not writers, they may balk at reading a google or word doc. For some, a PDF or ereader file may be preferable, though you probably won’t get in-line comments back.

Asking Beta Reader Questions

You can google a bunch of lists on what specifically to ask betas. Make sure you tailor them to your own needs, and also keep in mind that you’re going to have diminishing returns if you ask too many questions. Keep it concise.

I like to check in with specific questions, like after a pivotal moment or after act 1, 2, or 3 because each of these will have a different feel. If you wait until the very end of the book to ask all your questions, people may not remember how they felt at the end of the first chapter, or the end of act 1.

Your questions at the beginning of the book can focus a lot on how the reader feels about the main character, setting, and if they’re engaged enough to continue. Your questions at the end can focus on whether they felt satisfied with the ending, whether they felt hooked for the sequel (if there is one), and whether anything was left unresolved.

If you’re new, I strongly recommend having multiple rounds of betas. Sometimes the issues in your book are so big that that’s all people will see. Fixing stuff and then asking for new input will allow betas to focus on different things. For instance, in my first round of betas I wanted to know how people felt about my characters. In later drafts, I already knew how they felt, so I dropped the questions relating to character and focused on other issues.

Evaluating the Feedback

  • If one person says something, it may just be their opinion. If three people say it, you need to take a serious look.
  • Look for places where people stopped reading or slowed down. They may have gotten busy, but they may have gotten bored. My earlier drafts of my first book lost a lot of people in the middle. Turns out my throughline sucked.
  • Does this person read your genre? (Ideally, yes. If not, take their advice with a grain of salt.)
  • If you get praise, screenshot that shit and save it somewhere in a file for when you need a pick-me-up.
  • It is NOT the job of betas to offer suggestions on how to fix something. That’s your job.
  • If a beta doesn’t give much feedback, feel free not to use them again, especially if you’re doing a swap. Quality feedback matters. If someone does nothing but sing your praises, they’re a shitty beta. You want someone who can point out the good and the bad. The object is to improve your work, not get validation.

Copyright © 2020 Val Neil. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “How To: Beta Readers

  1. This is a great article that clarifies what is expected of beta readers, where to find them and the expectations to have. Lots of insight and useful tips.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Fifth Ring Press and commented:
    This article written by Val Neil provides great insight into what to expect from beta readers, how to go about finding them and how to manage your expectations of their feedback.

    Like

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