What are beta readers? Beta readers are one or more people willing to read your manuscript before publication. If you’re lucky enough to have at least a few beta readers, they can provide a valuable service for you. Usually beta readers provide this service for free, but some may charge a small fee.
In the previous post we talked about editing and finding editors. If you have an editor, is it still important to have beta readers? That’s up to you, but I would say yes. The more eyes on your manuscript the better. One person may find a typo that others, even yourself, have missed. I’ve read some of my manuscripts numerous times and still missed typos that others have caught. Sometimes when you’ve read the same manuscript over and over, you kind of train your brain to overlook some mistakes.
Is that all beta readers do, read your book to find typos? A lot of times, yes. But many may offer their opinion of your story that you’ve sent to them. If you’re lucky, you might find a beta reader who highlights those mistakes that he or she has found, including punctuation mistakes, grammar errors, misspellings, flaws in logic, inconsistencies, etc. You don’t have to take every suggestion a beta reader offers you, but it doesn’t hurt to hear other opinions before you publish your story. Even Hollywood often uses focus groups to comment on an upcoming film, and sometimes producers will go back and alter a movie’s ending if the focus groups didn’t like it. So you could think of your beta readers as your own focus group.
How many beta readers should you have? Any amount is good. Even one or two can be hard to find, and hard to keep. Ideally, I would say it’s good to have five or more so you can get various opinions and more eyes to spot typos and mistakes. With various opinions, you can decide if you want to make any changes to your story. If one out of five beta readers doesn’t like your ending or a certain character, but the other four do, then maybe you could chalk that up to one person’s opinion. But if four out of five don’t like something, then you may want to pay attention to that. But whatever their opinions are, always be gracious and grateful when beta readers take the time to read your book and give you their thoughts on it – they are doing you a great service.
How many beta readers are too many? That’s hard to say. It can be difficult to get even a few beta readers to read your book, but having too many might be a good problem to have. But it could also get tough juggling that many emails and waiting for some of the beta readers to finish reading your book so you can publish it. Also, some beta readers may only stay with you for a book or two, and then move on for one reason or another – so having more can help when some leave.
What kind of reaction are you looking for from beta readers? Usually they kind of proofread your manuscript, and some may give you their thoughts on your story. Some beta readers may go more in depth than others. If you’re looking for specific reactions, you may want to send along a questionnaire for them to fill out, letting them know that the questionnaire is not mandatory and to only fill out what they’re comfortable with. If you do send out a questionnaire, you could ask things like: What did you think of the ending? What did you think of the pace of the story? Was the book too long or too short? Were there any confusing parts of the story, places where you had to re-read to get a better understanding? Did you like the main characters? And on and on.
How long should it take for a beta reader to read your book? A few weeks to a month is usually a pretty reasonable time frame. If the reader goes beyond four weeks, you may want to send them a gentle reminder. Should you impose some kind of time limit? I wouldn’t. And if a beta reader goes beyond a month, and you’ve decided to publish anyway, then you should still be gracious when they send you their opinion of your book – they still took the time to read it.
What stage should your manuscript be in when you send it to your beta readers? It should be as close to the finished product as possible. It’s not fair to send your beta readers a first draft full of typos and work that needs a lot of editing. Always remember that your beta readers are taking time out of their daily life to do you a huge favor by reading your book and giving their opinion of it. It’s rude to send them a first or second draft that is full of typos or is in need of major rewriting. If you want an opinion of your story before you write the first draft, then you could send your beta readers a treatment or synopsis of your story (but I warn you that a synopsis is dry reading and you may get opinions that vary widely from an actual novel or a book).
Where do you find beta readers? First ask your family and friends, especially if you know another writer or an expert in English grammar. You could ask your spouse or partner, your siblings, your parents or children, and any other family members. You could also ask friends and coworkers. You could also post on social media sites that you’re looking for beta readers.
Should beta readers leave reviews for your books? That’s totally up to them, but after they’ve done you a huge favor of reading and commenting about your book, I don’t think it would be too polite to bombard them with pleas for reviews, unless it’s something you worked out with each other up front. Just remember, if you pay a beta reader something, even if it’s just a free copy of your book, some retailers may look unfavorably on that person leaving a review, feeling that you “paid” for a good review. To avoid any trouble, you may want to get all of that worked out upfront.
How do you thank a beta reader? As I said before, always be gracious and grateful. Some beta readers may ask for a small fee upfront or a free book. You could thank them by sending them a signed print copy or gift them (or someone else they know) a free e-copy of your book. You could also thank them in the acknowledgements of your books; just make sure you get their permission first to use their name. Maybe people might only want their first names used.
So, there you have it. I would consider beta readers as important to your team as an editor, cover designer, and formatter (if you use one).
Hope that helps someone out there.
Until next time . . .