Beta Readers - Tips, Tricks & Common Questions
There’s a lot of lingo I’m unfamiliar with. I didn’t study writing in College, and apart from the odd book on plotting, I am admittedly late to the game when it comes to establishing tricks of the trade. Infact, I didn't even know what a Beta Reader was when my trusty Critique Partner first suggested it.
I would say, apart from a critique partner, the one thing that has helped me immeasurably progress in my writing has been joining Beta Reader Networks- and so I’ve decided this post will be dedicated to this awesome resource!
What is a Beta Reader?
Essentially an angel in human form, Beta Readers are good people who support authors by reading unpublished work. Do not confuse a Beta Reader with a Critique Partner! Beta Readers are also not editors, but, in my humble opinion, are every bit as critical to success. A Beta Reader is a guinnea pig for your book. They can spot holes, offer suggestions, impartial feedback and tips. I have also found Beta Readers to be critical to my editing process - I have found myself leaving passages I had previously questioned, because of the feedback I had received. That is not to say all Beta readers spout the Gospel - take the feedback with a grain of salt, and if you hear the same message from a few people, it might be time to look at your work through their more critical lense!
Questions you can ask a Beta Reader:
I think a great way to ensure success with a Beta Reader is to outline questions, goals, and expectations. Some questions I have used in the past are:
-Do you get a good sense of the main character’s conflict?
-Do you feel the conflict is strong enough to sustain the story?
-Did you like the overall pacing and tone of the chapters?
-Are you intrigued to read more? (I often submit only 3 chapters to a Beta Reader, giving them a clear “out” if they don’t want to keep on - although this is often just as telling as the literal feedback! If a Beta Reader isn't interested it doesn't bode well for a general audience!)
-The the opening hook capture your interest?
-Did you get a clear sense of time / place / setting?
-How would you rate the “General X Factor”?
-Did you see any major plot holes?
-Notice any inconsistencies?
-Who was your favourite character and why?
-What was your favourite part of the book?
I've also sought feedback on blurbs, potential covers, and my "pitch".
Things to clarify when you send your pages:
-How do you want your feedback? I usually ask for my feedback to be in chunks, ideally every three chapters, so I can get an idea of what the reader thought as the book progresses, however the bulk of people I have worked with offer about a page of typed notes when they finish their reading committment.
-Timeline: Do you need the feedback by a certain time? When? Make sure to be on the same page as your Beta Reader.
What is the difference between a Beta Reader, an Alpha Reader and an Arc Reader?
- Beta Reader usually read a polished first draft.
- Alpha readers typically have no problem reading “rougher” work. Typically an Alpha reader is a tough cookie, as reading rough work isn’t for the faint of heart.
- ARC Reader is a reader who reads an advance copy of your novel - this is as close to finished as you’re going to get. Typically and ARC reader agrees to leave an honest review in exchange for a free copy of your book* more on recruiting and working with ARC readers later!
It’s easy to build a bubble of people around you who will tell you your work is the best thing ever. I have alpha and beta read for people, and it’s tough to tell a stranger their baby isn’t cute. But I know as a writer, it’s that negative feedback that I want. That I need. So when I’m working with a Beta reader, I ask them upfront: Please don’t be afraid to tell me honestly what you think! And I remind them I have very tough skin.
So who should you look for?
I think there are 3 different types of people who make the best Beta Readers;
Editors / Writers / Trade People - My first Beta reader was the best. She knew a lot about showing vs. Telling, and this pointed me to some really good resources which improved my process immeasurably. I have found the best way to get a Beta reader that is also a writer is to offer to swap. Things to keep in mind: Just because this person is a writer does not mean you will like their writing style. I strongly recommend starting with a swap of the first 3 chapters to make sure you give/receive feedback in a way that is congruent to each other’s styles, and also that you are similar in terms of timing / turn around etc. Again, well we do fall upon angelic Beta Readers, I also recommend supplementing your karma by offering to Beta read for others.
People who love reading: I had a librarian Beta read for me, and her feedback was invaluable. She had read several books with similar tropes (themes) and was able to point out weaknesses in my plot with a stunning accuracy.
Your target market: If you can find people who read (and buy) your genre, you have a unique opportunity for feedback from a future (potential) customer. This is particularly interesting for plot/pacing and tone.
What should you avoid?
Friends and family - I have found my friends and family to be very worried about hurting my feelings. Except for my mother, who really doesn’t hold back (especially with her suggestions of how to improve). And ideas I don’t implement??? I will probably hear about them at Thanksgiving. I think family and friends belong in the cheerleader category vs. The critique role. But that’s just my two cents. *same goes for spouses. I think my husband would say just about anything to get me to stop editing and go to bed! :) DISCLAIMER: IF you are in the lucky minority that can lean on friends and family for honest feedback, then stop reading now, because I’m deeply jealous. If you can get honest feedback, start there! Although I do feel that family and friends make better Alpha readers (e.g. cleaning up manuscripts before they go to Beta Readers).
Mean people - Yes, you’re looking for honest feedback. Yes, you’re looking for people who will point out areas to improve- but I must say I’ve much preferred readers who have referred to these areas as “opportunities”. Some people are haters, so don't let them hurt your feelings. A proper Beta Reader will be kind- so ditch the rest!
Where do you find Beta Readers?
My most successful recruiting has taken place on Facebook- these are the groups I’m a member of:
Beta readers and critique partners
Beta Readers & Critiques
BetaReader Connect - Find Beta Readers & Critique Partners
BetaReader Connect - Find Beta Readers & Critique Partners
Lastly- I’ve had a few questions about “how do I share my work” - I exclusively share though google docs. I used to email files, but I found processing notes from several different platforms time consuming so I switched to exclusively working in google docs.
Have I forgotten something? Anyone have any super useful Beta Reader Tips to add? Let me know in the comments, I’d super appreciate it!
Photo Cred: Photo by Vinicius Sgarbe from FreeImages