beta reading, writing

Why every writer needs a good beta reader

woman on hammock reading book
Photo by Andres Chaparro on Pexels.com

I love to beta read, so much so, that I offer a free first chapter read. However, I had a slightly negative experience with a first-time author recently and it made me realise that inexperienced writers might not be prepared for the beta read process. Let’s face it, writers just want to write, they often haven’t even thought of the endgame and all that it entails. It can seem like a daunting process to share their work with the world, especially when it’s likely to involve some criticism and rejection – even JK Rowling had her fair share!

I thought it would be a good idea to share what I have learned about the process so far and I’ve added a list of questions for you to download for free.

 

What is a beta reader?

This is perhaps best understood if you think of your parents, partner or friends as your ‘alpha readers’.  They’re your people and they’re biased, they might give you some constructive criticism but they (if you have supportive people!) will appreciate how hard you’ve worked and won’t want to discourage you. Beta readers are the next round of readers; your test readers, not connected to you, and therefore, as close to your target market as you can get.

Why do I need a beta reader?

A good beta reader is invaluable. You want this masterpiece – that you’ve devoted your life to – to be read and appreciated, but before it goes to be scrutinised by publishers or agents, you want it to be the best it possibly can be. That’s where beta readers come in. A lot of beta readers are, simply: avid readers who love to be involved in the author’s process. Some, like me, are qualified proofreaders or editors who like to give authors a hand before the ‘proper editing’ begins.

How do I find a beta reader?

These days it’s pretty straightforward – once you start to look you will probably be amazed at how many people are willing to give you a hand. Start with social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, where there are loads of writers’ groups. If you aren’t already a member of Goodreads then I suggest you join! It is a great platform to find suitable readers. There are also individuals, like me, whose websites should (hopefully!) show up on a Google search. You will find, if you haven’t already, that the writing community – including readers and editors – are a really friendly, helpful bunch.

How many beta readers do I need?

It doesn’t really matter as long as you collect some opinions from a range of people who like your genre. There’s no point in asking someone who hates horror to read your scary manuscript; they aren’t your audience!

When do I need a beta reader?

This is up to you. I have read whole manuscripts after a first edit, second drafts and even first chapters before the rest of the book has been written. All of these have value. You can ask for betas at any point in the process or at a variety of stages. Writing can be a lonely process, having someone read as you go along can keep you motivated and help you to finish with an impressive first draft.

Important things to remember about the beta reading process:

  • People read at different speeds. One reader could speed-read your manuscript in a day but the reader who slowly absorbs your novel, over a month, may have better feedback to give. Patience is important, especially if the reader is giving their time for free.
  • Try not to be defensive when you receive criticism. I always try to sandwich criticism between two pieces of praise but we all have a tendency to focus on the negative, at times! It is vital to remember that the point of the exercise is to improve your work – honesty is key to its effectiveness. The author I mentioned earlier was very annoyed when I suggested that his first chapter was too long. He disagreed, which is fine with me, it’s his work after all, but he was hostile about it, which makes me disinclined to work with him in the future. If you don’t agree with your reader’s suggestions feel free to ignore them – but if a group of readers are giving you similar feedback – it would be wise to take heed!
  • There isn’t a beta reading school; all of us do it slightly differently. I use MS Word’s track changes, to mark up mistakes and comment on areas with ideas for improvement, and then send an email with general comments. This is because that is how I am used to working as a proofreader. Other readers may just send you a list of comments back in an email.
  • If you want specific feedback on a certain area e.g. characterisation, hook or dialogue, make sure you ask for it! I’m going to attach a list of possible questions below, these can be adapted for your particular needs.

Download these useful questions for your beta readers

This list, is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it’s useful. Remember that it can be adapted to suit the stage you are at or the part of the book you want to focus on. You could also use rating scales, for example, how satisfying is the ending? (rate from 1-5).

What next?

Once you have the information from the beta readers, it is up to you to figure out how best to use it, to improve your work. If you need to go back to the beta to clarify or ask for extra information, then go for it. It’s also nice to remember those betas when the process is over and send them a copy of the book or acknowledge them in some way if they’ve helped.

Good luck!

Contact me here if you’d like to know more about my beta reading or proofreading service.

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