Authors Need Beta Readers
Side note: If a fellow author is reading this and only takes one lesson away from this entire article, let it be that we need beta readers in our lives. It’s important to have an avenue for checking our assumptions and balancing our own experiences with those of our readers. The result will always be a better book.
In Part One, I talked about the reasons behind sending my manuscript off to beta readers. I mean, there has to be a reason I’m willingly handing over my work asking for criticism, right? I don’t know any creative professional who enjoys having every error in their creative work pointed out and dissected. But it’s part of the process to producing the very best version of my story.
But there are a few things to consider with beta readers. Things such as:
- How do you find people willing to pre-read your book? You know, while it still needs work (this thought makes the perfectionist in me panic).
- How many readers is enough?
- What should you do for those willing to spend their time on your rough novel and provide feedback? How do you thank them?
- Do you offer any guidance on what type of feedback you’re looking for? Or just let what pops out at them be their guide?
- How do you collect the feedback in a way that’s simple for the one providing the feedback (because it’s more about their convenience and less about yours) and easy to organize?
- And how do you deliver an electronic copy of your unfinished manuscript to those reading?
So let’s start at the beginning of that list.
Finding Beta Readers
Finding beta readers started shortly after I started on my first draft because I thought for sure I would have a hard time finding people willing to read. So shortly after I announced to the world I was writing a novel, I began asking those who were enthusiastic and supportive if they’d consider becoming an advance reader for me. To my surprise, everything eagerly said yes. Soon I had more beta readers than I thought would be possible.
So that brings up the next question: How many readers is enough?
Before I wrote a single word, I knew I wanted t self-publish. Why did I choose self-publishing? A couple of reasons:
- Control — I want to maintain creative control over my story and my brand as an author, and how it’s presented to the world.
- Rights — I have no interest in signing over the rights to my own hard work.
- Time — I want to spend my time perfecting my story rather than perfecting my pitch and query letter.
- Adventure — Being an indie author is an adventure to me. I ‘ve had such a great time enjoying the journey so far—you know, doing fun things like holding a model call and photo shoot—and I can’t wait to see where it will lead me.
- Resources — I am blessed enough to have the resources to choose self-publishing. I have amazing friends like Shayla Raquel (who has a virtual library of resources for indie authors), Annie Hurst (a brilliant designer helping me with the visual representation of my story; she also designed this website), and Kelly Hayes (who is the best photographer I’ve ever worked with) to enrich what I can offer the world in the way of a book and brand.
Knowing I’m choosing the indie-author route, I took a different approach to the beta-reading portion of the process. Instead of only choosing those who I thought might offer the most insightful feedback, I offered up the opportunity and accepted every person who was interested.
Let me tell you the potential downfalls to that, though.
First, it’s not a great idea to have those closest to you be your beta reader. Why not? Because whether they realize it or not, they can never possibly separate how they feel about you (and about you writing a book) from their view of your work. The two are intertwined and it taints how they experience your story—either for better or worse.
Let’s use my mom as an example (hi, Mom! I know, I talk about you often on here, but I promise it’s only because you’re an amazing woman who has such a positive influence on my life). My mom read my novel within a few days of me adding the file to her Kindle. When she was finished, I asked her for her feedback. And I could tell she was struggling to find fault with it. Why? Because she was just so proud of me for writing a book that, in her words, “reads like a real book.”
That makes her feedback tainted because she’s unable to separate her expectations and feelings for me from the manuscript itself. She was in awe of what her daughter could do (which, by the way, is still a pretty awesome feeling; inversely, though, if her feelings about me are that I am a disappointment, then that’s how she would view my manuscript).
Another potential downfall is that you’ll receive feedback from readers who don’t typically read the genre you’re writing. This means those readers aren’t in your target market. And what are you doing? You’re trying to write a book that your target audience will love.
And if you aren’t mindful of who you’re asking to participate, you might be left without experienced readers. So it’s always important to ask others who are either avid readers, writers, or editors if they would be willing to read and offer their thoughts. Sometimes more inexperienced readers will know something is missing—that the book isn’t quite there—but they’ll be wholly unable to tell you why or what you should do to fix the problem. Those experienced readers/writers/editors are important.
So, how many readers is enough?
As many as you’d like, as long as you balance the types of readers participating. Since I am an indie author, the more people who participate and read and feel part of the process, the better! Why? Because those people will be more likely to remember me and my book once it’s published. They’ll be more likely to fangirl over it and tell others. And many of them will even be able to point to a change in your manuscript that was influenced by their feedback, which is a pretty cool thing.
How to Thank Your Beta Readers
I plan to make sure every person who beta read receives a free copy of the finished ebook as a thank you for helping me to write my best book. It’s the very least I can do for them. I also plan to host a launch party complete with giveaways as a thank you.
I also plan to make sure the world knows how helpful these individuals were to fine-tuning my novel-in-progress.
Offering Guidance to Readers
Here’s the message I sent to my beta readers:
So, the book is ready for reading! Woohoo! I’ve finished it and went through one round of self-editing. Now I am ready to hear your thoughts on it. Of course, it will still go through two more rounds of editing and a proofreading (or three) before it’s declared done. So please excuse the typos. Also, thank you so much for reading it. I really appreciate the support. And please don’t be afraid to offer criticism. I can’t make it better without it.
I also created a questionnaire using Google Forms which is pretty simple to use. I let the readers know the questionnaire exists so at least they’d have guidance in sharing their thoughts once they were finished reading. I also made sure to ask which genres they typically read so I knew who is within my target audience and who isn’t.
The Reading Stats
I ended up with twenty-one beta readers. Of those twenty-one, seventeen finished the book, and sixteen offered feedback. Eight of the sixteen filled out the Google Form while the rest offered feedback primarily through email and Messenger.
What did I learn from that feedback?
I learned a lot. Some things I already knew (such as the ending still needed work; I rushed it), and other things I didn’t expect at all. There was one question I asked everyone, though, that was met with a different answer from every person. Do you know what that tells me?
It tells me that everyone is experiencing the book differently. And that’s a good thing. That means there’s enough room within the writing for people to form their own vision of events, characters, and setting.
How did I deliver the electronic copies to readers? I converted my manuscript to PDF, mobi, and epub. Then I let my readers choose which format they’d prefer. It was sort of a pain in the butt for them to download and them send to an e-reader, unfortunately. But there isn’t a way for me to simplify that process. I used Instafreebie, which I won’t do again because it was an additional step that was unnecessary.
Now I get back to editing. 😉