Beta readers are wonderful, helpful people who will read your manuscript, and give you honest feedback, as part of your editing process, to help you make your book (or other writing) the best it can be. They will take a look at the whole manuscript, and think about themes, plot (and plot holes), characterization, and other “big ideas” that you request them to consider. Usually, they are not proofreaders–that can come when the rest of your editing is done, when you feel you are ready to publish (but some people are happy to be proofreaders, too–just save that until the end of the writing process). But, you might ask, where can I find beta readers? Who would make good beta readers? What should I ask for help with? How can I use their advice? This post will answer all those great questions and more. Read on!
Where to find beta readers: You might find beta readers through a critique group, writing class or organisation, workshop, book club, or online networking. For children’s and Young Adult (YA) books, consider age-appropriate relatives or neighbourhood kids (children will often give very honest feedback!), or perhaps a teacher or librarian would be willing to read it with a group of children and get lots of great feedback for you.
What kind of people make great beta readers? Look for beta readers who:
- don’t shy away from your request, find excuses to avoid it, or just skim the manuscript and say “nice book” to get you off their back
- when they critique at your writers’ group, give feedback that reflects critical thinking
- are writers themselves who are working on improving their own writing—and, ideally, write in your genre
- enjoy and read widely in your genre or are knowledgeable in your subject area
- are not likely to give sugar-coated responses just to please you
- have time and enthusiasm (be wary of overloading already very busy people)
- are writers for whom you can, in future, return the favour and beta read for them
Working with your beta readers: Accompany your request with a firm start and end date. Be clear that it is okay for the person to turn down your request to be a beta reader. Be sure to let them know that they are making suggestions and not all changes will be incorporated into the book. Explain to them how you would like them to jot down their responses; for example, “Please provide overview comments in an email, and edits and comments on specific pieces of text right in the manuscript.”
How should you “pay” beta readers? Beta readers are not usually “paid” for their efforts with cash. However, they have put in a fair amount of time and effort, and it is thoughtful to thank them in some way. One idea is to give them a personally autographed copy of your book when it is published. Another possibility is to take all your beta readers out for dinner together; you might even get some more useful feedback if they talk about their beta reading experience together. Or you can choose a thank you gift, for each reader, that you feel is personally appropriate. Best of all, offer to beta read for them!
Questions to ask for feedback: Try to choose between 5 to 10 questions for which you especially want input. Don’t overload your beta-readers! Here are some possible questions:
- How did the writing make you feel? How did you respond personally to the material?
- What were you thinking about as you read?
- Was there a point where you wanted to put down the book? Were there sections you wished you could skip over? Please be specific!
- What scenes do you remember the best?
- What parts were most gripping? What intrigued you or attracted you? Was there enough conflict and tension to keep your interest?
- Where did you feel there was an emotional payoff?
- Is there anything you have questions about? Please list your questions.
- What do you think are the most important themes?
- Did the opening paragraph “hook” you? Why or why not?
- Would you change anything?
- How did it compare to other similar books you’ve read?
- Did you find the story interesting/ exciting/ boring/ or? Why?
- What, if anything, was confusing?
- What ideas or events were left unclear?
- What did you like? Dislike?
- Did you find errors that I made repeatedly? What were they?
- How did you respond to the opening and closing, the development of ideas, and the pace?
- What people and events did you want to know more about?
- Were any characters particularly memorable? Were any other characters too over the top?
- Are the characters believable? How could they be made more interesting or likeable?
- Did you find the dialogue interesting and natural? If not, why?
- Did you especially identify with any one character? Which one? In what way?
- Is there anything you think there should be more or less of (eg violence, romance, etc.)?
- Were they any sections that need more development?
- Was the ending satisfying and believable?
- Did you notice any obvious, repeated grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors? Examples?
- Do you think the writing style suits the genre? If not, why not?
Considering the responses: Once you’ve received feedback from your beta readers, you need to think about their responses and decide what input you are going to use to improve your manuscript. Here are some tips:
- Get as much feedback as you can.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by one or two comments that may seem really harsh or would require you to rewrite or toss the manuscript; instead, look for themes, ideas in common from your various readers.
- See if you can get your beta readers together for a discussion based on the themes you discovered in their feedback.
- Compare your intentions for the work and the readers’ experiences.
- Ask yourself: What did I ask the readers to do? Did the responses line up with what I expected or did they spot things I hadn’t even considered?
- Consider: What impact did my writing have on my beta readers? Was it what I hoped for?
- Active response: How will I revise and edit, based on the beta reader responses?
- Find out more: Is there anything about which I need more detailed information or insights from my beta readers? What more do I want to know? Who would be the best person to ask?
Share your thoughts with us! What experiences have you had with beta readers? Do you have other suggestions? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!