Visit any writer’s group and you’ll see one piece of advice the veteran authors always give the newbies: Get good beta readers. In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about beta reading. And please know that this applies to veteran authors and newbies alike. Here it goes…
What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads your completed manuscript, generally before it’s published, and offers you constructive critique/feedback that you can use to make improvements to your story before it’s released into the wild. Beta readers can help you find problems with your manuscript that would impact the readability, marketability, and saleability of your work.
Do I really need a beta reader?
Sadly, yes. The simple fact of the matter is that you spend way too much time with your manuscript to look at it objectively. No matter how good you are at self-editing, you’re likely to read right over mistakes and omissions and weird dialogue because YOU know what you meant to type. Having a fresh set of eyes on your work is invaluable.
What can I expect my beta reader to do?
Your beta reader will read your work and provide constructive feedback on:
Now, here’s what you CAN’T expect from a beta reader:
Who makes a good beta reader?
There are lots of characteristics that make a good beta reader. For example, good beta readers are:
Where can I find a qualified beta reader?
The best way to find qualified beta readers is to join writers’ groups on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Goodreads and ask your fellow authors for recommendations. DO NOT do a quick Google search and pick out the first author services provider that you find. That’s a recipe for disaster, because like everything else, there are LOTS of scammy scammers who are more than happy to take your hard-earned money in exchange for shoddy service. Do your research before letting anyone lay eyes on your manuscript. Also know that you’re WELL within your rights to ask for a sample before you pay for services. It’s reasonable to have your potential beta reader critique 5 pages or so of your manuscript before you agree to hiring them.
And in the sake of full disclosure, yes, we offer beta reading services to romance authors. (But this isn’t about us...I digress…)
Should I pay for beta reading?
If you can find a qualified beta reader who is willing to work for free, take them up on it! But, yes, in most cases, you should pay for beta reading. You pay your cover designer, editor, formatter, and proofreaders, right? Your beta reader is offering a service just as valuable. Why shouldn’t they get paid for their work?
WHAT should I pay for beta reading?
Depends on who you use. We’ve seen beta reading for a flat fee of $150, and we’ve seen it for $0.01/word. We charge $15/hour. But I’m sure that with a little research, you can find beta readers who charge less/more.
Can I give a beta reader my rough draft?
Ideally, you’ll give your beta reader the cleanest manuscript possible. Polish your work until you’re happy with it before handing it off to your beta readers. After all, if you’re not happy with your work, why should they be happy with it?
If I’m an established author, should I use my fans for beta reading?
Well, you can. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But chances are your fans aren’t going to be overly critical of your work. They love you! If you ask fans to beta read, you’re likely to get all positive feedback in return. And while that’s great for a writer’s ego, it does nothing to help you improve your work.
Do other authors make good beta readers?
Sometimes. They’re certainly capable. But are other authors your target audience? If not, our advice is to leave writing to the authors, and beta reading to readers. (And yes, we know that authors are readers, too. But they look at books in a WHOLE different way than readers, and it’s reader feedback that you’re most interested in, right?).
What if I don’t agree with my beta reader’s feedback?
At the end of the day, your work is YOUR WORK and no one knows your story better than you do. Your beta reader’s feedback is subjective. You’re under no obligation to do everything he/she says. In fact, we highly discourage you from blindly making all revisions based on beta reading feedback. You should review every beta reading note very seriously and determine whether or not you’re comfortable making the changes. Go with your gut. It’s your story, and no one is the boss of you! Beta readers offer suggestions--no one says you have to take them.
So, long-story-short: 1) Yes, you need at least one beta reader. 2) No, it can’t be your mom. And 3) Choose wisely. You don’t want to trust your precious book baby to just anyone!
What about those of you who’ve worked with a beta reader? Anything you’d like to share with the group? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!
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