The concept of Beta readers have been around for a long time. While some swear by them, others find them more hassle than they are worth.
When asked her thoughts on Beta Readers, T. A. HERNANDEZ said, “As writers, once we’ve worked on a story for so long and poured so much of ourselves into it, it can be very difficult to see some of the flaws with the plot, setting, characters, etc. A beta reader will be able to see the things you can’t. As an outsider, they’re looking at the story from a completely different perspective and can offer valuable insights about which aspects of the story work and which don’t.”
Rob Baker, author of Constant Traveller R801168, used Beta Readers for both his books. “Beta readers are a test run for real life, for when the public reads your work. Just had 7 beta readers for my second book, now at the editor.”
One author compares using multiple Beta Readers to having too many cooks in the kitchen. “There is a such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen and of course that causes chaos because everyone has different opinions and sometimes those opinions clash with other beta readers. I tried to follow their suggestions, opinions, etc. making those corrections, but, it just ended up a total mess. It was like having too many voices in my head and it was causing me great distress.” – Angel M.B. Chadwick
This weeks Tuesday Talk I focused more on worth of Beta Readers. Although I didn’t get any discussion here, I did find great discussions through Goodreads and the internet.
What is a Beta Reader
Beta Readers or Alpha readers is a non professional readers who reads a manuscript with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling. But they also suggest improvements within the story, its characters, and setting. These improvements could be anything from pointing out plot holes, problems with continuity, difficulties with characterization or believability, etc. Overall, the point of a Beta Reader is to help the author write a better novel.
Are there Downsides to Beta Readers?
Sure. Just like anything, there are both positives and negatives. Angel M.B. Chadwick provided me with the best overview of her unpleasant experience with Beta Readers.
The Beta Readers Angel found did not seem to have the experience she was looking for and misrepresented their skills. They were not thorough with pointing out grammatical errors or inconsistencies.
“…if you find inconsistencies in my novel give me a detailed and very thorough report of all the inconsistencies and errors don’t just name a few and be vague about the rest. It makes me as the author unable to thoroughly fix the problems.”
Angel talks about not being able to stay in contact with her Bata Readers. She would email them and never hear from them. Overall, her experience sounded really frustrating. To help prevent others from having similar experiences, I have listed ideas or ways to help find the right Beta Reader for your manuscript.
What/who to look for as a beta readers:
First lets talk about who isn’t a good fit- Family, Friends, Significant Others… In a way, they are too close to you. Unintentionally as it may be, there is some predisposition for them to like what you write. Or at least tell you they do. The people you love, love you back and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Because of this, you want to look outside your close circle of trust and look for someone who doesn’t know you.
Ideally, at least one of your beta readers should be someone within your books target audience. This way, you can get an idea of how your book will be perceived.
One of the suggestions was to find Beta Readers who know more about the writing craft than you do. And if you think about this, it makes a lot of sense. If you want to get better at writing, you look to the experts. Same concept goes here- You want feedback from someone who is more knowledgable than you and can help your writing grow.
But the question remains, who do you know if this particular Beta Reader is a good fit?? Well, one suggestion is instead of sending your entire manuscript, just send a couple chapters.
“Another thing that sometimes helps is to only send the first chapter or two to a prospective beta reader, then see what kind of feedback they give (or if you hear back from them at all) before sending the rest of the manuscript. That also gives the beta reader a chance to see if they really want to continue reading.” – T. A. HERNANDEZ
Sending off a couple chapters instead of the entire manuscript also allows the reader to figure out if they would be interested in your story and what kind of feedback you would be getting.
Where to find Beta Readers:
I think the easiest suggestion is social media and the saying- birds of a feather flock together- easily applies here. As bloggers, we tend to want to connect with people who we share similar interests. Through blogging, you are able to create a reputation for yourself and more than likely if you help others with their writing, they will be more than willing to help you back.
Outside the blogging community, there are other social connections such as the Goodreads group Beta/Proof Readers. Although I am apart of this group, I have yet to participate in any readings. This group has around 1,770 followers and various discussion groups ranging from tools of successful writing, finding Beta Readers, self editing tips, and much more.
Scribophile is another writers aid to help writers. According to the website description, it’s an online writing community for writers of all abilities looking to improve each others work through thoughtful critiques and sharing writing experiences. How this website works is you earn ‘points’ by reading and critiquing other authors writing. When you’ve earned enough points, you can post your own writing for others to critique. The website guarantees at least three thoughtful critiques when you post your writing. And for the last three years the site has been awarded the top 100 best websites for writers.
Wattpad is another website that allows readers to interact and share their thoughts while reading your book. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with the website. It was a little more difficult to figure out how the process works but that could just be me. According to the website, you upload your book and create an enticing blurb about it and wait for people to read it. There is no guarantee people will read your work or that you will get insightful critiques back.
A couple responses I did receive mentioned how swapping stories with another author was the best way to find good criticism.
“I generally find that swaps are more likely to work out and ensure that both parties finish reading and providing feedback. The other fantastic thing about swaps is that they give you a chance to critique other writers’ work, which is incredibly helpful to your own writing. I can’t even begin to say how much my writing has improved since I started critiquing for other writers.” – T. A. HERNANDEZ
Better Beta Reads was recommended by Angel M.B. Chadwick. She had amazing success with Deb Rhodes from this website. This website outlines specifically what will be done with your manuscript, what to expect, and how they will approach your writing. Unlike most Beta Readers, her services come with a charge: $50 up to 30k word count, $100 up to 60k word count, $125 up to 100k word count, and $12.50 for every 10k words after. She also provides an editing service to make sure each sentence is “publication ready”. For this service, she charges $1 per page.
When do you use beta readers:
Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. But that isn’t always the case. So the question(s) remains- Do you use them after you have written a couple chapters? Half the book? All the book?
Honestly, I think this is a personal preference. You know yourself better than anyone else. For some people, they might need the reassurance while others it takes writing the entire book for them to work out all the kinks.
“I think it’s better to get a beta reader after the manuscript is finished in most cases. I know a couple of authors who write excellent first drafts, but most people–myself included–seem to need a full draft or two to really figure out the story and characters. I just don’t think there’s much point in seeking out feedback until you fix all the problems you know are there already, and that probably takes at least one or two drafts.” – T. A. HERNANDEZ
Revisions, Revisions, Revisions..
Throughout the countless websites I looked at, every single one mentioned the need to present your best work. Which means do not send your first draft. A Beta Reader, in the simplest terms, is a reader and all readers talk within some kind of community. Your story will be talked about. Ask yourself, how do you want your story to be talked about? Do you want them to remember the plot and characters? Or all the frustrating spelling and grammatical errors?
“I can always tell when an author has failed to do this (revisions) and it’s extremely aggravating. First of all, it makes the story incredibly hard to read when you have major inconsistencies and a ton of grammatical errors. Secondly, it makes me as the reader feel like I’m wasting my time. Quite frankly, if you couldn’t be bothered to polish up your own work before you sent it out, why should I have to deal with the mess? It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at least make an effort.” – T. A. HERNANDEZ
One recommendation is to set your manuscript aside for a week (at the very least), then go back to it and make any revisions you see fit. And then do it again.. and again after that.
Suggestions & ideas to keep in mind while working with your Beta Reader:
Now that you found your Beta reader, here are some things to consider.
- Beta Reading is a free service (for most). You don’t pay Beta Readers money for their time or their help. So try to make the experience as pleasant and positive as possible. Because really, they are doing you a huge favor.
- Be upfront about what you are looking for. If you are looking for specific feedback on your characters for example, then communicate that to your Beta Reader. A suggestion was to provide your Beta Readers with specific questions for them to look for. Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I think it limits your feedback but maybe I’m wrong.
- Don’t take it personally. I know you have spent months pouring a part of yourself into your story. And then to have someone else rip it apart can be heartbreaking and hurtful. But try not to take it that way. Be grateful and remember to keep the experience positive. If you don’t agree with the feedback they give, maybe give yourself some time to think about it or maybe skip it. But either way, thank your Beta Reader for their time.
- As mentioned above, some have found Beta Readers can disappear on you. Thoughts on this range from the probability of them getting busy to becoming uninterested in your story and just not telling you. If this really worries you, try swaps- swapping stories with other authors. Disappearing doesn’t happen as often because there is a mutual trust to follow through and help each other.
- Don’t be afraid to set limits or due dates. If you need this back in three weeks, tell them two. This gives you and your Beta Reader a little wiggle room.
- One Goodread author suggested copywriting your manuscript. He mentioned how it only cost $35 and is well worth the piece of mind.
Well, I hope this helps. I think there is a lot of information out there on Beta Readers. Far more than I could ever recap here. Good Luck and let me know what you think.