Beta reading is the first suggested step in the editing process whether you’re self-publishing or traditionally publishing. But with there being so many steps to editing, it can be hard to know when you’re ready for beta readers or what exactly you need for them to actually do other than read your fairly raw manuscript.
It should be no surprise that there are many ways to go about finding beta readers and many pieces of valuable feedback that they can provide. I’ll dive into where to start the process so you’re prepared when you publish your book.
What is Beta Reading?
Beta reading is a small group of test readers. It’s your “beta” group of readers. They should be readers of your genre or at minimum frequent readers. They are meant to provide you, the author, with feedback for improving characters, sections, or your storyline. Beta readers are testing how parts of your book are being received by an audience you’re preferably targeting.
When do I get beta readers?
Beta reading is often cited as the first step outside of self-editing because it’s no-low cost and helps you see potential flaws in your story before you dive deeper into editing. I think of it like medical procedures. You want to start with the least invasive option to the most invasive. Beta reading would be like an over-the-counter option and hiring a professional editor is more like surgery. You want to start with your less invasive reader feedback before you hire someone to dive deeper into your technicalities and consistencies.
Who are beta readers?
Beta readers are preferably readers of your genre. They’re also ideally not related to you or connected to you closely. I advise this because they’re less likely to spare your feelings when providing feedback. This doesn’t mean you want your beta readers to be mean, but family and friends are often too close (or inexperienced) to be able to provide you with helpful information.
You also want your beta readers to reflect your target market. Beta means it’s your test market, so unless you’re hoping to just sell to your mom, you want more feedback from your target demographic.
What information do they provide exactly?
This is where it’s highly subjective to your goal. If you’re scouting your own beta readers, I suggest sending them a specific questionnaire of questions you want answered about your work. Some authors trust their readers to provide feedback on the document and let them have free reign to mark at will. This can be great, but, more often than not, I hear of this resulting in a lot of cheerleading and comments that read, “this is good.” Though this is kind, it’s ultimately unhelpful in developing your book.
Beta reading should provide you feedback regarding whether or not readers found your hooks worked. If the characters are performing the role you’re looking for. Or if there are outstanding problems. Maybe even if there are plot holes you may have missed. And lots of other questions that can be asked per your needs.
What do beta readers NOT do?
Beta readers are not there to edit your book for you. Beta readers may notice plot holes but they shouldn’t be your only check for finding mistakes within your manuscript. They are not there to look out for your grammar, spelling, or marketability. They’re also not there to provide reviews for your book. Beta readers are there to help you to see how your book is hitting readers and helping you to edit and improve your book before your book goes to market or query.
How Many Beta Readers is enough?
The suggestion is to keep it small. Think about three to five beta readers. You want enough that you get multiple pieces of feedback, but not so many that it becomes chaotic. Too few and it becomes easy to dismiss the feedback, but too many and you will feel pulled in multiple directions.
Where can you find beta readers?
So, you know you shouldn’t be finding readers at Thanksgiving, but where else are they? There’s a lot of options.
- Social Media: Many authors turn to their social media following for help with sign ups and this can be a great option. It engages your following and gets readers involved in the process.
- Freelancer sites: If you’re looking to source your own, many beta readers advertise their expertise and skills on sites like Fiverr and Upwork to gain experience in the field at a low cost.
- Referrals: If you have friends who’re authors, they may have suggestions for you to use some of their betas if they found them helpful.
- Here: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention E&A Editing Service’s Beta Reading Program where we source trained beta readers for you and collect their responses for you. It’s a great option if you’re running into decision fatigue or lack the time to source your own beta readers.
- Book clubs/writing groups: If you’re part of a book club or writing group, you can trade services and request those within the group provide feedback on your book. It’s a great chance to involve communities you’re already a part of.
What do I do with the feedback?
Okay, you got three to five readers in your genre to read your book and answer your questions. Now what?
Look for patterns. One author we had discovered her main character was generally unlikeable and was able to soften her delivery and decrease the parts readers found unlikeable. Are readers saying they never engaged with the content? You’ve got a hook problem. These patterns are going to let you know where your book still needs work.
Acknowledge the positives too. Is the chemistry between your main characters off the charts? Use that heat to your advantage. Your skills lie in building relationships so use that to enhance the pieces your readers found lacking.
I didn’t get beta readers, now what?
Beta reading, like all pre-publishing steps, is optional. It’s there to provide you with early reader feedback to avoid harsh reviews that could’ve been caught easily. That being said, negative reviews are almost a guarantee. If your book gains enough traction with readers, you’re bound to have negative reviews. It’s not the end of the world if you missed this step, but if you still have time before you publish, I recommend getting some readers willing to give constructive commentary.