A Beta reader, also known as a pre-reader, is an essential component that all authors should consider utilizing. Beta readers are defined as non-professional. They are readers who enjoy reading and who want to help writers be successful. (In truth, we want to read the book first and watch the creative process in action and feel like we helped.) Beta readers will look over written materials for plot errors, grammar and spelling errors, issues with character development and suggestions to improve the book. Included in their services, they can also be fact checkers; however, if you need to designate one as a fact checker communicate that to the person. They are a wonderful resource that is gaining in popularity due to the ease of finding and communicating with folks who are truly interested in seeing a writer succeed.
But why should anyone use beta readers? Beta readers don’t have to be nice to you, they do not have a close or personal relationship with you like family members, spouse or even good friends. They will give you honest feedback that you must evaluate and either take their suggestions seriously or not.
Let’s be honest here, as a writer most of us have a fragile ego. More so if it is you have just started/finished your first book. You want everyone to like your book, you want to be an expert writer but most likely you want to write the best book ever. This cannot be denied – we have all dreamed of being that one writer who is instrumental in changing someone’s life.
Finding Solid Beta Readers
Get to know people on social media platforms and through blogs. Have genuine two-way connections – emails, texts, messaging. (I once had an author reach out to me and we started talking about her genre – it was BDSM Romance! She was lost because she didn’t want anyone in her family – especially her mother! – to know the genre she wrote. She was looking for beta readers who wouldn’t be offended. She asked me for help but only after several conversations.)
Join groups – then get to know the folks in there. Regardless of the group focus, you will most likely find someone who will be interested in beta reading for you! Build rapport, build a relationship!
Importantly, select folks who enjoy your genre. Also, if you have a theme in your book (i.e. military, medical, legal, etc.) try to find someone in that area as well. Start now! It takes time to build a relationship especially one that has the ability to help or emotionally cripple you (this is where you as an author MUST have thick skin!).
When you find your beta readers, outline what you want from them. Nothing complicated but perhaps you are concerned about plot holes or dialog or a character. Be clear in what you want from them. Some will also be willing to edit or proof read as they go along.
Sometimes a questionnaire will help. For instance:
- Did the story hold your interest? If not, why?
- Was there any confusion in the beginning about when, where or what was going on?
- Was the main character(s) relatable to you? How?
- What about this book interested you?
- Were the descriptions vivid enough?
- Any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, relationships, character or plot development?
- When did you become hooked?
- Were the characters and the plot believable?
- Was the dialog realistic?
- Were the characters likeable? Were any of them confusing?
- Was there enough conflict, tension and intrigue or romance to keep your interest?
- Was the ending satisfying? Realistic?
- Any obvious grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors? Where?
- Do you feel the writing style suits the genre? Does it stay true to the book? If not, why?
- What, if anything, is missing from the book?
Ask them to complete whatever questions you need answers; or send them all. I tend to not answer questionnaires – rather I just send an email of my overall impression along with the edited version of the book. I do track changes.
Don’t limit yourself but don’t overwhelm yourself either. I would suggest no more than five and no less than three. Be sure to thank your beta readers. You don’t have to gift them anything but a nice, well written thank you is awesome! Especially if you put it on their social media.
Lastly, you might wonder what is truly in it for beta readers. For some, they charge a slight fee. However, for most they want the privilege of reading something FIRST. (For me, it allowed contact with writers in my favorite genre and a professional relationship with bragging rights.)
Good luck with finding your beta readers and for additional suggestions.