This is a subject I have been looking into but have not yet reached out and experienced personally, yet. My second round of editing on my novel is almost complete so as soon as that is done, I will reach out to beta readers (BR) for my novel before submitting it once again to agents. I want this round to agents to have the absolute most edited, worked over, final copy I can achieve on my own (not really on my own but submitted by me after all of my editors and beta readers’ invaluable help!).
There is definitely a level of trust you have to feel before you turn your work over to a complete stranger. As a writer, the manuscript you are handing over is your baby. It is deeply personal to you and yet you are giving it to a complete stranger to pick apart and tell you what's wrong with it. It’s gonna hurt but it is a necessary step if you ever want to have the best possible novel you can submit. Trusting this stranger with your baby is tough but trust in this person, or people, is a must. Let’s face it, we all have those fears that someone is going to steal your idea or your book for their own and by handing it over to a complete stranger, that fear doesn’t subside. I feel a little more comfortable because I have all of my work copyrighted (see one of my previous posts for more info) so I do feel a bit more protected, legally at least.
In my research, I have come across all sorts of information on BR’s and some things to ask of them when they read your manuscript. In this post, I am just touching on some of the things I have learned and including a few questions to ask of your BR’s. This is only the tip of the iceberg on information out there about beta readers so please get out and look up everything you can. A well-informed person will walk away from the experience with a much fuller, richer experience than someone who does not do their homework.
To start, a BR is someone you send your manuscript to for them to read and provide you feedback on your writing prior to submitting it to agents. You might feel, after self-editing your work, that it’s as strong as it could be and ready to go to agents. Your work might be perfect in terms of grammar, punctuation, and all but having another set of unbiased eyeballs on your work can only help you to see your work from the perspective of a prospective reader or fan. You might not see it but there may be plot holes or POV issues, etc., that you are not noticing because the story came from you. In my opinion, it’s not possible for an author to have the emotional distance to evaluate his or her own writing the way it needs to be.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see as deeply as we need to when we write something. Another’s eyes on our work is always a good thing. I have found that other people (friends, family, &/or strangers), have found things in my work I never saw, even after a dozen read-throughs. You might feel that someone is going to pull apart your manuscript and criticize it but you cannot let that stop you. Remember, this is one person’s opinion and it is recommended to get at least 3 different BR’s on your work and as many as a dozen or more. The more feedback you get, the better you will be able to qualify the feedback received.
You might find that they all differ in opinion. What one person thinks needs changing, the other might feel is excellent. You do not have to make all of the changes a BR sends to you. This is feedback and suggestions from that one person. They are not your full audience and that is why multiple BR’s are necessary. If you are seeing a trend where multiple BR’s feel something needs to be changed, I recommend looking into that and possibly making those changes. Common feedback from multiple sources needs serious consideration.
Some beta readers will not finish reading your work, it happens. This is another reason that multiple BR’s are needed. If you are counting on the feedback of only one BR, that won’t be much help. But if you receive feedback from 8 or more, this will give you a much better picture of how your audience might receive your book.
BR’s will not replace an editor. They are a step in the process and can help in editing your manuscript even further but an editor is still needed. When looking for BR’s, make sure they like and are looking to read your genre of work. Ask them if they can be brutally honest about their feedback. This is what is needed, not coddling or someone who is afraid to hurt your feelings. Bring it on! Brutal honesty is the best way to make your writing stronger.
Most BR’s do not charge for the service. As the author, it would be a nice gesture to let them know you will send them a free copy of the finished book (or eBook), and if a hard copy, sign it for them. If you want to go even further, you can mention them in the acknowledgments section of your book (without mentioning their role).
Do not tell them whatever they can give you for feedback is fine, be specific in what you are looking for in the feedback. Being specific will be much more valuable to you. Here is a sampling of questions I found online that you can ask of a BR to get the feedback you need:
1. How is the introductory chapter? Did it make you want to continue reading?
2. Do you feel the characters were developed? Too much? Not enough?
3. Are the characters believable?
4. How do you feel about the characters?
5. Does the dialogue slow down any of the scenes? If yes, when?
6. Do you get bored while reading the story? If so, when?
7. Are there any discrepancies in the story? If so, please detail them.
8. Were you able to predict the ending before it happened? If yes, when?
9. Do you feel emotions at any point while reading? If so, what emotion and when?
10. Do you enjoy the ending? If not, what was missing for you?
This is by no means a complete list of what can or should be asked. It is simply a list of examples of the kinds of questions you should be asking of your beta readers.
Here is a link for the Beta Reader Group on Goodreads. There are many beta readers groups out there but this should at least give you an idea of what they are all about:
I don't think a good beta reader is going to sugarcoat their comments, which is a good thing. They shouldn’t get mean either but you need to have thick skin to be able to handle the feedback. Hopefully, they will add positive feedback on the book as well as what they feel needs to be addressed. Wait on implementing the feedback right away. Read through it a few times to make sure it makes sense to your story. No one knows the story better than you so make sure the feedback will help the story before implementing it.
One last thing, give the beta reader a deadline to finish the book and provide you their feedback. A good timeline would be about a month. Be sure to gather all feedback from all of your BR’s before making any changes or decisions on your book.
Good luck and be sure to show your appreciation to the BR’s for their dedication and hard work in helping you to become the published author you strive to be. I am looking forward to this step in the process as it gets me that much closer to getting my work published.
Happy reading, happy writing!