You’re at that point in your writing journey where you’re ready for others to lay eyes on it. Terrifying right? Your baby is now getting ready to enter the world — to be seen. Worse, to be judged.
There’s nothing really that can take away from the anxieties you’ll feel. Though, you can take a few steps toward making yourself feel more confident about your writing/the story you’re putting out there. While there are many ways to go about that, we’re focusing exclusively on beta readers in this blog.
First, let’s start with the obvious.
What are beta readers?
Beta readers are volunteers who kindly dedicate their time to reading your book before it is in its finished form. Their job is to check for major, glaring issues. This can include plot holes, discrepancies, repetition, etc.
Who would benefit from beta readers?
Everyone. And I mean that with all sincerity. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, or how many works you have under your belt. Casting a wide net to gather a lot of opinions is one surefire way to dip your toe into the water of public perception. Readers are incredibly insightful, and their eye for detail is often absolutely astounding. We write our stories for ourselves, of course, but we write them to be consumed by our readership. Getting an idea of how they feel about your story before it goes through its final editing stage is invaluable information.
First-time novelists would likely benefit from a beta team the most. Not only will it acclimate them to the notion that there’s never going to be a piece that pleases everyone, but it will also give them keen insight as to where they can improve/what would make the story better. Never mind the fact that there are now eyes on your work — that’s more than a lot of first-time novelists can say!
Is there a reason I shouldn’t have beta readers?
There really isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t. I think that it is all a matter of personal preference. For some writers, it might come down to the time investment. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking, let alone gathering a group of people to read your work (never mind hunting some of them down). In these situations, I sincerely do recommend finding yourself a PA. They are absolute lifesavers who can help you focus more time on writing/editing and less time on the promotional stuff.
But anyway other reasons to not look into procuring a Beta team include (but are not limited to): lack of time/willingness to commit to working/speaking with a group of people. Bone-crushing/crippling anxiety of what the readers will have to say (if it’s severely impacting your mental health, it’s not worth it). People who have already put their book through professional editing.
So, how does it all work?
First things first, get yourself a beta reader team.
You can put out a public call to action on your social media platforms. I’ve had the most success on Instagram by engaging with the bookstagram community. Though, I’m sure there are other writers who have had great success on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If you have a small (to no) social media following, search writing groups on Facebook! There are plenty of groups dedicated specifically to Beta/ARC readers!
Make sure to protect yourself!
It’s always handy to have a written agreement with your beta readers. Especially since, as a part of this exchange, you’ll be giving them your book for free. You don’t have to go as far as to force them to sign a contract, but a googleform outlining your expectations, your deadlines, the nature of your agreement, and your intention for your manuscript can go a long way (click forms are seen as legally binding!). Please make sure to include questions like this:
“I understand that I am being given this manuscript in good faith with the agreement to read and answer the beta questionnaire by [insertdate].”
“I will not do anything with the manuscript, outside of what is agreed to by the author. I will not redistribute/alter/or otherwise share this work with anyone.”
Next, compile your “Welcome to my Beta Team” email!
Communicate what you’re looking for!
Compose an email to your readers, outlining what in specific you’re looking for. If you’re worried about your characters being likable, tell them. If you’re worried about the pacing, tell them about that, too! If you can give your beta readers a good idea from the beginning of what they’re looking for, they’ll be more likely to give you in-depth feedback.
Set up (and link) a google form questionnaire!
It helps to have all of your questions in one place. It also helps your readers to remember what you were looking for in specific.
But what sort of questions should you ask on your Beta Reader Form?
A Writerly Pair has a super-comprehensive list here ( https://awriterlypair.com/2020/06/26/questions-to-ask-your-beta-and-alpha-readers/ ). Feel free to take or leave whatever questions aren’t appropriate for you, your concerns, and your work. Feel free to add your own, too! You can be as specific as you’d like. After all, it is your beta form, built to help you better your story before it goes into your ARC reader’s eager hands!
Check in with your team!
Don’t hunt them down, or anything. And certainly don’t nag them! Set up a schedule behind the scenes to touch base with them. Perhaps, a week or two before beta reviews are due! If you haven’t heard anything from them, send ‘em a friendly little poke! Maybe ply them with cookies!
Remember, you asked for their opinion!
A lot of Beta readers are incredibly kind and encouraging. However, there are some who can certainly take a class in how not to sound like a dick. You don’t have to implement every criticism you receive. There are going to be some things that you just don’t agree with, and that’s fine. But remember, you are the face of your “brand.” Take criticism with grace, poise, and gratitude for the time they have dedicated.
And then, feel free to rant and rave to your best friend over a glass of wine about the especially heinous shit this person said. As is only fair.
Remember, you, and your value is not decided by reviews. There will be people who love your work and people who despise it.
So, what’s the verdict? To get a beta reading team, or nah?
That’s up to you! Only you can know for certain if it will serve you in the long run. If you’re on the fence, there’s never any harm in giving it a try!
Writers, have you had beta readers before? What’s your experience? If you haven’t, are you now considering it?
Beta readers, I would love to know your experiences as well! Also, thank you for the time you dedicate. It really, really helps out us writers!
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